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Is Kenya Red Cross the backbone of disaster response in Kenya?

An editorial exploration of the efforts by the Kenya Red Cross Society in disaster response around the country.

The Kenya Red Cross Society disaster response team at Kware, Nairobi on April 13, 2024

The Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) which is based in South C has been a vital force in providing humanitarian assistance to communities across Kenya, particularly during times of crisis and natural disasters.

Established in 1965 through the Kenya Red Cross Society Act, the organisation's constitution is based on the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocols of 1977, to which Kenya is a signatory.

Over the years, the Kenya Red Cross Society has played a crucial role in responding to a wide range of emergencies, from severe droughts and floods to disease outbreaks and conflicts.

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KRCS teams have gone to great lengths to reach even the most remote and inaccessible communities, overcoming natural barriers such as rocky terrain and limited transportation options.

Beyond emergency response, the KRCS is also engaged in long-term community development initiatives, working to build resilience and empower local communities.

The organisation's work is supported by a dedicated team of staff and volunteers, who are driven by the spirit of service and a commitment to alleviating human suffering.

As the KRCS continues to navigate the challenges posed by natural disasters and humanitarian crises, its role as a vital lifeline for communities in need remains steadfast.

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Through its unwavering dedication and innovative approaches, the organisation continues to make a significant impact in Kenya, providing hope and support to those who need it most.

Red Cross gets its funding from donations, grants as well as commercial ventures and also accepts support from organisations, and government agencies.

In 2023, President William Ruto reinstated the government budgetary provisions with an initial allocation of Sh100 million.

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The head of state noted that the government would continue supporting the Kenya Red Cross in carrying out its work, especially in disaster and emergency services.

Since the onset of the March-April-May rains, several counties in Kenya have been grappling with the adverse effects, leading to widespread challenges for households and communities.

The heavy rains have caused displacements, submerged arable land, impacted businesses, and resulted in livestock deaths.

In response to these challenges, KRCS has taken proactive measures to ensure prompt emergency responses and mitigate the impact of the floods.

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The organisation has conducted search and rescue missions, prepositioned shelter kits, and distributed essential supplies to affected areas.

In Garissa County, a tragic boat capsizing incident occurred late on April 28, 2024, in the Tana River. The Kenya Red Cross swiftly responded, with their personnel conducting search and rescue missions.

By the third day, they had rescued 23 individuals and sadly recovered two bodies from the incident.

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In Machakos County, a young boy was marooned by floodwaters after being left behind by his parents.

Thanks to the quick deployment of a drone by the KRCS to assess the flooding situation, the child was spotted, and the organisation promptly alerted the Kenya Police, who deployed a chopper for the rescue. The boy was later taken to the hospital for treatment.

In Mai Mahiu, an area severely impacted by the bursting of a dam, the Red Cross has been actively involved in search, rescue, and retrieval efforts.

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The organisation has also provided psychosocial support services to affected families and facilitated the transport of several individuals to a health facility due to flash flooding.

In Mathare 4A, Red Cross rescued 18 individuals who were stranded by floodwaters caused by heavy rains on April 24.

Furthermore, the organisation has engaged in risk communication efforts to raise public awareness and promote preparedness amidst ongoing challenges caused by the rains.

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International standards of disaster management will generally prescribe a five-step procedure for response - prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Best thought of as a flywheel effect than a linear progression.

With this in mind? How does the government’s management of the flood situation compare to that of the Red Cross society?

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The Kenya Meteorological Department began issuing heavy rainfall advisories ahead of the March-April-May (MAM) long rains season and consistently through as rainfall patterns intensified.

Government entities simply reiterated the advisories with little mention of proactive mitigations in place to prevent any adverse effects. Only that Kenyans needed to avoid wading waters that are above the knee, county governments needed to clear drainage systems and humanitarian organisations needed to “enhance efforts”.

Governors have been adamant that their efforts are limited by delayed disbursement of disaster management allocations.

In and of themselves floods may not have been preventable. Government authorities, however, seem to have opted for the ‘sitting ducks’ approach, waiting to see just how bad it gets.

Efforts by the KRC and the communities they serve have ensured speedy evacuations in Kibra and (other regions). Witnessing safe evacuation procedures have gone on to ensure that more communities are prepared to avoid needless loss of lives.

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While it has taken a full-blown crisis to see people in power respond to “help flood victims”, it’s been encouraging to see Red Cross personnel as first responders and well-organised to be effective.

In his report for CNN from the Mai Mahiu flood site, Larry Madowo noted: “The government has set up a multi-agency team… and they have set up centres for members of the public to report their missing kin and they are also sheltering flood victims in nearby schools. But a lot of the work is being done by the Red Cross and people trying to salvage.”

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Beyond immediate shelter, food, clothing and medical care needs, people displaced by floods will need to return and rebuild their lives.

Considerations need to be made on whether temporary edicts on riparian land can be translated into practicable solutions to prevent future settlements in high-risk areas.

We can't discount the collaborative efforts by the government, the Red Cross and other humanitarian organisations with the current flooding situation but we must ponder the question on whether the government plays its role sufficiently or defer it to KRCS.

First responders from the Red Cross are often among the first in disaster scenes to provide essential aid and support.

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While their bravery and dedication are widely recognised, the multitude of challenges these heroes face in their line of work often goes unnoticed.

1. Exposure to injuries: First responders are at a high risk of physical injury from debris, unstable structures, and other hazardous conditions in disaster zones.

Additionally, they are exposed to health risks from contaminated water and air, leading to illnesses that can have lasting effects on their health.

2. Exhaustion: The nature of disaster response often requires long hours of physically demanding work, including lifting, digging, and navigating through challenging terrains. This can lead to severe physical exhaustion, making first responders more susceptible to injuries and reducing their effectiveness.

3. Trauma exposure: Regular exposure to traumatic situations, such as handling severe injuries, witnessing death, and interacting with grieving families, can lead to emotional strain.

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This constant exposure increases the risk of developing mental health issues such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

4. Compassion fatigue: Continuously caring for others in distress can lead to compassion fatigue, where responders become emotionally depleted and unable to empathise or feel compassion for others. This not only affects their mental health but also their ability to provide care.

5. Resource scarcity: In many disaster scenarios, resources can be scarce. First responders often have to make do with limited medical supplies, inadequate shelter, and insufficient food and water for themselves and the victims.

6. Security concerns: In conflict zones or areas with high crime rates, first responders face the threat of violence from local factions or criminals. Ensuring the safety of the personnel becomes an additional challenge in such environments.

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KRCS volunteers play a vital role in responding to humanitarian emergencies to alleviate human suffering.

The Society relies heavily on volunteers who invest their time and energy to serve humanity during emergencies, by providing essential support and care to those in need.

Additionally, volunteering with the Red Cross offers individuals the opportunity to make a tangible difference in their communities, and contribute to the well-being of society.

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By joining the Kenya Red Cross as a volunteer, individuals can actively participate in social mobilisation, case management, and surveillance efforts, ultimately helping to reach and positively impact thousands of people in need

Requirements listed on Kenya Red Cross website for volunteers include:

  1. Responsibility to behave in accordance with the Kenya Red Cross Society code of conduct.
  2. Must conduct themselves with integrity and honesty and to display a committed and positive attitude while performing their assigned tasks.
  3. Must have the Responsibility to participate in any necessary training provided by the society.
  4. Respect the rights, beliefs and opinions of beneficiaries.

Editor's Note: During the ongoing flood situation members of the public are encouraged to contact the Kenya Red Cross Society for emergency help.

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