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As part of the GRRAM project start-up, CRS conducted a three-day workshop (November 1 – 3, 2011) exploring disaster risk reduction theory and how it is applicable to Gaza and how it serves as the foundation for GRRAM.

Nearly 30 participants attended and represented Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Palestinian Red Crescent, World Food Program, CRS Palestinian Community Assistant Program partners (Family Development Association (FDA); Palestinian Organization for Development (POD)and Save Youth Future Society (SYF). Some of the main “takeaways” from the workshop are listed below.

Put on the Ears: Most Relief and development project begin with needs assessment that defines the problem statement and interventions.   While increasingly we seek to include potential project participants, this process is often managed by NGOs with the intention of “feeding” it up to decision-makers or into a proposal.  The GRRAM project will require project staff facilitate a community-based assessment, analysis of the information, and proposed solutions. As noted by one of the participants, “Don’t assume you know the concerns of people we serve.  Their response is often something different than your perspective.  You may find surprising answers.”

Stuck in the Middle: The group explored the complexities of an urban environment, particularly one in which the primary shock is conflict such as the Gaza Strip. The way people think and how they are impacted is directly related to the Israeli occupation and the limitations of movement, goods and people. The Palestinian Israeli conflict has such a pervasive presence in the daily life of Gazan citizens that they cannot help but be preoccupied by its impact. In a general mapping of the hazards, the group mentioned many, including airstrikes and military incursions; internal conflict; asphyxiation related to generator fuel; siege and blockade; electricity cut off; elections; density of population; pollution; lack of water; poor water quality; high food prices; traffic accidents; and unemployment.

Survival Instinct:  In parallel to preparing a list of hazards, the participants identified different coping strategies Gazans employ.  These included purchase less food; filter water; dig wells; purchase generators to replace electricity; use cooking oil instead of petrol for cars; rely on tunnel trade; develop evacuation and contingency plan; and do voluntary work.

A Different Type of Urban: The Gaza Strip is very much an urban environment but not with slum conditions that typically comes to mind when thinking of the urban poor.  Gaza is one of the most densely populated geographic areas in the world of which two-thirds is urban.  At the same time the largest urban center, Gaza City, does not have any ghettos.  The urban poor are less obviously located and more sprinkled throughout the Strip.  Responding to the needs of the urban poor in this context will take some re-thinking on the part of staff and partners.

Who to go with?:  With the poor households living next to wealthier households, the project may need to consider beneficiary selection of the households differently.  After selecting a neighbourhood or specific geographical area that faces a high level of risk, who to engage in this DRR initiative will to be further refined.  Identifying the most vulnerable or understanding the levels of vulnerability will be important yet challenging in this setting as everyone is impacted by the same hazard-military incursions and the siege; yet not everyone is impacted equally. Recommendations from the workshop participants included selecting on the basis of family size as larger families are more economically stressed and therefore more vulnerable (i.e. 5 or more children) to the age of participants, again targeting ages that are more vulnerable to hazards. However, everyone agreed that one of the main criteria is self-targeting, whereby interested households self-nominate with CRS encouraging very vulnerable families to participate.  This will in large part help to address fears of participants’ motivation wavering over the course of the project.

What’s the Carrot?: Targeting and motivation, and challenging the ‘coupon’ culture (a culture of free handouts) – particularly since humanitarian assistance regularly began coming into the Gaza Strip since Operation Cast Lead – may be a challenge.  Tackling the issue of providing intangible ‘assistance’ and still asking people to participate in the program was identified as one of the obstacles by staff for smooth program implementation.  Recommendations from the workshop participants included: recognize participants as community leaders; encouraging participants to share personal stories; engage group regularly; provide participants referrals to services and information; celebrate the holistic nature of the participants (i.e. social, cultural, spiritual); provide in-kind incentives. Shifting from a service delivery way of conducting assessments to community focused programming will require a different approach.  During the past three years staffs, partners and beneficiaries have been accustomed to humanitarian assistance through which needs were identified by conducting rapid needs assessments followed by distributions of relief items.

New Framework: Integral Human Development & Disaster Risk Reduction were new concepts for staff as noted during the daily end-of-day evaluations.  In response they were highly engaged and motivated during the entire three day workshop.

What’s Your Biggest Fear?: Looking at DRR in terms of ‘biggest fear’ in context of hazards seems to resonate with Gazans.  Asking the question to beneficiaries – and actively listening – rather than making assumptions- will be the methodology used in GRRAM.  The existing approach to conducting an emergency needs assessment to collect beneficiary data is to ask a series of questions from a questionnaire format, and collate the data to make programmatic decisions.  Beneficiaries tend not to be engaged in a qualitative manner at the assessment stage due to the need to quickly deliver relief items. Very often, an extensive engagement with the community to assess the hazards and identify capacities is not part of that process..  To be fair focus group discussions and semi-formal interviews are often conducted midway in humanitarian programs to assess satisfaction or at project end during an evaluation. However,

Gender:  There was general consensus that the women should be targeted, as they are often homebound and therefore more likely to be the first affected in a disaster. There was some debate on how much power women have about household decisions, with opinions varying from very little to significant.

At the end of the workshop, several participants were asked about their perspectives on the training and the project.  Please see the video on for their views (NOTE: This video does have English subtitles. If you are unable to view them, please click the cc (closed caption) button on the YouTube).

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