(Official correction - removes reference to International Medical Corps UK receiving DFID funding for 2010 Haiti earthquake in para 8, inserts 2010 Pakistan floods)
By Megan Rowling
LONDON (AlertNet) - The British government is setting up a network of humanitarian aid groups and businesses that can access funding “within hours” of a major disaster striking, speeding up emergency relief, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) said on Wednesday.
The Rapid Response Facility will enable approved organisations to mobilise more swiftly in the first three days after an earthquake, tsunami or floods.
"We need our best experts, equipment and aid on the ground quickly after a disaster, not tied up in red tape,” International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said in a statement. “They need to be able to do their job in the vital window of 72 hours, to save as many lives as possible.”
The facility will provide support during the first six weeks of a response, and the amounts released will depend on the scale of each emergency, said DFID.
The launch of the network marks the first time the UK government has brought the private sector together with non-governmental organisations to take part in emergency relief, it added.
So far, 33 organisations have received permission to participate, but the list is likely to be expanded.
Current members include large charities like Christian Aid, International Medical Corps, Oxfam, Save the Children, CARE International and the British Red Cross, as well as specialist groups like Handicap International and mapping volunteers MapAction.
“This is a useful initiative, because agencies often struggle to mobilise resources in the first few hours after it becomes clear an emergency response is necessary. The facility will allow us to plan and prepare in a more meaningful way,” said International Medical Corps UK spokesperson Josh Harris. The healthcare charity has received DFID funding for its responses to crises such as the 2010 Pakistan floods and the 2011 Libya conflict.
When the Rapid Response Facility is activated, agencies will submit proposals for funding, but there will be some flexibility, and they will not be locked into precise details of how they are going to spend the money before they start work on the ground, Harris added.
BRINGING IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR
On the business side, participating firms offer products that are needed by aid agencies in disasters, such as tarpaulins for shelter, radio and satellite communications, incinerators, vehicles, water purifiers and solar-powered lighting.
Jonathan Bamber of solar-energy firm ToughStuff said the company’s experience in the field has taught it the importance of acting in the first few hours of a crisis for people’s survival. Its solar kits power lighting that improves safety in aid camps and other places, as well as charging radios for vital information and mobile phones.
“Basic energy (gives) people an opportunity to get back to some semblance of normality following a disaster,” Bamber said.
DFID said the facility will help ensure that Britain’s aid response is effectively coordinated.
It is being established in response to an independent review that recommended London should allow organisations to pre-qualify for emergency funding, enabling a focus on quicker aid delivery, not bureaucracy – a practical move that is welcomed by aid agencies.
But the DFID approval can be revoked “at the first sign of poor performance”, the statement noted.
A real-time, disaster-planning exercise has tested how the new facility would get help to affected people quickly and effectively, it added.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)