While the concept of community resilience is gaining traction, the role of spontaneous volunteers during the initial response to disasters remains controversial. In an attempt to resolve some of the debate, investigators examined the activities of a spontaneous volunteer group called Nafeer after the Sudan floods around the city of Khartoum in August of 2013.
Can spontaneous volunteers successfully initiate, coordinate, and deliver sustained assistance immediately after a disaster?
This retrospective, descriptive case study involved: (1) interviews with Nafeer members that participated in the disaster response to the Khartoum floods; (2) examination of documents generated during the event; and (3) subsequent benchmarking of their efforts with the Sphere Handbook. Members who agreed to participate were requested to provide all documents in their possession relating to Nafeer. The response by Nafeer was then benchmarked to the Sphere Handbook’s six core standards, as well as the 11 minimum standards in essential health services.
A total of 11 individuals were interviewed (six from leadership and five from active members). Nafeer’s activities included: food provision; delivery of basic health care; environmental sanitation campaigns; efforts to raise awareness; and construction and strengthening of flood barricades. Its use of electronic platforms and social media to collect data and coordinate the organization’s response was effective. Nafeer adopted a flat-management structure, dividing itself into 14 committees. A Coordination Committee was in charge of liaising between all committees. The Health and Sanitation Committee supervised two health days which included mobile medical and dentistry clinics supported by a mobile laboratory and pharmacy. The Engineering Committee managed to construct and maintain flood barricades. Nafeer used crowd-sourcing to fund its activities, receiving donations locally and internationally using supporters outside Sudan. Nafeer completely fulfilled three of Sphere’s core standards and partially fulfilled the other three, but none of the essential health services standards were fulfilled. Even though the Sphere Handbook was chosen as the best available “gold standard” to benchmark Nafeer’s efforts, it showed significant limitations in effectively measuring this group.
It appears that independent spontaneous volunteer initiatives, like Nafeer, potentially can improve community resilience and play a significant role in the humanitarian response. Such organizations should be the subject of increased research activity. Relevant bodies should consider issuing separate guidelines supporting spontaneous volunteer organizations.
. A Qualitative Analysis of the Spontaneous Volunteer Response to the 2013 Sudan Floods: Changing the Paradigm. Prehosp Disaster Med. 2017;32(3):240–248.