Ebola preparedness, earthquake simulations, cyclone seasons

Insights from the Logistics Cluster’s global Preparedness Project Officer
12 December 2018

We have arrived in Juba, South Sudan, where the local time is 11.15.

It’s Monday morning, and Sarah Kunzelmann has just landed in South Sudan’s capital. She’s in Juba for the next week, working with the Logistics Cluster operation on preparedness activities to roll out across 2019.

The South Sudan office is busy, buzzing with activity. Amid an emergency operation the team works on challenges posed by unpredictable rainy and dry seasons, ongoing insecurity, remote communities, and initiatives to prevent the spread of the Ebola Virus. Preparedness activities need to be agile, flexible, innovative and most importantly, context-specific.

 “There’s not one universal solution. Each context is a blank canvas, and each step of preparedness is shaped and molded by local actors, geography, knowledge and ideas,” says Sarah.

With seven years experience in the humanitarian sector and a recent stint in Madagascar as a Logistics Cluster Preparedness Officer, Sarah’s work now spans continents and time zones as a global Project Officer for Logistics Cluster preparedness activities.

Between teleconferences, concept notes, risk indices, maps, workshops, and flight tickets from Dhaka to Port-au-Prince, we find five minutes to sit down with her to talk about the role, the people she’s met and the importance of logistics preparedness.

 

You started with the Logistics Cluster undertaking preparedness work in Madagascar. What did you enjoy most about the role?

The chance to work with responders from across the sector.

Preparedness activities can’t happen in isolation, you need to reach out, connect and constantly engage, and I’ve been lucky enough to meet some really wonderful, dedicated and passionate people.

In Madagascar, it was super interesting working with such as wide variety of actors. With preparedness activities rolling down to the sub-national level, I was able to meet people from all walks of life, not just your classical humanitarians. These people are the drivers behind community-led responses and taught me a lot about how I perceive and communicate about preparedness.

Local responders have been overcoming the challenges posed by disasters for years, sometimes decades. We need to make sure we really capture this knowledge and apply it to actions, so activities aren’t just tailored to a national context, but also this roll-down effect to community level. For me, this was central: the workshops at the sub-national level taught me the importance of adjusting my thinking towards preparedness.

 

 

Shifting to your current role as a global project officer, you’re now working across dozens of different contexts. What are some of the challenges in relation to preparedness work?

I wouldn’t look at it as a challenge, but a learning!

The diversity is what I love most about the role.

Learning about and embracing a country’s unique setting and challenges is the first step in ensuring logistics action plans are successful and activities are right for the local context.

This week in South Sudan I’m working with the local team, amongst other things, on Ebola preparedness, next year in Haiti we’ll be looking into preparedness initiatives for hurricane seasons and earthquake risks. Remote communities are a challenge across several contexts, but the solutions are completely different in land-locked country like South Sudan, compared to the Pacific which is made up of hundreds of small islands.  

Because of this, you’re forced to be innovative, to adapt your mindset and method and think outside the box on how you see and approach preparedness. And trust me, you’re constantly adapting! From a logistics perspective, it’s super important to break the supply chain down to a really micro-level, to analyse each bottle-necks and constraint, and to work together, across the sector, to create one plan comprising short term and longer terms goals covering everything from coordination, to infrastructure capacity. Each activity needs to be holistic and collaborative.

What are three things you’ve learnt working on logistics preparedness?

1. It’s the community working together that counts.

2. The power of preparedness. The project has taught me that the ripple-down effect significantly improves the quality of an emergency response, more than we think and beyond what can be measured.

3. And, the most important, each activity must embody localisation – across all levels. This is really where you harness the passion, drive, and ideas of the community, and where you see your support coming into realisation through sustainable, long-term actions.

Logistics Cluster are expanding across 2019, and we're on the look out for multiple Field Preparedness Consultants. Find out more here.