Two years ago, Demissew Alemu joined the Ethiopian Red Cross. When flooding caused the overflow of the Awash River this year, Demissew was on the ground, ready to help. His preparedness for that moment came in part through training the Canadian Red Cross had provided to the Ethiopian Red Cross’s disaster management system.

A Red Cross member in EthiopiaThe Capacity Strengthening for Emergency Response in Africa (SERA) initiative is part of a partnership between the Canadian Red Cross and the Government of Canada. One of the main focuses of SERA is helping to train local Red Cross societies in partner countries so that they are better prepared to respond to disasters and emergencies.

Last year, a SERA training program specifically for national disaster response teams (NDRT) and branch disaster response teams (BDRT)  provided teams in Ethiopia with knowledge that would be used to respond to the severe drought impacting the country. Since this training took place, participants have been very involved in operations ranging from droughts, floods, landslides and conflicts.

Throughout a disaster or emergency NDRTs and BDRTs play an important role – they can help lead early assessments for the situation and what help is needed, help with distributions and conduct follow-ups.

An aid distribution point in EthiopiaTraining like this helps to empower people on a local level because it gives them the tools to respond quickly and effectively. Yilma Elka, a Program Coordinator and Head of Resource Mobilization Unit in Wolayita Zone and NDRT member, one of the hardest hit areas by recent drought, explained, “in previous cases...we had to wait for headquarters staff from the Ethiopian Red Cross to arrive and conduct assessments before any disaster response could take place. Now, thanks to capacity building trainings by SERA, we can conduct the first assessment, allowing us to save time, money, and lives.”

Nicole Fassina is a disaster management aid worker at the International Federation of the Red Cross regional office in Nairobi. She has also seen first-hand the importance of this kind of training,”Capacity building at the country level is critical in ensuring a quick humanitarian response. The Canadian Red Cross, through the SERA project, provided invaluable assistance to speed up the launch of the recent floods in Ethiopia. The development of National Society branches at the local level meant the assessment data was available to feed into a plan of action and budget aligned to humanitarian and movement guidelines. ”

Distributing water and suppliesWhen flooding impacted those living in Oromia and Afar Region,  Demissew was able to lead the assessment team, something which previously they would have needed to wait for someone else to do – and during disasters time isn’t something everyone has to spare.

“We arrived the next day, finalized the assessment in the third day, and sent the report to the headquarters – which was not the usual case. Previously we had to wait for assessment teams to come, and this might take two weeks or more. When we arrived at the site, the road was closed. There were people who had lost most of their belongings and remained without shelter; others were still waiting for help after climbing a tree and staying there for almost three days.” Demissew said.

Using the information collected during this assessment, the Ethiopian Red Cross, supported by the Canadian Red Cross, put together a quality work plan and budget for responding to the flood. This was submitted to the International Federation of the Red Cross, who was able to make a quick decision to release funding.

“If not for the SERA training, we wouldn’t have been able to reach people in time,” Demissew said, “I am very happy to work for the Red Cross, and to help people – especially being a part of the disaster response team which gives me a unique opportunity to reach people and save lives.”

So far, a total of 16 NDRT and 171 BDRT members have been trained since the start of the SERA initiative.

The SERA project is made possible through support from the Government of Canada.