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China earthquake: Coordination between aid agencies is vital

By Fan Xiaowen, Sichuan Programme Manager, Save the Children China

Imagine what life is like for a child whose village has been struck by a massive earthquake.

Her home badly damaged, she’s been forced to live in a flimsy tent – its fabric barely thick enough to keep out the cold air at night.

Her immediate needs include shelter, food, water, blankets, crockery, toiletries, clothes and sanitary items.

Too much of a good thing

The next day, the first aid worker arrives with a nice warm blanket. Now she can be warm at night.

But when the next truck pulls up,  from a different aid agency, it is loaded with more blankets. The child and her family are running out of soap and sanitary napkins – but piling up unnecessary blankets.

This is the reason why coordination between aid agencies is so important.

Aid agencies are already struggling to get enough funds to cover urgently-needed items: they need to ensure that their collective funds help the highest possible number of people in an emergency – which means avoiding duplication.

Bringing agencies together

To help kick-start coordination between agencies, Save the Children facilitated a two-day response-planning exercise on 5-6 May in Ya’an City, Sichuan Province, China.

It was attended by representatives from various grassroots NGOs involved in helping quake-affected people. The event was the first formal coordination meeting of its kind in Ya’an City.

Humanitarian topics such as assessing families’ needs and standards for aid delivery were discussed and debated on day one, paving the way for a new joint response strategy to be created on day two.

It was heartening to see improvements being suggested and new ideas being formed as the discussions progressed.

Getting what they need, when they need it

At the end of the two days, the representatives came away with a clearer idea of what coordination meant – not only among themselves, but also externally with the government and donors.

Coordination can be a challenge: especially during the early phases of a response when every minute that passes may have life-threatening implications for a child in need.

The process of ensuring that everyone is communicating clearly can be time-consuming but it is essential: this way, we ensure that children and their families in desperate situations receive what they need, when they need it.

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