Local communities in BiH recognize the importance of improving social and child protection of the most affected and vulnerable groups of population in emergencies
Local Disaster Risk Reduction Platforms across BiH are now trained in strategic and action planning for disaster risk management in Social Protection sector.
Local communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina have recognized the importance of improving the protection of the most affected and vulnerable groups of population in emergencies with the support of the Joint UN and Swiss Programme “Disaster Risk Reduction for Sustainable Development in BiH”, which is implemented by the UN agencies UNDP, UNICEF, UNESCO, FAO and UNFPA.
With UNICEF's support, local DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) Platforms, consisting of representatives of Centers for Social Welfare, local civil protection services, municipal and city social services, local Red Cross organizations and non-governmental organizations and associations focused on supporting vulnerable groups of population, have had an opportunity over the past two years to attend, within this Programme, workshops and training sessions on strategic and action planning of disaster risk management in the social protection sector in order to improve their mutual cooperation and coordinated actions in crisis and emergencies. They have also received technical support in developing risk and vulnerability assessments and preparedness plans, which is a key step in identifying the needs of vulnerable groups of population and capacities of the Social Welfare Centers and other stakeholders for their effective response to those needs.
Vulnerable groups of population are characterized by a difficult and complex life situation which is further complicated by an emergency. Mr. Dejan Panić, of the Center for Social Welfare Prijedor, explains that in an emergency situation, persons with physical, mental or sensory impairments or persons with disabilities who require permanent assistance and care by another person are in the most difficult situation. It is particularly difficult for children with disabilities and people older than 65 without family care. An emergency makes the situation of the families at risk of violence, abuse and neglect particularly difficult, with a particular emphasis on children who are victims of violence and marginalization and on minority groups of population and persons and families at risk of poverty.
“An emergency, like the COVID-19 pandemic, affects negatively the position of vulnerable groups of population. In order to meet their needs at this time, the Center for Social Welfare staff are engaged in their full capacity. The DRR Programme has emphasized the importance of the social protection role in emergencies and the importance of good coordination of different actors in community for the purpose of as best response to an emergency as possible”, Mr. Panić emphasized, adding that he hoped that the Center for Social Welfare Prijedor would become, through the DRR Programme, a member of the City Emergency Command Team in order to improve the quality of response to an emergency in their joint effort.
Almir Škopo, a member of the DRR Platform and DRR Working Group in the Social and Child Protection in the Municipality of Kakanj, has emphasized that the “Disaster Risk Reduction for Sustainable Development in BiH” Programme has supported local communities in developing action plans for crisis situations and identifying the necessary measures and activities in the field.
He has added, however, that cooperation between the Centers for Social Welfare and civil protection services is not satisfactory in BiH. As he said, it is important that the protection and rescue system recognizes Centers for Social Welfare as very important part of the systems that provide support and care services to the most affected citizens and that the Centers should be “an extended arm of the protection and rescue system”.
“That cooperation should be improved a lot, particularly in emergencies when care for vulnerable groups of population is most needed. I believe that the implementation of this and similar projects will help raise the level of cooperation a lot. This approach contributes to better cohesion and cooperation in all areas of society and thereby affects directly the strengthening of the protection and rescue system of local communities and society as a whole”, said Mr. Škopo.
A decade ago, Centers for Social Welfare in BiH were members of local protection and rescue/emergency commands but the decisions of those commands were not particularly aimed at meeting the needs of the beneficiaries of those Centers and vulnerable groups of population, DRR Platform coordinator in the Municipality of Srebrenica Cvijetan Maksimović recalls. He believes that the DRR Programme increases the level of protection of beneficiaries of the Centers for Social Welfare.
“The data we obtained during the development of the Risk Assessment and Protection and Rescue Plan at the Center for Social Welfare Srebrenica will largely contribute to making the Municipal Protection and Rescue Plan more complete when it comes to vulnerable persons and families, that is, beneficiaries of the Center services”, said Mr. Maksimović.
He added that the Center for Social Welfare Srebrenica staff had learned a lot through the DRR Programme about the disaster risk reduction measures but also that it was important to provide support to them because of difficult working conditions and scope of their work in order for them to be as best prepared for a response to all challenges in the future.
“Some villages around Srebrenica are even up to 50 kilometers away from the Center for Social Welfare and some areas are hardly accessible in winter because of snow, landslides and rockslides. Nevertheless, damage resulting from natural and other disasters can be reduced to an acceptable level through involvement of all structures and training of and provision of equipment to protection and rescue forces”, said Mr. Maksimović.
Selmir Buljkić, DRR Working Group coordinator in the social and child protection sector and member of the DRR Platform in the Municipality of Kalesija, believes that activities of the Centers for Social Welfare should be directed to developing volunteer capacities through strengthening of citizen awareness and responsibility for joint recognition and removal of problems in community.
With the support from the DRR Programme, the Center for Social Welfare Kalesija has created strategic and planning documents through which it is possible to improve social services provided to citizens, particularly to vulnerable groups, which will result in more effective actions in emergencies, said Mr. Buljkić.
“The Center should be conducting regular assessments of the situation of the vulnerable groups of the population and other citizens in social need. In this way, a database would be developed, on the basis of which we would know where our priority action is needed”, said Mr. Buljkić.
Also, grants planned through this Programme will help Centers for Social Welfare in target locations to implement priority measures from the preparedness and action plans of the Centers for Social Welfare in emergencies and procure the required means and equipment, conduct the necessary training of staff members and improve the existing and introduce new services for beneficiaries in order to increase the quality of work in both emergency and regular situations.
“Extreme natural disasters as well as health-related crisis like COVID-19 pandemic are increasingly becoming enormous barriers for social and economic development around the world and in BiH, while vulnerable children and families are disproportionately facing the greatest threats. Therefore, we need to anticipate better, prevent more and respond with a greater effectiveness, coordination and multisectoral partnerships. Through Joint UN Swiss DRR Programme, UNICEF along with our partners, supports building resilience of children and families through an integrated approach through social sectors as important stakeholders in DRR planning and implementation. Local governments and service providers are empowered to act on prevention and ensure not only in crisis response but also how to bounce back better through shock-responsive social and child protection, quality and continuous education and safe school environments as well as access to nutritious food, breastfeeding and immunization.
This joint programme is a trail blazer in integrating crisis preparedness into local plans to address shocks and crisis in a sustainable manner in BiH”, said dr. Rownak Khan, UNICEF Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina.