Our Perspectives

Adaptation and attitude are two keys to crisis response


 Sierra Leone has begun to use new, environmentally-friendly sterilizing equipment to help dispose of the vast amounts of contaminated protective equipment and infectious waste generated in treating Ebola patients. (Photo: Lesley Wright/UNDP)

I came to Sierra Leone in July 2014 on a temporary assignment as Area Based Development (ABD) Advisor, but when I arrived the Ebola outbreak had reached an unprecedented scale and the delivery of UNDP’s regular programmes was low priority.  UNDP, as a development agency, was not seen as particularly relevant or equipped to deal with a humanitarian crisis.  But UNDP had programmable resources, a strong network of relationships with government and other stakeholders, and a strong desire amongst the staff to help their communities confront Ebola.  

A lot of my work at UNDP has been developing and implementing programmes in creative ways and having that experience helped during the Ebola crisis.  I helped the Country Office to reprioritize our activities in innovative ways to respond to the crisis. We reached out to our partners and marginalized groups to identify useful interventions that were in dire need.

We then reprogrammed UNDP’s work to build on our existing programmes and relationships to address key issues for those not yet reached by existing prevention activities.

As a result of this we have been able to:

  1. Work in partnership with local partner NGOs and government to train 300 volunteers and communities on Ebola to provide house to house information and awareness campaigns that have covered the least accessible areas of Sierra Leone and reached 500,000 people in slums in Freetown alone.
  2. Work with the Police, Army, Human Rights Commission and the Ministries of Health and Internal Affairs to develop standard operating procedures and train 2,000 security personnel and community representatives to coordinate the activities of the police, army, health professionals and communities in implementing emergency measures and ensure government checkpoints and quarantines respect human rights and avoid potential conflict and increased criminality.
  3. Build observation units for new male and female inmates to ensure no Ebola cases enter the prison. We also provided legal aid enabling 100 prisoners to be released to reduce prison congestion.
  4. Provide targeted sensitisation for 5,000 people with disabilities who were not reached by existing programmes because they live on the margins of society.

The challenge of ensuring delivery and constantly adapting to change is one of the things I appreciate most about working for UNDP.  To meet development needs, we need to have a delivery machinery with the flexibility to gear up to meet new challenges as they arise.   More agile systems and processes will make it much easier for our teams and partners to work in new and more sustainable ways and to deliver programmes that can adapt and respond effectively as needs and situations change.

This flexibility and creative adaptation of programmes, along with the indomitable spirit of a team that felt deeply and determined that UNDP contribute to the Ebola response, have been the key to our success in Sierra Leone.  This can be a lesson for innovative crisis response everywhere.

Jobs and livelihoods Crisis response Risk governance IGOs,CSO and NGOs Inclusive growth Africa Sierra Leone

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