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Worldwide networks of disaster relief assistance

After flooding, earthquakes or other disasters, rapid and specific assistance is vital. This is why the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has been working together with the THW and other German organisations as part of a Cluster Approach to providing relief.

The THW and WFP have been working closely together for over a decade. The Cluster Approach has proven to be particularly useful when providing humanitarian assistance: organisations with expertise in a particular sector come together under the leadership of a UN organisation, such as the WFP, and form a “cluster”. This helps each cluster to guarantee uniform and binding standards for the coordination of humanitarian assistance in its particular sector. Effective and fast communication among the cluster members ensures they can quickly react to potential supply deficiencies in the affected countries and better help the local population. Each cluster brings together international NGOs, the Red Cross and Red Crescent organisations, other UN organisations and governments, as well as funders and donors.

Logistics Cluster
One example within the Cluster Approach is the Logistics Cluster, which was set up by the UN in 2005. The WFP is the coordinator for this worldwide cluster and the THW is one of its members. During humanitarian disasters, this cluster coordinates and supports the logistics efforts of the relief organisations working in the affected region. The members of the cluster provide the strategic coordination and information management as well as logistics solutions for land, air and water.
Rapid assistance when disaster strikes cannot be provided without regular training. So the WFP offers a range of training courses. One of them is the “Logistics Cluster Induction Course”, which is supported by the THW and financed by the German Foreign Office. Participants in this course learn about the organisation of logistics chains, the drafting of operational plans and how to plan effective logistics meetings.
The THW provides support for the Logistics Cluster in the form of staff deployment but also in its strategic orientation. In Nepal two THW volunteers were deployed to organise the power and water supply in two WFP base camps for international aid workers, and one THW logistics expert provided support at the airport for the handling of aid deliveries. During the Ebola crisis, the THW deployed a logistics expert to the WFP main offices in Rome. “This cooperation is a win-win situation for all participating members,” said the THW volunteer Andre Hermann. “The THW supports the WFP and in turn, this helps the other international players. At the same time, the THW benefits because it does not have its own infrastructure in the affected countries, so via the cluster it can receive the necessary information much more quickly.” Andre is also the Logistics Officer at the Logistics Cluster and he made an active contribution to the establishment of its training provision.

Global Food Security Cluster
The Global Food Security Cluster (gFSC) is built up in a similar way to the Logistics Cluster. The WFP and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) are the joint coordinators of this cluster. Cooperation is also essential here, in order to organise food aid in the wake of droughts or other humanitarian disasters.
This cluster deals with issues of emergency relief aid: How can the group secure supplies of foodstuff and distribute them? The gFSC trains the command personnel of a range of participating organisations so they can take on complex relief-related duties throughout the world when affected countries need assistance. As part of the training, for example, the future cluster coordinators practice supplying food and water to hundreds of thousands of people in a virtual country. It is especially important here to pay attention to “soft skills” when dealing with representatives of national authorities and other players who might have conflicting interests.
“I can pass on my experience from the Food Security Cluster within Welthungerhilfe and also to other German organisations active in the field of food security. This helps us to understand the processes and better assess strengths and weaknesses,” reports Andrea Düchting, who was deployed by Welthungerhilfe to the gFSC at the beginning of the year. For Moses Mamanya, who is on an observer’s visit for the Danish Refugee Council at gFSC in Rome, the opportunity for international networking is also an important key to success. Both just took part in July in a one-week training for future cluster coordinators at the THW National Training Center in Neuhausen. The German Foreign Office financed the intensive training for future cluster coordinators, which was carried out jointly by the WFP and FAO, with support from the THW. Some 200 cluster coordinators from Africa, Europe, Australia, Asia and the Americas have already been trained here.

Emergency Telecommunications Cluster
In the wake of disasters such as earthquakes, communication networks often collapse. The aim of the Emergency Telecommunications Clusters (ETC) is to ensure that within 48 hours there is once again an operational telecommunication network for aid workers. The ETC provides telecommunications equipment in times of crisis. This cluster is also coordinated by the WFP. International IT and telecommunications specialists take part in the OpEx Bravo exercise each year to rehearse working together to build up and maintain networks in these circumstances. OpEx Bravo has been carried out at the THW National Training Center in Neuhausen since 2012, funded by the Foreign Office and supported by the THW.

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