Strengthening local actors in water and sanitation across Latin America

Frequent floods and earthquakes affect the people in Latin America. During such events, local actors such as National Red Cross Societies are amongst the first to respond. The effective deployment and coordination of emergency response is crucial to ensure rapid rescue operations and save lives. Water and sanitation are key in preparedness, relief and recovery, as the failure to ensure an adequate supply of drinking water or the safe disposal of waste is a major contributing factor to disease transmission, ill health, misery, and death.

The regional Water and Sanitation Disaster Response and Preparedness Programme was initiated in 2014 to strengthen the local response capacities of the Red Cross. The programme contained plans to strengthen coordination across the region, and to increase Red Cross participation in national and regional platforms on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

Red Cross volunteers participating in a workshop for disaster preparedness in Latin America. @ Spanish Red Cross

This project was based on a local approach, developed by five Latin American National Red Cross Societies: led by the Salvadorian Red Cross, the other programme partners were the Red Cross Societies of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Colombia. The project was funded by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development (AECID), which signed the contract with the Latin American Red Cross National Societies involved. The Spanish Red Cross provided support in managing the project funds and complying with donor reporting requirements, and sent a delegate to El Salvador to contribute to the implementation of the programme.

Based on capacity strengthening activities, the project was divided into two separate phases across a couple of years, with the Spanish Red Cross delegate present for 6 months in the first and three months in the second. Each Red Cross Society was assessed and specific projects were developed to address the weaknesses detected, in line with their respective priorities. Equipment and resource inventories were established and updated, followed by the development of deployment protocols, ensuring actors are organised to maximise their effectiveness in the critical minutes following an incident. Personnel received training drawn from an updated curriculum specialised in sanitation and the promotion of hygiene.

Red Cross volunteers received a training on subjects such as hygiene and sanitation. @ Spanish Red Cross

While the project strengthened local capacities, it also included activities on the ground. These focused on increasing access to drinking water and promoting hygiene procedures among vulnerable communities. Red Cross staff and volunteers disseminated information on subjects including personal hygiene, food hygiene and the maintenance of public and private toilets.

The project enabled local National Red Cross Societies from the region to come together to share lessons learnt, and reinforce common deployment strategies in collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Dialogues were initiated with national bodies and other major actors in each of the participating countries. The Guatemalan Red Cross, for instance, gave a workshop in June 2016 on the need to update WASH capacities, with attendees including the regional office of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Ministry of National Defence.

By combining their efforts and working together, National Red Cross Societies aim to improve national and regional coordination of disasters responses. @ Spanish Red Cross

As a result of their increased collaboration facilitated by the programme, the partner Red Cross Societies actively participated in the national and regional coordination of disasters responses. When the outbreak of the Zika virus at the end of 2015 caused a national emergency in El Salvador, they were part of the multilateral response, distributing aid through the specialised sub-commission.

Today, the WASH sector has been strengthened at national and regional levels across Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia and El Salvador. By the end of the programme, agreements had been signed between the National Red Cross Societies and other key actors in the sector, strengthening their collective ability to provide effective responses to disasters across the region. A testament to South-South cooperation, the results of this programme are affective across the local communities to which the Latin American National Red Cross Societies are directly accountable.