Preparation to respond effectively to multiple hazards – Cameroon
Prevention, preparedness, early action and response to disasters and crises are at the heart of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). According to Mr. Jean Urbain Zoa, Secretary General of the Cameroonian Red Cross (CRC), one of the main challenges of the National Society is to prepare for any emergency: “Better preparedness will help anticipate crises and disasters and build capacity to provide an integrated response. Preparedness can save lives, reduce the severity of a crisis, involve people and empower them to manage future disasters ”.
Local actors are best placed to reduce disaster risk and take early action in the event of a disaster. The commitment of CRC volunteers, who support their own communities in times of emergency, is essential – but the organization is mindful that they too may need help. “The Covid-19 pandemic has affected some staff and volunteers in our organization, but we are trying to give the best response to the growing needs of the most affected communities”, said the Secretary-General.
Indeed, nothing has been the same since the pandemic arrived in Cameroon last year. Um Antoine, CRC first aid trainer, explains that “People in the communities are very afraid of Covid-19. They don’t want to be in contact with their neighbors to avoid contagion… the most disadvantaged people feel very lonely, some without any support or assistance ”.
Several NGOs and organizations that used to provide relief to the region have left. Yet Red Cross volunteers continue to respond to the outbreak, carrying out activities such as disinfecting homes and schools and encouraging people to wash their hands and other protective measures. The volunteers also run programs through community radio to ensure that information on reducing the spread of the pandemic reaches a large part of the population, and specialists are available to answer listeners’ questions. CRC is also working to stop the spread of disinformation, which can spread through rumors circulating in the community. In addition, community feedback is collected and analyzed to meet changing information needs over time.
The Cameroonian Red Cross is not content with responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. CRC has responded simultaneously to cholera outbreaks over the past year in the country. From experience, the National Society knows the importance of detecting an epidemic before it spreads to save lives, protect livelihoods and support long-term development. Well-trained and motivated CRC volunteers like Um Antoine visit members of their own communities, educating them about the signs and symptoms of acute watery diarrhea, the seasonality of cholera outbreaks and the need to report serious cases to volunteers or to health centers as soon as possible. possible. “We use available communication channels like megaphones, posters, social media and radio to disseminate protective measures against cholera and raise awareness of transmission through contaminated food or water. We are also working with the population to adopt hygiene measures to eradicate cholera from their communities ”.
To strengthen its response in the fight against Covid-19, cholera and other emergencies, CRC must continually build the capacity of its volunteers and staff at headquarters and in agencies. Over the past few years, CRC leadership, management and operational teams have discussed the importance of being prepared. According to Mr. Renauld Bodiong, director of cooperation of the Cameroonian Red Cross: “The effectiveness of the response depends on the initial preparation of the National Society. Therefore, it is important, and even essential, that a National Society engages in the preparation for an effective response (PER approach) which is an institutional approach to the preparation of NS to systematically assess, measure and analyze its strengths and its response system shortcomings to take action. Always try to work in an efficient, proactive and innovative perspective ”.
At the request of the CRC, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Swedish Red Cross and the French Red Cross have joined forces to organize, as part of the PER approach , an assessment of the capacity of the CRC to prepare for and respond to various types of hazards and to support the CRC in identifying its existing strengths and opportunities for further development.
The Covid-19 context posed a serious problem for the start of the process, in particular with the travel restrictions put in place as part of the Covid-19 preventive measures everywhere.
As the animators were unable to travel to Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, due to travel restrictions linked to Covid-19 in the first quarter of 2021, they provided remote technical assistance from Canada, Greece, Russia and Switzerland. The branches of the Cameroonian Red Cross do not have access to the Internet and the organization of remote interactive sessions has been a real challenge for all those concerned. Brand new teleconferencing equipment was purchased and installed in Yaoundé, where 36 CRC participants were able to meet in a large meeting room, respecting physical distancing recommendations. In addition, eight participants were also connected remotely from remote areas of the country with the support of the IFRC field offices.
Over 5 days, the National Society checked its ability to prepare for and respond to various types of emergencies, conducted an in-depth analysis of strengths and gaps, and built consensus around key priorities that require urgent attention. These priorities will form the basis of a work plan and feed into the National Society’s strategic and operational planning and fundraising processes.
According to Bodiong, “It was very interesting working online for the first time and being able to listen to everyone’s comments. For example, we have identified that warehouses built in high-risk areas with pre-positioned equipment, well-trained volunteers and adapted procedures would allow CRC to intervene effectively as quickly as possible to come to the aid of flood victims. in many departments regularly affected. the far north region and prevent cholera epidemics ”.
The Cameroonian Red Cross is now using evidence and recommendations from the PER approach to guide the continued strengthening of its disaster management systems in order to be better prepared to respond to emergencies that may arise in the future.