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How Ireland responds
How the world responds
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When Disaster Strikes - How The World Responds

Disasters strike at different times and places in the world, often without warning. Floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can all occur unexpectedly. Other disasters such as war and famine may not be as sudden, but can be equally devastating.

In general, the local and national emergency services in the countries affected try to respond as quickly and as effectively as they can to come to the aid of people in need. All countries have their own systems designed to respond to emergencies, with varying degrees of efficiency. Clearly, the quality of the response mechanisms has a major bearing on the number of lives saved in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

'The primary goals of humanitarian action are to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity during and in the aftermath of humanitarian crises'.

White Paper on Irish Aid, 2006


The reaction of people close to the scene of the disaster has a very significant influence on the impact of a disaster.

Neighbours and relatives are always the first to help at the scene. Local communities also come to the assistance of neighbouring communities and their immediate assistance can save many lives.

This response from the local people needs to be supported quickly and efficiently by competent emergency services. However in many developing countries the local emergency services are ill equipped to cope with large scale and sudden crises.

In large-scale disasters, countries often seek help from the international community. In the age of instant information, news of major disasters travels fast, and international aid can be mobilised extremely quickly. Countries can decide to seek assistance if their national services are overwhelmed. Governments may respond to the request, either directly through the provision of financial aid, or indirectly by supporting the work of international organisations such as the United Nations (UN) or the European Union (EU)


Aid Agencies Base Their Work on Accurate Information

Meanwhile Aid Agencies, many of which would already be working in the affected country, will be gathering important information, which will be used to ensure that the immediate needs of the people are known. Acting on this information, international aid agencies co-operate with the government of the affected country in order to decide the kind of support needed.

Many agencies decide that the best way to give assistance is through organisations who are already working in the country and who are familiar with local and national systems. These organisations are often referred to as partner organisations and their efforts may be supported by key specialist staff employed by the aid agency itself.

Once adequate information is available from sources on the ground, Governments, the United Nations, international aid agencies and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) work to alleviate the situation. Each will develop their own response, based on their role and experience, but also on a number of internationally agreed rules and standards of quality. They will complement the work of one another to provide food, medicine, equipment shelter and qualified personnel to help the country cope with the disaster.

It is also important to note that the relief work does not stop as soon as the disaster has stopped being news. Typically, aid agencies involved in alleviating the effects of a disaster expect to be involved with the affected population for up to three years afterwards.

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