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How do you describe an emergency?
An emergency is something new and unpredictable that suddenly impacts on the health, the wellbeing, the livelihood, of hundreds, thousands, millions of people. This can overwhelm the government or the public services in a country. That’s where national and international NGOs have a role to play in intervening to provide assistance and supporting governmental actors or other local actors to respond to the needs.
HI tends to work in very specific sectors of assistance. For instance physical rehabilitation and psychosocial support for injured people. Even if there are existing rehabilitation and mental health services in a country, HI has a role to play with local actors in terms of training them about emergency forms of rehabilitation and providing psychosocial support to survivors.
When does a crisis begin and end?
It really depends on the nature of the crisis. Usually natural catastrophes tend to have a very high impact in the first day or the first few days - think about an earthquake or floods. But then the long term impact might be limited. Usually within a matter of months, or sometimes years, people are supported to rebuild their homes and infrastructure is rehabilitated, whereas many crises, especially armed conflicts or related crises, can go much longer in terms of impact.
It’s not always easy to separate between when the emergency ends and the chronic crisis starts, and when the recovery phase or the development phase starts. Of course this year, the impact of Covid-19 has been in some cases a new emergency within existing emergencies, which has added new needs and problems and impacts on populations that were already suffering from conflict or poverty or displacement, or a combination of all of them.
What impact can an emergency have?
An important impact may be displacement, so people leaving their homes, feeling unsafe or feeling threatened in the place where they live. Entering into Internally Displaced Persons camps or refugee camps, and then potentially staying for years in these camps.
Loss of employment, loss of income, loss of economic opportunity and the capacity to sustain one’s livelihood is also a major impact in many different kinds of crisis. There can be an impact on the health of an individual and of a population. There might be people injured or killed due to armed conflict or due to national catastrophes. There usually is a long term impact on the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of people affected by a crisis.
We might think about the Syrian crisis started in 2011. We had a big peak of armed conflict and displacement outside Syria between 2012 and 2015/16. There are around 5 million Syrians displaced as refugees in neighbouring countries of the Middle East like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. And so most of them are still feeling very much the impact of this situation. They’ve been displaced six, seven, eight years, they are living outside of their home country, they’re living in camps, in tented settlements, or sometimes in homes. Low opportunity of education or employment and no guarantee of going home in the future.
What does HI do when an emergency doesn’t end quickly?
If the crisis stretches further into several years, then what we are looking at gradually is to try to transfer more and more of the responsibility for managing the assistance and the services, the technical capacity and the knowhow, to local actors – ideally to the state and to their technical departments, in the area where the affected population lives. When the state is not present or is too weak to take over the responsibilities then the transfer might happen towards civil society actors or local NGOs.
Then HI will shift towards working with the government to define inclusive policies that ensure that the needs of persons with disabilities and other victims of the crisis are met.
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