How can communities organise themselves during flood emergency?

When flooding is inevitable, it is important to organize communities and take measures which reduce the adverse impacts of such a situation on the daily life of people affected. Early warning, assessment of immediate needs, provision of safe shelters for the affected population and adequate facilities are the key components of flood emergency response.

Early warning: Flood early warning is a message informing authorities of the impending danger of floods, that is, the water level rising above the warning level. Warnings provided and conveyed in an unambiguous, easily understandable manner and in local language through a legally designated single authority should be supported through communities to ensure that the warning message reaches the intended audience or vulnerable community with little or no distortion. Action should be taken to ensure that flood warnings are also issued through a medium that is readily accessible to the poorer communities. There should also be a mechanism within the communities to ensure that the message reaches all individuals, especially the weaker groups or groups with special requirements such as elderly or disabled people.

Rapid needs assessment: As soon as the flood situation becomes critical, a rapid assessment of the latest situation should be made to confirm immediate needs, and updates provided as the situation unfolds. Cooperated with organized community, common damage assessment and needs analysis should be undertaken by the coordinating agencies and information shared with local, state and national authorities and volunteer organizations. The most important feature of emergency response is the timely and efficient coordination between responsible government agencies, local communities and NGOs. Particular importance should be given to isolated communities, away from the glitter of media. Without a proper, immediate assessment of community needs, most of the services provided are wasted instead of serving the victims.

Safe shelters: Safe shelters need to be identified in advance and evacuation routes leading to designated shelters clearly marked. They should be equipped with food, water and sanitation in order to cater to emergency needs. Organization of shelters and distribution of aid among the affected population should be mainly in the hands of local community organizations, such as community flood management committees, which will be discussed subsequently. They not only help to accelerate and streamline smoothen operations but also reduce potential conflicts and discontentment among those affected by the flood. Organizational responsibilities vested in local response agencies will ensure that women and young girls are safe from sexual harassment while staying at temporary shelters or stranded in remote locations. Improving the situation of women is the best way to ensure the protection and survival of children when disasters strike. Strong social structures, such as special community support or community flood management committees to deal with psychosocial problems, help the community to cope with psychological trauma. Certain priorities should be set to prepare exclusive response program to meet the specific needs of infants, elderly people, pregnant women, and the disabled.

For more information about Rapid needs assessment, please refer to “Conducting Flood Loss Assessments” and the “Manual on Community Approach to Flood Management