Red Cross/ Red Crescent Climate Centre

In Belarus, early warning early action…

06/09/2013 - by Louisa Whitlock, Climate Centre

Timely action taken by the Belarus Red Cross (BRC) to prepare for this year’s spring floods made a significant difference to the society’s ability to respond, according to an IFRC report

Money from the IFRC’s Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) –  which provides rapid financial support for Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies’ emergency operations – enabled the BRC to sustain a more comprehensive emergency response.
 
After unusually heavy snowfall and cold weather in early 2013, the national meteorological agency forecast a greatly increased risk of flooding when the snow melted, the final DREF report adds.
 
In response to estimates that over 10,000 people could be affected, the Belarus emergencies ministry asked the BRC to prepare to assist in the national response effort. 
 
Psychological support
 
The BRC applied for a DREF grant to enable it to scale-up disaster preparedness; it trained extra volunteers and practised search and rescue. 
 
The National Society was able to procure inflatable dinghies and water pumps and prepare food and non-food relief items, which were all quickly brought to areas where flooding was expected. 
 
By the end of March, major rivers were beginning to rise and thousands of homes and businesses were eventually flooded. 
 
Working closely with the government and the IFRC, 70 BRC staff and more than 350 volunteers evacuated people, helped pump out houses and vital infrastructure, and distributed blankets, food and hygiene kits. 
 
The volunteers also provided psychological support for those affected by the floods.
 
Six days to four hours
 
The DREF funding also covered insurance for BRC volunteers, who faced difficult conditions in their efforts to get aid through.  
 
The extra level of preparedness allowed by the DREF funds reduced the average time needed to bring assistance from six days to four hours, the IFRC concludes.
 
Spring floods caused by melting snow are a regular occurrence in Belarus, where thaws can be sudden. 
 
The BRC and the government have experience of working together to respond to flooding, but this year’s experience has highlighted the value of making extra preparations when forecasts indicate a particularly high risk of flooding.
 
The IFRC handbook on early warning early action defines it as “routinely taking humanitarian action before a disaster or health emergency happens, making full use of scientific information on all timescales.”
 
It is part of the Red Cross Red Crescent response to rising climate risks worldwide.
 
Belarus Red Cross volunteers quickly assisted with evacuations, pumped out buildings and distributed blankets, food and hygiene kits after this year’s serious spring floods. 
(Photo: Belarus Red Cross)