05 December 2009

Scale of disaster

I have been lucky to be part of emergency response in two (or three) emergencies: Aceh-Nias tsunami Dec 26th, 2004, Nias earthquake Mar 28th, 2005, and now Padang earthquake Sep 30th, 2009.

In Nias tsunami relief I took only a very limited role. But after Nias earthquake I had to play a key role for 4 years in all aspects. February this year I started a totally new "life" in the sense without dealing with project management and all related matters. Half a year later Padang earthquake took me back. Although in Padang emergency response I don't play the key role, but I could be a witness of some critical issues need to be learnt.

I want to write some lesson learnt from my experience in that three emergencies. For now I want to concentrate on scale of disaster. By the next opportunity I will write about other strategic topics like financial administration, project management, institutional building through capacity building and accompaniment, strategic planning, human resources, and so on.

Scale of disaster seems not to be a very important topic but for sure a very strategic one. Especially this topic will be relevant to those who work in a NGO, which in certain degree has to coordinate with church environment. The decision taken on scale of disaster will have direct impact on the design of the emergency response and post emergency programme.

Let's take an example the Nias tsunami disaster. Aceh was the most affected of the tsunami, but in Nias the scale of disaster was small. The stakeholder in the diocese of Sibolga could easily defined the scale of disaster as low. Because of this, no need to ask assistance from the network. It was decided that the idea to institute a diocesan Caritas was not relevant to be discussed thoroughly.

But when the earthquake March 28th hit, the diocese and the potential partner identified the scale of disaster as high. The emergency response that should be initiated exceeded the capacity of the diocese. Therefore the diocese instituted Caritas Sibolga and asked partners to help to design the emergency response and the recovery.

Why is this very important? Because the acknowledge of the scale of disaster must in the same time follow with the acknowledge of level of management capacity. I could see in one emergency response, that obscure in this matter has influenced the management of the emergency response negatively and created internal conflict between the local partners and other partners, who were involved in the response.

If the scale of a disaster exceeds the management capacity of a local partner, then the presence of other partners, national or international, becomes indispensable, even in many cases have to take the lead. But if the local partner (diocesan caritas or the diocese) doesn't acknowledge this then the conflict is pre programmed. I was once witness of such a conflict. A local partner always tried to influence the management of the emergency response while in reality it cannot cope.

Therefore in an emergency my recommendation to local partner (the diocesan caritas and/or the diocese) to decide on the level of emergency and based on that design a management of response.

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