Compiled by Kotie Geldenhuys
Photos courtesy Centrum Guardian project
Whenever a disaster strikes, such as the fires that resulted in massive destruction in Knysna during June 2017, an earthquake in Italy or a tsunami in Japan, thousands of people need help. Apart from those who collect food, clothes, blankets or money for the victims, there are others who organise firefighting or search and rescue equipment and go to the disaster area.
Volunteering often plays a pivotal role in the pre-disaster risk reduction phase and post-disaster recovery efforts following disasters. The types of disasters to which volunteers respond are natural disasters which include hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, floods, tropical cyclones, wildfires, mud slides and snow storms as well as human disasters which include terrorism attacks, warfare, casualty/liability events and displacement crises (DMISA, 2016).
When disaster strikes, many people want to help. Some get into their vehicles or jump onto a plane to see how they can assist. But it is not always that easy and people who volunteer their help to disaster victims must realise that without specific training or affiliations, they can actually cause more problems in a disaster situation, specifically when the disaster locations are far away from their homes, since there is no additional food, accommodation or other services available for volunteers.
Laskey (2016) argues that community-based disaster preparedness approaches are increasingly important elements of vulnerability reduction and disaster management strategies. Volunteering, although it is strongly resisted by certain emergency services, is often very beneficial. The principle of donating time and energy for the benefit of other people in the community can be regarded as a social responsibility rather than for any financial reward. There are many definitions for volunteering, but Laskey (2016) prefers to use the following: "To choose to act in recognition of a need, with an attitude of social responsibility and without concern for monetary profit, going beyond one's basic obligations." Volunteering is generally considered an unselfish activity in which people provide services for no financial gain. But volunteerism is not only about giving; it is also known for a number of other positive and useful benefits as many volunteers are specifically trained in the areas in which they work, such as medical assistance, search and rescue operations, firefighting and mountaineering. Benefits for volunteers can include:
- developing skills;
- promoting goodness (social upliftment) or improving human quality of life;
- positive benefits for community being served; and
- making contacts for possible future employment.
National and international response to disasters
South Africa is fortunate to have people with a lot of skills who assist during disasters. Rescue South Africa, an official South African Disaster Response Team, consists of volunteer emergency response specialists from the South African public and private sector emergency and ancillary services, and is one of the NGOs organising and coordinating missions to affected areas. Their multi-disciplinary task forces include specialist rescuers, trauma doctors, paramedics, K9 search dog units, civil engineers, chemical specialists and safety specialists (www.rescue-sa.co.za). Rescue South Africa resorts under the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG), a global network with more than 80 countries and organisations under the United Nations umbrella. INSARAG deals with urban search and rescue (USAR)-related issues (www.insarag.org). When Rescue South Africa goes on a mission, they are well equipped since they have their own camping equipment, food, rescue equipment, medication and doctors - this is so that they don't become a burden to the country where they render assistance (www.news24.com/southafrica/news/sa-rescue-team-heading-to-japan-20110314). (Refer to the related article about Rescue South Africa published in the October 2017 issue of Servamus.)