When A Bucket Is Not A Bucket – Standardizing Relief Items: Part I

Earthquake in Faristan – Flash #1- October 3 2010 10:20 GMT.
Two hours ago, we experienced 7.8 earthquake with the epicenter in “Faraway”, one of the mountaneous regions in our country. We have reports of major structural damages and significant loss of life in the two district capitals, each with 200,000 inhabitants.
The structural damage includes destruction of vital road, power, communications, water and sanitation infrastructures. Houses and public facilities are said to have been severely damaged, if not totally destroyed. 
With the winter approaching, the international humanitarian community will work with the government to assure an appropriate response to this emergency.

 (signed) John Hakim,
Humanitarian Coordinator
Faristan Central Asia

While this is an imaginary (and simplified) example of an event notification we have seen similar ‘flash’ messages numerous times during our years as aid workers. From flooding in Mozambique, to hurricanes hitting Haiti, to earthquakes in China and the dreaded tsunami hitting Asia a few years ago such messages are

Many agencies and NGOs are geared to respond immediately to alert bulletins like these. Most organizations have internal ‘scripts’ or ‘activation protocols’ for mobilizing staff and preparing emergency equipment to be flown into the affected area.

Most sudden emergencies occur – unfortunately – on such a massive scale that no single organization can provide all the support needed. Most organizations specialize in one or a few areas of expertise: health care, sanitation, food, shelter, medical supplies, education, infrastructural support, etc. The key is for the humanitarian community to work together, a daunting task knowing that anywhere from a few dozen to several hundred organizations will respond to a major event. Each organization has its own procedures, its own funding mechanism, its own speciality within humanitarian relief and its own way “of doing things”.

Earthquake in Faristan – Flash #2- October 3 2010 12:35 GMT.
We collected more details on the earthquake with the epicenter in the “Faraway” region.
It is clear the area is cut off from the outside world, due to the collapse of bridges on the two main roads leading to the two district towns of “Farville” and “Awaytown”. Mudslides have either severely damaged or blocked secondary roads. There is no more public communications as the satellite earthstation in Farville suffered major damage. Electricity is cut off due to the collapse of several masts supporting the power lines.

(signed) John Hakim,
Humanitarian Coordinator
Faristan Central Asia

Once again, this is not an unusual scenario. Not only are a large number of people affected (i.e. two towns with 200,000 people each) but the response time is also critically important as organizations will need to bring in all supplies before winter hits. If people no longer have shelter, because their homes are destroyed, then the death toll during the post-earthquake period could be higher than the number of people killed by the earthquake itself.

A destroyed road infrastructure will mean airlifting equipment. This means that various types of aircraft (planes and/or helicopters) will need to be brought in to provide airlift capabilities. Knowing it is a mountainous area means there will probably be a limit in to the aircrafts' lifting capacity – the higher the altitude the less weight aircraft can carry at take-off and landing.

The moment we talk about ‘airlift’ we immediately begin talking of ‘limited access’ to transport. If a disaster area has road access then often the local trucking capacity is sufficient to bring in supplies. It certainly is far, far, far cheaper than airlifting amterials. Airlifts are ALWAYS expensive and ALWAYS have limited capacity.

Using airlifts, we will have to ensure every item we airlift, it is a needed item. If not we waste the limited transport capacity, capacity which could have been used for something that was actually needed.

Meanwhile another broadcast comes in:

Earthquake in Faristan – Flash #3- October 4 2010 14:35 GMT.
A response team was part of the government teamassessment of the emergency in the “Faraway” region. While the details will follow, we would like to appeal to the international humanitarian community for the following equipment:
- emergency shelter, blankets, sanitation and water storage/purification equipment for 400,000 people
- search and rescue teams and equipment
- emergency power equipment
- ground clearing and heavy lifting equipment
- self sufficient medical teams

and the list goes on and on…

One thing I can assure you of is that at this point I would no longer want to be in the shoes of Mr.John Hakim, the humanitarian coordinator. From now on, for the next 3-4 months, he will have many sleepless nights.

And you know what he will loose sleep on? He will loose sleep on the subject of “buckets”.

Why buckets? Stay tuned for Part II.




Obviously, no one knows when the next disaster will strike. But organizations like this one can be as ready as possible to do good work for so many. God bless those individuals that feel a calling to do this vital work and may God watch over them as they do all they can for victims that are hurting when things happen. We all need you. online casino