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Reflections of an Emergency Response Coordinator

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Earlier this year, RedR UK launched our emergency response to the devastating earthquakes that hit both Türkiye and Syria, resulting in thousands of fatalities and widespread damage.

This month’s blog was written by Mohammed Bashein, RedR UK’s Emergency Response Coordinator, as the first in a series of pieces reflecting on our responses to disasters in Morocco and Libya, launched just a few days apart this month. In this blog, he reflects on the experience of coordinating RedR’s emergency response to the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria over the last seven months, as well as the beginning of our responses in Morocco and Libya this month.  

We have been privileged to gain the trust of our audience who gave generously in public emergency appeal. as well as the generous contributions from Jersey Overseas Aid (JOA), as well as H2H to fund our learning activities in Türkiye and Syria. At the current final stages of the response, we have reached over 1,046 technical responders, engineers, and other humanitarians, providing them with training, coaching and other kinds of technical support. 

Unfortunately, just as our emergency response in Türkiye and Syria came to a close, two more devastating events struck the region; the 6.8 M earthquake in Morocco on 8 September, and only two days later, the 10 September Libya floods. These are tragedies, both for the scale of damage and number of fatalities. 

For anyone who has the term ‘emergency’ in their professional title, these are the busiest of times. However, it’s important to pause and reflect for a moment every once and a while, in order to carry on for the months ahead. 

It’s important to stress the notion that so-called ‘natural disasters’ are a mix between extreme weather/seismic activity and human error – where the former is a correlation, and the latter a proven causation. In trying to understand what causes disasters and how to prepare and mitigate risk, it’s much easier to put the blame on factors that we have no control on, rather than taking responsibility for these disasters (man-made, frankly speaking!). Communities and governments should collaborate to mitigate the impact of such events, working to be better prepared for inevitable severe conditions – the variance in levels of responsibility definitely applies here. 

Working simultaneously on disasters across three different contexts is mentally, psychologically and physically challenging. Emergency responders (including myself) are often guilty of pushing themselves to somewhat high limits – which is never good for the long journey ahead.  

Whenever a new situation emerges, it is always useful to draw on the lessons learnt from previous experiences, while taking into account the contextual differences. Building on our most recent response to the earthquake in Türkiye and Syria to begin an emergency response in Morocco, we have been able to rapidly set-up components that took us a few months in the past, in just a few days. Replicating and adjusting systems is vital in responding to disasters of similar scale and impact. Because the groundwork is largely in place, we can concentrate on innovation and adapting to local context.

Contextual differences are the main factors that need to be thoroughly addressed, for the sake of localisation, and also for providing an efficient response leading to a greater impact. For instance, although the type and scale of disaster between Türkiye, Syria and Morocco may seem to be related, however, cultural variations and technical factors are significantly different. In Libya, that difference is greater, not only because it is a disaster caused by flash-flooding rather than seismic activity, but also because it’s happened in a country already suffering multiple layers of fragmentation and fragility. It is therefore important for us to distinguish between what works in each separate context, and not assuming that the life changing impact of a disaster is same universally.  

With recent earthquakes in Türkiye, Syria and Morocco, flash floods in Libya and other contexts which have witnessed the harsh impact of climate change, it is worth mentioning that unfortunately the frequency of such events will not be decreasing anytime soon. The severity of the impact could be much worse if communities and governments do not address the issues of consumption and governance. Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) plans are a must to be able to mitigate and prepare for future disasters, and qualified responders are considered assets for the times ahead. 

As a closing note for now, it is worth mentioning that I’ll be deploying soon to both Morocco and Libya to better understand the needs on the ground and build partnerships with local capacities and communities. 

Until the next reflective piece, I wish you well, and stay safe! :) 

Image credit: WHO Libya