Emergencies, disasters and our humanitarian response | ActionAid UK

Emergencies, disasters and our humanitarian response

When a country is hit by disaster, those living in extreme poverty often suffer most. Girls and women are particularly vulnerable.

Our local staff provide immediate relief and work long term to rebuild communities, and strengthen their resilience.  Local women are in charge, often advising what their communities need, and oversee the distribution of aid, to ensure fairness and transparency. 

The impact of crisis

Over the last 20 years, almost two in three people worldwide have been badly affected by natural disasters and violent conflict. These events are devastating the lives of women and children already living on the brink of survival. 

Those living in the poorest places are the most vulnerable, living in precarious housing or in areas more prone to flooding and drought. 

This is why building people’s ability to cope with disasters and devise sustainable solutions is such an important part of ActionAid’s humanitarian response strategy.

  • 100
    The number of refugees and internally displaced persons have tripled in the last 30 years.1
  • 100
    Natural disasters killed 1.2 million people between 2000 and 2012.2
  • 86
    Of 22,000 disasters between 1981 and 2011, 86% were caused by climate-related hazards.3

Responding in a crisis

We’re on the ground responding to disasters as they happen. Our local teams work round the clock delivering life-saving supplies to the worst hit communities. 

Training women to be emergency response leaders is a big part of our work. Women like Sabita (below) who helped over 500 people into storm shelters when Cyclone Mahasen hit southern Bangladesh.

Building resilience for the future

In the months and years following an emergency we work with local people to give them the support they need face the future with renewed hope, whether it’s raising houses above floods levels, or helping them get back to work with loans or buying cows or fishing boats. We listen to what they really need. 

In areas that face a lot of natural disasters, we help people get trained and ready to deal with the next disaster when it hits.

In Nepal, ActionAid teaches schoolchildren how to protect themselves when earthquakes strike. In Bangladesh we train women to lead people to shelters during cyclones. The results are astonishing: in Bangladesh in 2013, Cyclone Mahasen killed 17 people, compared to 3,500 deaths during Cyclone Sidr in 2000. 

ActionAid’s work in emergencies in 2016

Emergencies responded to1

People received emergency assistance2

People trained to protect lives and livelihoods and prepare for emergencies3

A lifeline for refugees

ActionAid’s women’s centres in Greece provide vital support to traumatized mothers and children fleeing violent conflict in other countries.

For new arrivals we provide hygiene kits with wipes, soap and nappies, and places to breastfeed in private. For the thousands stuck in Athens or Lesvos our centres give women a space to talk and grieve with those who survived a long and dangerous journey and now face an uncertain future.

Our volunteers speak Arabic and Farsi, so they can pass on essential information, refer the most vulnerable for medical treatment and offer hope and reassurance to women feeling isolated and scared.

Rebuilding homes and lives in Nepal

Two massive earthquakes devastated Nepal in April and May 2015, killing over 9,000 people and injuring 18,000 others. Our established presence in rural, isolated areas meant local staff were able to respond immediately.

Using motorbikes to get through roads deemed impassable by collapsed buildings and mudslides, our teams provided 20,000 families with emergency food, medicine and bedding. We also set up women’s centres to give mothers a private space to breastfeed and care for their babies.

Following the earthquake, we reached than 120,000 people, helping build 23 women-friendly spaces, temporary shelters for over 7,000 families, and more than 50 temporary schools. 

Local women led ActionAid’s Ebola response

ActionAid was one of the first international agencies to respond to the Ebola crisis in 2014. Working alongside health and aid charities in a concerted international effort we supported over 500,000 people in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

We helped stop the spread of Ebola because we put dedicated local volunteers — mostly women — at the centre of our response. Fear and misinformation was fuelling the virus, so we trained 1200 respected local people — nurses, mothers, teachers — to visit remote communities, gain people’s trust and raise awareness of how to stop Ebola spreading and what to do if you got it.

People were taught to cook meat thoroughly, regularly clean and disinfect their homes and animal pens, wash their hands, wear appropriate clothing when tending to the sick and dying, and limit physical contact. 

The volunteers also gave education packs to children unable to go to school and supplied detergents, disinfectants and protective clothing to 58 medical centres. Our commitment to long term support means we are still there: working with grieving communities to help them recover from the physical, psychological and financial losses caused by the outbreak.

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Read our latest blog posts about our emergency and humanitarian response work.

Learn more about the challenges women and girls face, and how we’re working with them to build long-term solutions.

We work in rural and urban communities across Africa, Asia and Latin America.


Photo credits: Brian Sokol/ActionAid, Laura Elizabeth Pohl/ActionAid, Mahmud/MAP/ActionAid, Anna Pantelia/ActionAid, Srikanth Kolari/ActionAid, Kate Holt/ActionAid.