The five crucial ingredients for an emergency humanitarian response

Ever wondered what it takes to get essential humanitarian aid to the people who need it?

03 Aug 18

We operate in all corners of the globe in countless different contexts, responding impartially to the unseen emergencies that occur in situations of conflict or natural disaster.

We go where we're needed.

Emergencies are messy, complex and chaotic. People’s lives are threatened, families shattered and the future is uncertain. The needs are often huge.  While the international spotlight is currently on the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia, MSF teams in more than 70 countries – many of which rarely appear in the media – continue their dedicated life-saving work daily. 
Whether in the east of Democratic Republic of the Congo, the shores of Lake Chad, the Amazonian regions of southwest Colombia, or indeed Indonesia each response has a few ingredients in common.

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1. Passionate staff

In 2017 MSF had a total staff of 45,232 with locally hired field staff accounting for 84%. 
People like Innocent – who understand the needs, have the skills and, crucially, care enough to go the extra mile – are few and far between. But as leaders they make all the difference.

Watch Innocent’s story about responding to the cholera epidemic in the remote eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

2. Innovation

Whether it’s by boat or plane, on three-wheels or two feet, reaching those who need medical care involves thinking outside the box.

3. The ability to work with the community

Working alongside the community is often the secret to an effective response. If people don’t believe that the work we are doing will have a positive impact, why would they cooperate?

In Niger, a community-led response to a little known but potentially fatal strain of hepatitis – hepatitis E – led to a drop in the spread of the disease.

4. A knowledge of the context

Complex, dangerous, and sensitive: a conflict or disaster zone requires a real understanding of the political landscape and how to navigate between different, sometimes violent, groups to deliver aid.

In Colombia, the emergency team can save lives, but only by treading carefully to gain access to affected populations.

5. The resources

Getting to locations that lack infrastructure, have been decimated by conflict, or are suffering the devastating aftermath of a disaster requires resources. Lots of them. Thanks to funding that is almost 100% from private donors, MSF can afford to intervene in emergency contexts wherever they are in the world.


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