But there are lessons to learn. My charity’s work at the scene taught us the need for a better coordinated, more culturally sensitive response to disaster.
Almost one year ago, in the burning heat of a summer day last Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims fast, I woke to the tragic news of the Grenfell Tower fire and immediately felt compelled to go and help.
When I arrived, it was a scene of chaos, with firefighters still battling with the raging tower. Men and women were searching for loved ones and looking at me in despair. Community members were turning up in their numbers to provide donations of all kinds: the outpouring of generosity was unprecedented and like nothing I had ever seen before. Within hours I had a team of volunteers and staff armed with blankets and water bottles near the tower and 48 hours later we had a warehouse set up for distribution.
As I got into the respite centre, my hijab and bright green Muslim Aid T-shirt were the source of some familiarity and comfort to members of the community waiting for news about their neighbours, families and loved ones. We quickly assessed the immediate needs of those affected by the unfolding tragedy.
In the days after the fire, the voluntary sector had to step up and intervene to meet people’s cultural and faith-sensitive needs, from providing modest Islamic clothing and emotional support through to halal meals. The spirit of humanitarian action displayed mainly by the community itself and supported by an array of local organisations, businesses, volunteers and others filled the void where there was a lack of official direction, coordination and information.
Our report, published on 30 May, finds that many voluntary organisations, however ill-prepared, stepped up to the challenge of meeting the needs of the affected community where the statutory authorities fell short, especially in the early stages immediately after the fire. It identifies challenges and opportunities for the ongoing work of the sector in helping those affected – and pinpoints issues that this disaster raises for emergency response more broadly.
The Grenfell disaster has taught us many lessons that we need to learn. We owe it to the people whose lives were lost to ensure a more effective and better preparedness for disaster response on the ground. The key recommendations of the report are:
Draw on local capacities
In a major, complex disaster, local secular and faith organisations – although they may not have experience in emergency response – can draw on their local rootedness to act quickly and sensitively in line with the needs of communities they understand. This capability needs to be better appreciated and supported, including in partnership with local authorities and national actors with expertise in emergency response.
Disaster response systems, behaviours and interventions all need to be tailored to the varying local socioeconomic and cultural dynamics in the short and longer term.
Embrace diversity within emergency response
Diverse communities need to receive support that is sensitive to their varying needs. Such capabilities need to be embraced as core to emergency response in the UK going forward.
More effective mechanisms need to be developed, both by the voluntary sector itself and governmental authorities, to better harness the collective capabilities of the voluntary sector, including those offered by faith organisations, in emergency response.
Act and speak out
When the effects of a disaster are overlaid with inadequate action and injustice, the voluntary sector needs to consciously and continuously strike the right balance between practical action and finding different ways of speaking out in support of the needs and rights of the people who are affected.
- Lotifa Begum is Muslim Aid’s global advocacy manager and co-researcher of Mind the Gap: A Review of the Voluntary Sector Response to the Grenfell Tragedy
Source: Guardian Voluntary Sector Online