Fire professionals progress overseas humanitarian aid
Geoff Hayes MIFireE and Steve Jordan report on the UK Fire and Rescue Services International Development and Humanitarian Aid Programme:
For the past four years representatives from the UK fire and rescue services and a broad section of NGOs involved in carrying out international development and humanitarian aid projects IDHA have gathered together for an annual conference hosted by Greater Manchester FRS. Throughout, this engagement has provided an opportunity for delegates to share experiences, notable achievements and learn from each other on the impact of projects to mutual benefit.
Also, and more importantly, delegates to the conferences have been able to share information concerning those endeavours deemed to have been not so successful. Amongst many examples, emerging themes were misplaced benevolence, or projects having failed as not being sustainable or incorrectly pitched against other competing priorities. An example of the latter would be working in a developing country whereby their government's real priorities lie around public health, education or opening up accessibility to clean water.
The collective contributions of IDHA projects have undoubtedly made a significant impact in so many ways. These range from donating equipment and vehicles, delivering specialist training regimes, capacity building programmes, strategic guidance around civil resilience and protection of infrastructures. Other notable interventions around vocational outreach through Leonardo da Vinci have provided personnel with unique and challenging learning and development opportunities. The organisational benefits cannot be over stated, and we would commend interested parties to look no further than Shropshire FRS experiences in this field.
Following the first conference in 2008, we followed advice from Steve Barnes from the Cabinet Office to raise our profile and demonstrate that by working together we could maximise our potential to reach wider stakeholders. It was decided to pool our experiences having completed many IDHA projects. To this end a CFOA Task and Finish group was formed under the leadership of Assistant Chief Officer Steve Worrall, Shropshire FRS. The team included representatives from Operation Florian, the United Kingdom Rescue Organisation, Alf Wilson, Staffordshire Emergency Services Humanitarian Aid Association (SESHAA) and Cameron Black, Strathclyde FRS and UKRO's International Development Programme lead. The objective was to produce a Guidance Document for the implementation and delivery of IDHA projects. This practitioners' document remains in observance of the European Commission (EC) Council Regulation No 1257/96. In particular, it focuses on the following key determinants:
• Putting good donorship into practice and encouraging others to do so
• Promoting quality needs-based responses that draw upon acquired operational experience and lessons learned from previous crises
• Developing and disseminating best practice and sectoral guidance
• Facilitating policy dialogue and exchange of operational information
• Striving continually to improve performance and professionalism in the delivery of aid as a learning organisation, and
• Facilitating EU coordinated efforts to contribute to effective humanitarian response, including linking relief, rehabilitation and development.
The purpose of the guidance is intended to offer pragmatic, step-by-step guide to those who have the inspiration, or have been tasked with setting up and delivering IDHA projects. Its use is not mandatory, and offers no guarantee of success. What it does however, is offer valuable information condensed into 14 project phases based on years of experience from practitioners who have managed and led projects to countries within Europe and further afield. The document is supplemented by internet hyper links to other valuable sources of information. Key areas covered include doing your research, funding, selection of team members, their roles and responsibilities, safety and welfare and managing risk, communications with hosts and key stakeholders, what to take, and what not to take, understanding the political and social environment, delivering the aid and sustaining it. Of considerable benefit comes in acknowledging learning, celebrating success and disseminating learning experiences, and finally evaluation and project closure.
Clearly, funding for many of the IDHA programmes remain crucial and as is often the case derived from many sources, very much depending on the individual organisations' project objectives and need of diverse resources. Some organisations resort solely to fundraising activities, whilst over the past eight years or so a number of fire authorities have continued to invest in projects based on the benefits of developing their people. However, in view of the current financial constraints now faced by those same authorities, we envisage a reduced commitment in the future.
A number of projects have benefitted from early engagement and dialogue with the British Embassy in the host countries, who have been particularly helpful in part funding projects. Sometimes this has included covering airfares and accommodation for team members, or alternatively airfares for host country students to visit the UK for outreach learning experiences. That said, we must make it clear that the budgets available (Bilateral Programme Budgets) to support in this way require formal applications to be submitted.
The general criteria would be to outline the purpose of the project, key activities and objectives , impacts and outcomes which might include for instance expectations around capacity or contact building, and finally a breakdown of costs. Such applications are then assessed normally by a panel of experienced Embassy personnel.
The IDHA Group have not been very successful thus far in our attempts to engage directly with either Department for International Development DFID or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office FCO. This has been a source of some frustration and consternation for a number of us. We state this merely to reinforce our view that at least the UK government ought to be better informed as to our collective efforts overseas.
IDHA groups/organisations are already well accustomed to working with host governments that face many competing priorities. These are sometimes associated to climate change, lack of rainfall, poor food production, with famine and fever ever present. Yet within such environments these same groups/organisations have contributed significantly to raising the quality of life for communities such as improving access to clean water, medical aid, welfare and education and development of sustainable resources.
UK Government Shortfall
The lack of acknowledgment by the UK government is even more remarkable given their increased commitment to foreign aid programmes, especially the enormous budgets assigned to some countries. Surely there should be some connectivity in this area, not least given the expertise offered by organisations undertaking IDHA projects.
It is also true that many of us have encountered difficulties with the IDHA 'underworld' when dealing with clients. Such experiences can often prove problematical and need to be carefully handled so as not to deflect from the overarching objective of delivering the project. Further IDHA organisations feel that they continue to remain steadfast in their resolve to ensure prudent financial accountability throughout the life of projects. The real hope would be for the UK government to eventually acknowledge the worth of IDHA organisations and perhaps consider some of the projects on merit either current or in future and assist grant funding for a number. In essence this is a form of challenge reinforcing an expectation that could engage professionals to mutual advantage.
In 2012, we will be organising the fifth conference on October 10-11 again hosted by Greater Manchester FRS to coincide with International Disaster Risk Reduction days. In preparing for this event we will be inviting some eminent speakers from Europe to enhance the appeal. For further information organisations or individuals should contact: JordanSA@manchesterfire.gov.uk;
In concluding we feel sure we have been able to share what UK fire and rescue services and other organisations contribute to improving the quality of life for many international diverse communities.
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