Kate Crowley (centre) with fisherfolk boat building in the Philippines post-Typhoon Washi that struck in 2012
Dr Kate Crowley, CAFOD’s disaster risk reduction adviser provides technical support and guidance to CAFOD staff and its partners all over the world. Kate sees her role as acting an bridge between CAFOD’s humanitarian and development work. In her interview she explains how CAFOD responds to emergencies, the advantages of being a faith-based organisation and the role of gender equality and climate change in the context of humanitarian work.
- What is CAFOD’s approach when working in emergency and humanitarian contexts?
CAFOD focuses on three strategic areas which include assistance which means providing life saving activities and addressing immediate needs such as food, water, health and shelter. We also engage in protection work which focusses on enhancing the safety and dignity of affected communities. Finally we work to build resilience which involves linking emergency preparedness and risk reduction with longer term development work such as livelihoods or water resource management. Our resilience work aims to improve communities’ recovery process in the long term by enabling people to ‘bounce back better’ when disasters happen.
Women’s group leader showcasing their community hazard map in Nicaragua
- What are the most important current emergency responses?
Rather than randomly picking one country over another, CAFOD strives to work in countries where there is most need. CAFOD’s humanitarian work is currently focusing on Syria, South Sudan, Philippines, Central African Republic, Namibia and Bolivia.
The support of the media in disasters around the world is crucial however issues don’t stay in the spotlight for long and while emergencies disappear from the public domain there is often still an urgent need to continue to support our local partners.
There are also cases of “forgotten disasters” that don’t tend to get the same traction and attention in the media, such as the current violence in the Central African Republic (CAR). The lack of media interest surrounding CAR is particularly worrying when the country’s situation continues to worsen and now half of the population are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance (2.5million). Food security is a major concern and it is estimated that 28,000 children will suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in 2014.
The alarming situation in CAR has prompted CAFOD to engage in international advocacy by supporting local partners on the ground and lobbying on an international level to secure humanitarian space and ensure that funds continue.
- Do you ever have problems of access? Does being a Faith- based organisation widen access possibilities?
Yes we do have problems of access, particularly in complex, chronic emergencies such as the conflict in Syria where it is hard for aid agencies to reach some of the worst -hit parts of the country. On the other hand, governments in developing countries praise Caritas for its ability to reach isolated people who are often the most vulnerable. We are able to reach those most in need by working with partners who understand the local context well.
- How do you incorporate gender concerns into emergency responses?
In the context of disaster risk reduction, gender equality is a key aspect to consider because men and women are impacted by disasters differently and are not always equally prepared and informed as to how to react when an emergency strikes.
For example in the 2004 Tsunami, it is estimated that 80% of those who died were women and children and this was because many of them didn’t know how to swim, or couldn’t out run the wave or simply didn’t understand where to go to be safe. In addition women would attempt to save their children making it incredibly difficult to move to higher ground quickly.
In many countries where CAFOD works women are often at a major disadvantage when it comes to responding to emergencies because they may not be able to read and therefore cannot understand written disaster warnings and instructions. They may have also traditionally been excluded from community meetings which discuss disaster prevention due to strict gender norms. For example in parts of Bangladesh women are often not allowed to leave the home without their husbands, which poses the question how can they get to raised cyclone shelters if their husbands are not at home?
To ensure that women’s voices are being heard, CAFOD works alongside local partners worldwide to create community groups with an equal mixture of men and women. In Sierra Leone, each community has a strong female leader who was affectionately referred to as the Mother Queen. These are dynamic women who are elected by the community to voice the concerns of the women.
Mamei Turay (centre with the purple scarf on her head) a Mother Queen in Sierra Leone
If the local context means that it is difficult for women to interact with men in public, CAFOD has also set up women- only groups in countries such as Bangladesh, Nicaragua and Pakistan to identify and discuss the problems and vulnerabilities felt by women with regard to their experiences of disasters. These groups have been particularly successfully in Pakistan and Bangladesh where women’s perspectives on disaster prevention are now being listened to by governments.
Sabita Biwas( centre) represents her village at the union level disaster management committees in Bangladesh
- What role does the environment and climate change play in shaping humanitarian responses?
Climate change adaptation represents a key theme in CAFOD’s current disaster risk reduction work. The difficulty is that while local communities often already have their own disaster coping mechanism in place, these strategies may no longer work in the context of climate change.
Adaptation is essential and CAFOD works with local communities to understand what changes might happen and how they can adapt livelihood strategies such as farming if and when these changes occur. Much of the focus is on climate risks and how climate change may affect hazards such as cyclones and drought.
To help communities understand their own humanitarian risks, local people perform risk assessments themselves, for example by predicting when the next typhoon will come and by developing their own action plans. Helping the community take ownership of disaster risk reduction initiatives is a priority for CAFOD because it is the community who make effective change happen and their voice represents a very powerful tool.
In our disaster risk reduction work, we coordinate with scientists and climate experts. In reality, we are still in a learning process because the science that can help us project future changes and their impact in different regions is still uncertain however we do know it is making a big difference to our work and the lives of the poorest. The use of good data is fundamental in our approach to hazards so that we can help communities prepare adequately.
CAFOD is currently working alongside the University of London to make sophisticated hazard-mapping and scenario planning tools to help communities plan for the next big emergency. These tools are being piloted Cambodia.
Capacity building in the Philippines, post-Typhoon Washi
- How important is behaviour change in the context of disaster risk reduction?
Behaviour change is key because being better prepared often means communities are more successful at surviving afterwards. Children and young people can play a very important role in encouraging behaviour change which is why CAFOD supports initiatives such as “No Strings International” which uses interactive puppet play to explore and discuss themes related to disasters, poverty and conflict. These theatrical tools and other children’s activities have been used in various countries such as Haiti to help children overcome the trauma after the earthquake and in the Philippines to talk to children about preparing for cyclones and floods.
Young boy from Haiti who was part of a schools rehabilitation and education programme. He won a competition for the best DRR poster
Making Puppets in Haiti with “No strings” International
For more information on “No Strings” please see http://www.nostrings.org.uk/
- How do you ensure flexibility and long-term commitment in CAFOD’s humanitarian work?
A major advantage for CAFOD’s humanitarian team is that CAFOD supporters donate generously to our “general emergency fund”. This acts as an important reliable source of funding for our work which means we are not 100% reliant on appeals or support from other sources such DFID (Department for International Development) or DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee). We are very thankful for our consistent supporter base that continue to fundraise and give regularly which allows us to keep our partners going and reach areas that other’s can’t access. For example, through our “general emergency fund” we are able to work in the Eastern DRC which we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do and it is because of this flexibility that we are able to reach those who are most in need
For the latest emergency news please see www.cafod.org.uk/News/Emergencies-news