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Natural disasters and health emergencies: see what Mumsnetters made of the Disasters Emergency Committee's immersion day

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RowanMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 08-Nov-16 10:07:23


Some of you may remember this thread, in which we asked for Mumsnetter volunteers to go along to an event giving insight into the work of the Disasters Emergency Committee - an umbrella organisation that steps in when there's a big international emergency. Recent examples include the earthquake in Nepal in April 2015, the typhoon in the Philippines in November 2013, and the emergence of ebola as a healthcare crisis in 2014.

Four MNers are poised to go along to the events over the next couple of days, and this thread is for them to let us know what it was like - and of course for anyone else who's interested to jump in too. The perfect distraction from biting your nails over the US Presidential election!

The first event takes place this morning (Tuesday) so we should start to hear what our MNers made of it all later on today.


khaleesi71 Tue 08-Nov-16 10:56:09

Hello! I'm due to go this eve. Invite says to wear warm clothes and soup is provided. It's an immersive event and I've never been to one before so I'm looking forward to the experience. I'll keep you posted smile

colouringinagain Tue 08-Nov-16 12:16:05

Hi I'm off tomorrow - very much looking forward to it and reporting back!

rewardformissingmojo Tue 08-Nov-16 16:44:41

I have just been! Will report more later - but do definitely wear warm clothes - it was pretty chilly in parts.

khaleesi71 Tue 08-Nov-16 21:19:43

On my way home from an inspirational evening with the DEC. Started with a beautiful walk along the south bank to get to the Oxo Tower - everything was lit up and twinkly and very pretty. I digress sorry!

This was an immersive event and I don't want to give too much away for others but it takes you through the events which led to the DEC decision to mount an appeal 3 years ago to help those affected by Typhoon Haitian in the Philippines. I have been aware of many of the DECs heart wrenching campaigns and it was great to be walked through the different stages of a disaster response . There are immediate, med and long term challenges and using this case study I felt the DEC managed to get across how it makes a decision to launch an appeal, who supports that appeal and how the money is raised and how that is transferred to cash on the ground so that aid workers can implement the strategies needed to best support the needs of the population.
A humbling experience - some of the lesser known campaigns are struggling to gain awareness - South Sudan and Northern Nigeria being examples of this. The DEC acknowledge that the frequency and intensity of disasters is increasing and we are called upon more and more to help those who have lost everything. By working collaboratively with many aid agencies the DEC can collect and distribute funds to a range of aid organisations and ensure that campaigns can reach more people quickly and effectively.

rewardformissingmojo Fri 11-Nov-16 19:10:05

Everyone has been now, I think - so here goes, SPOILERS ALERT!

I've never been to the Bargehouse before and was initially shocked at its dilapidated state. By the end though, it seemed congruous.

My group all met in a reception room with hot drinks, cakes biscuits and fruit. There were people from DFID, some government department which effectively match funds up to 5 million for the DEC fundraising. There were people from Royal Mail, whom I didn't get to talk to. Christian Aid was represented, and several large banking corporations. I felt like a bit of a fraud, especially when introducing myself! "Uh, yeah, so I randomly got selected from Mumsnet..." (Don't worry MNHQ I represented your followers slightly better than that!)

We were then moved into a room, and were introduced to the initial events of 8th Nov 2013. The lights went down and sound effects came on, leaving us all feeling a bit shaken!

rewardformissingmojo Fri 11-Nov-16 20:59:29

Sorry will add more later!

RowanMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 14-Nov-16 15:46:49

I'm on the edge of my seat reward... what happened next??grin

Thanks so much to all who went and represented us so brilliantly

colouringinagain Wed 23-Nov-16 14:07:40

Hi Mumsnet!

My very late feedback is below! Thanks again for this opportunity - it was great, can't believe I got to chat to the head of Humanitarian relief at Action Aid. A real eye opener into the complexity of relief work and rebuilding people's lives and livelihoods.

The event was primarily an initiative to thank corporate sponsors and major donors (day 1) and supporters and fundraisers (day 2). It's the first time they'd run something like this as they are looking at improving ways of communicating the impact that our fundraising has.

It was held in a rather grungy disused warehouse space which worked v well for such an immersive experience.

Stage 1 - the disaster

A dark room where we experienced the sounds following the Philippines typhoon - storm winds, debris flying, people shouting which was very effective.

Stage 2 - DEC meeting

A staged committee meeting presenting information received about the situation and deciding whether to launch an appeal At the time it was hard to get a picture early due to loss of life in local teams as well as the extensive disruption caused by the tornado. Corporate partner BT also sent a response team. Supporters of DEC charities had already started ringing in offering support and donations.

