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UMCOR INTERNATIONAL DISASTER RESPONSE

By Aurelio Gomes*

The International Disaster Response (IDR) unit within the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is charged with responding to an incident (or emergency) by providing assistance on behalf of The United Methodist Church.

As the humanitarian relief and development arm of the church, UMCOR’s vision is to strengthen and transform people and communities so that they might have abundant life. Compelled by Christ to be a voice of conscience on behalf of the people called Methodists, UMCOR/IDR’s mission is to work globally to alleviate human suffering, advancing hope and healing.

UMCOR’s approach to providing assistance follows the Disaster Management Cycle according to international standards, depicted here by the Disaster Management Emergency Response and Search and Rescue Academy (DIMESAR). (see figure below), IDR deals specifically with the Crisis Management part of the Disaster Management Cycle.

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UMCOR as a whole implements activities based on four goals, all of which begin by supporting partners providing resources and services to individuals, families, and communities:
1. To meet their basic needs in the aftermath of crises (Response);
2. To take actions to return to a normal or an even safer situation following an emergency (Recovery);
3. To establish protection mechanisms and activities that prevent an emergency, reducing the chance of an emergency happening, or reducing the damaging effects of unavoidable emergencies (Preparedness, Disaster Risk Reduction/
Mitigation);
4. To restore individual, family, and community development goals to pre-disaster levels (Reconstruction/Development).

With responsibility for the crisis management component of the Disaster Management Cycle, the scope of IDR’s work relates to goals one and two, Response and Recovery.

Response activities take place immediately after an emergency, and the main objective is to respond safely. Response includes actions taken to save lives and prevent further property damage during an emergency. Response is putting preparedness plans into action! Examples of interventions during this phase are provisions for:

1. safe water, sanitation, and hygiene;
2. adequate and appropriate emergency food aid;
3. access to emergency shelter or housing;
4. access to essential nonfood items (NFI) to people affected by the crisis, and;
5. access to appropriate psychosocial and/or spiritual support for individuals and families in need.

Other examples of response activities are seeking shelter from a tornado or turning off gas valves in an earthquake.

Recovery activities take place after an emergency, and the goal is to recover from that emergency, that is, to implement a set of interventions that will help the people affected by the crisis return to a normal—or even a safer—situation.

Examples of this phase are:
1. providing financial assistance to help pay for repairs;
2. rebuilding homes, schools, places of worship (up to 30 percent of grants), hospitals, and other facilities;
3. reconstructing water, sanitation, and hygiene systems and infrastructure; and
4. acting on other activities requested by the field partners.

In all interventions, UMCOR targets and prioritizes its assistance to meet the needs of vulnerable, marginalized populations. UMCOR requests that its partners follow a “leave no one behind” mandate—to include the most marginalized and excluded groups of people for services. In the selection process, close cooperation is expected from the local community, especially from the local government bodies and administrators, and any NGO local-level coordinating agencies. The final list of who will receive services is validated by the local government body or local administration.

In its programming approach, UMCOR adheres to the Sphere Minimum Standards in humanitarian response and the International Committee of the Red Cross Humanitarian Code of Conduct. UMCOR requires its partners to do the same.

The story that follows illustrates how UMCOR’s International Disaster Response follows the goals and objectives described above and what that looks like on the ground. This is just one of many responses made last year around the world through our implementing partners thanks to the generosity of United Methodist support.

*Dr. Aurelio Gomes served as the Director of Implementation for International Disaster Response, UMCOR, at the time this article was written.

Family by Family—Flood Relief in Bangladesh

By Muslim Aid-United Kingdom, Bangladesh Office*

Jahura, her husband Miah, a boatman, and their two children live in the 9th Ward of Rasulpur Village in the Sunamganj District of Bangladesh. This area endured excessive rains and flooding in March and April 2017. The damage and loss of crops had severe repercussions for Bangladesh’s northeastern region into the fall, when food prices soared and work options plummeted. By that time, Jahura was eight months pregnant and battling an illness made worse by chronic malnutrition. The family’s only source of income was a small boat that Miah used to fish and rent out to others. Jahura’s stomach pain increased as her pregnancy progressed, and she found it hard to bear.

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A worker with Muslim Aid-UK, Bangladesh office, visits one of the beneficiaries of a flood relief program in Sunamganj District, Bangladesh. Muslim Aid-UK received an UMCOR grant to help meet the basic needs of low income and vulnerable people in the district. PHOTO: MUSLIM AID-UK/BANGLADESH

Jahura went to a doctor, which cost them 300 Bangladesh Takas (BDT, the currency in Bangladesh, at a rate of about 12 cents on the U.S. dollar). The doctor gave her a prescription, but the medicines would cost BDT 3000 at the pharmacy.

Miah decided to mortgage his boat to get the money for his wife’s medication, but soon they did not have enough income for the family to survive. While Jahura began to recover day by day with the medicine, the family’s income dried up and they all suffered from hunger and malnutrition.

But then Jahura’s neighbor informed her about a meeting in Rasulpur Village to select beneficiaries for relief aid for those affected by the flood—and this is how Jahura and Miah were introduced to the Muslim Aid-UK Bangladesh Field Office and the support of the Methodist family through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). After Jahura attended the meeting and explained her family’s situation, they were chosen as beneficiaries.

The Muslim Aid-UK/UMCOR project reached 1337 households like Jahura and Miah’s with basic hygiene kits and a cash grant—4000 BDTs that they could use to meet their needs. Miah was able to pay back the mortgage to reclaim his boat and in addition, Jahura bought much-needed food items. Today, Miah is back to earning BDT 150 to 200 daily from boat rentals and he earns enough to buy food and some of the family’s other needs. Life has improved. Now the family of five, with a new baby, looks forward with hope to brighter days.

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Grassroots community consultation for UMCOR/Muslim Aid-UK flood relief program in Sunamgani District, Bangladesh. PHOTO: MUSLIM AID-UK/BANGLADESH

International Disaster Response reaches into suffering communities around the world—through partner agencies that know the region and the people, finding the vulnerable families that need help to survive and then thrive. Many families with the Muslim-Aid UK project used the money to buy what they needed most—food, but a little was left to invest in other activities. Muslim Aid-UK follow-up interviews show that some bought livestock, others, seeds and fertilizers, while some families bought medicine, or repaid loans, or put a little into savings.

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From project reports submitted by Muslim Aid-UK, Bangladesh Office.

Copyright New World Outlook magazine, Spring 2018 issue. Used by permission. Email the New World Outlook editor for more information.