Emergency aid: 10 + 1 facts
Emergency aid is for the direst of situations. When a sudden natural disaster strikes or a country enters a protracted crisis, lives can be protected and human dignity preserved through global cooperation between organisations.
1. Emergency aid is a lifesaver.
When a disaster strikes, rapid aid delivery is often a literal matter of life and death. In line with the principles of humanitarianism, emergency aid is intended for those who need it the most, its purpose saving lives and preserving human dignity. In most cases, aid consists of water, food, shelter, and medicines – the basic necesssities. Education can save lives too and is thus at the heart of what FCA does.
2. Locations are selected based on the situation and the need.
The need for emergency aid may arise suddenly or result from a protracted crisis. Whatever the case, the local organizations and those international organizations already on the ground will endeavour to supply aid as rapidly as they can. The UN’s Emergency Relief Coordination Agency (OCHA) monitors the global situation and maps out potential cases, allowing the international community to correctly locate find situations and people who need aid, and schedule the aid correctly. In case of natural disasters, for example, comprehensive assessment is usually completed within weeks. The plan of action always evolves with the situation, however.
3. Aid comes in many forms.
The above assessment can determine the most acute requirements for aid and the most appropriate ways to provide it. When a functioning market continues to exist in the disaster area, for example, cash grants are better and more cost-effective than goods. If no market exists, though, direct donations of goods may be necessary. We always endeavour to source the goods from the vicinity of the crisis area. Listening to the community is crucial: families, for example, often want their children’s education to continue as soon as the basic needs for survival have been met.
4. Coordination through cooperation.
No organisation can be everywhere simultaneously. During major catastrophes, coordination within the international community is a crucial element. Organizations involve themselves based on their specific expertise and area knowledge. FCA often takes part in training efforts and leads related cooperation projects. Global coordination of aid allows everyone to track what aid is available, where it is and who is getting it. It can also help in identifying areas still without aid and missing categories of aid.
5. Politics can complicate humanitarianism.
Conflicts and political disputes hamper the delivery of emergency aid. The UN has thus passed a resolution calling for sanctions to be enacted in a way that does not block humanitarian aid. A host of problems may arise from closing banks or blocking money transfers due to sanctions. And things like roadblocks can also physically prevent the aid from reaching its destination in its destination.
6. Does “all the money just go to the warlords?” No.
Aid organizations are professional institutions. They closely monitor the use of their funds and the related cash flows and apply anti-corruption measures to their own activities, as well as those of partners and subcontractors. In many fragile countries, corruption is an ever-present problem. This also affects the humanitarian aid sector, and corruption cases are uncovered from time to time. However, the discovery of misuse also serves as a sign that the controls are working.
7. It’s not always possible to deliver aid.
Aid agencies, which often work in difficult circumstances, have prepared for a wide range of situations and threats. However, sometimes the situation can be so life-threatening that sending personnel to a given situation simply isn’t safe. Various armed groups in conflict zones increasingly view aid workers as a target, and problems also arise, for example, when authorities insist on distributing aid to their favoured recipients or demand that some of the supplies are given to soldiers. Even in these situations, organisations constantly negotiate to ensure that aid is distributed following the principles of humanitarian aid.
8. FCA’s disaster relief fund prepares for the unexpected.
Finn Church Aid not only raises funds for individual crises, but also maintains an ongoing collection for conflicts in general. Our disaster relief fund enables us to respond to acute emergencies. Money can be immediately released when funds are needed quickly and in a flexible manner. It can also help in situations that do not mobilise donors straight away in large numbers.
9. Emergency aid is needed both for acute disasters and long-term crises.
The need for emergency aid can be triggered by an acute disaster, such as an outbreak of war or a sudden natural disaster, or by a protracted, escalating crisis, such as a famine-inducing drought. Slow-onset disasters are often more complex and thus much more expensive to deal with, but they do not usually attract donor attention on the same scale as, for example, a sudden earthquake. The criteria for supplying emergency aid are nevertheless always the same: those who need aid shall receive it.
10. Not every crisis is in the news.
The media is not always the best barometer for need of aid. For example, while it is understandable that the war in Ukraine features heavily in the headlines, many other protracted situations, such as the prolonged drought in East Africa, have been overshadowed by the events of the day. A crisis must usually ferment for a long time before it catches media attention. A famine being declared, for example, is more likely to feature in the news than the threat of a famine.
+1. Local actors are in a key role for a successful FCA response.
People from and living in the affected area are the best guides to their own environment and networks. We do not believe it is sufficient for local staff and partners to purely offer advice and implementation for our decisions; they must also be involved in the decision-making process. FCA country offices are run by national staff, and in many aid areas, FCA works with or supports local partner organisations.
Sources: interviews with Merja Färm, FCA’s humanitarian advocacy expert, and Jan De Waegemaeker, humanitarian aid expert.
Text: Anne Salomäki
Translation to English: Tatu Ahponen
Illustration: Carla Ladau