Reports were presented from partner agencies, their humanitarian directors were heading out to assess alongside local teams. There was a huge need in a very poor area. The DEC were also in the process of engaging with the BBC to determine ongoing coverage. Director General of the BBC and other media heads were prepped ahead of the public launch of the appeal. It was queried whether DfiD would aid match - likely.

Anyhow in Philippines case it was an easy decision to launch an appeal.
DEC have just teamed up with Western Union money transfer company who are waiving fees to transfer money to such localities to be ready for when UK and other international staff arrive, making their lives easier.

Stage 3: Fundraising

So once appeal launched, fundraising took place via:

Collection on London Underground, phone line, press office booked news and adverts, individuals fundraising on the ground. In total there were 40 ways people could donate.

Stage 4: The money's in - how to spend it?

We looked at a simplified single issue scenario - how to provide water?
A) It can be trucked in - this is fast but expensive, roads damaged/destroyed, access to fuel disrupted and not everyone can get to the truck.
B) Provide hygiene kits - cheap and make water safe to drink. Family kits also contain sanitary products, nappies etc. However big queues form, there is confusion around the use of tablets (chlorinated). These kits need to be accompanied with training.
C) Fund local engineers to repair infrastructure, eg broken pipes - this is a long term solution.

In reality a mix of options is undertaken. The DEC can be very flexible, so if they source corporate or public funding for one option (eg trucking) then they can quickly switch their resources to other options.

General comments.

I've followed development issues over the last few decades. Historically (50-100 years ago for example) we used to approach such situations quite paternalistically, sending people and (our) solutions. Over time this has changed to working extensively with local partners. Now it is being proved (via research) that providing local people with cash is one of the most effective means of rebuilding after such a disaster. Local people know best what they need and how to source it and money goes straight into the local economy.

One story I was struck by was when the ActionAid team arrived at the Philippines tornado site, driving towards the worse hit areas, increasingly trees and buildings destroyed. On arrival they saw a local pig farmer and what was left of his farm. His needs were obviously for himself and his family, but also in order to maintain his livelihood, how to look after the pigs who were overheating as their shade had been destroyed, providing animal food and water too. Clearly the situation on the ground is more complex than we an imagine and it made sense to hear that many experts from DEC member's humanitarian teams have a public health/water/ sanitation/construction background which is vital. Many other skills are also needed as part of rebuilding, from psychology to law.

I was very impressed with the day, the professionalism of the DEC and the fundraising staff running this day, and it has definitely confirmed for me that this is a great consortium of charities doing amazing work.

Anything mumsnet can do to support their efforts would imo be fab!

PausingFlatly Wed 23-Nov-16 15:58:42

Thank you so much for these reports back.

I use Western Union fairly often and have seen them waive fees for the public after disasters.

I remember after one of the major Pakistan earthquakes, thinking how valuable it must be when there were such strong interpersonal and grass roots links between the UK and Pakistan.

So WU were enabling and increasing the efficiency of person-to-person and small-scale aid - which from what you're saying, colouring, is shown to be quite effective.

colouringinagain Wed 23-Nov-16 18:04:50

I know they're facilitating payment to UK teams going out (rather than them having to carry £10k in a suitcase as someone recounted!) and u would imagine internally within countries. They (WU) have such an international network that they're a great partner to have (and they had sponsored the immersion experience too). DEC clearly have many corporate partners who I am thinking have a big role to play in their operations... Good to see corporates working for good 😀

PausingFlatly Wed 23-Nov-16 20:24:29

That's excellent, colouring.

I used to think of WU as gouging moneychangers only to be used when there wasn't a handy auntie going back or forth, who could tuck folding stuff in her bra (not joking!).

But they're clearly the right people in the right place for this, with local networks already in place for their day to day operations. If they're doing this to build a positive brand image, it's certainly working on me...

PausingFlatly Wed 23-Nov-16 20:27:55

Were MapAction involved? A friend volunteers for them: they help create as accurate a picture of a situation as possible, as quickly as possible, for better targeting of relief action.

colouringinagain Wed 23-Nov-16 22:10:06

Yes Pausing. I have to say I didn't have a hugely high opinion of them though not founded in anything concrete. I agree - definitely good for a positive brand image!

Only a couple of corporates were mentioned in passing, WU more because they sponsored these two days. MapAction weren't mentioned - sound v interesting though (love a good map blush)

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