Enhancing co-operation in the Baltic Sea Region – together we are stronger

Tuula Luoma,
Disaster Management Officer, PSS,
Domestic Disaster Management Unit, Finnish Red Cross,

The purpose of the EU-funded Baltprep project has been to enhance regional preparedness and response capacities in major accidents as well as co-operation and coordination between Red Cross National Societies and Civil Protection authorities. Red Cross National Societies from Denmark, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland were involved in the project.

In the Baltic Sea Region each Red Cross National Society has their unique features combined by geographical location and Red Cross principles. Red Cross has an auxiliary role to public authorities in the humanitarian field. This auxiliary means that Red Cross National Societies have a role in disaster risk management, emergency response, health promotion and social services. Strong National Societies create a solid foundation for effective disaster preparedness and response on national level, but also enable cross-border and macro level co-operation in case of emergency.

Developing and strengthening skills and response processes for fast-changing scenarios and demanding working environments are essential part of the co-operation. Capacity building improves performance and deepen understanding of risks and humanitarian aid processes in the Baltic Sea Region. Staff and volunteers trained in disaster management and psychosocial support enhance and strengthen response capacity both on quantitative but also on qualitative level in order to ensure timely and effective assistance. Networking, knowing each other and trust between actors form a good basis for a long term co-operation, which can be achieved only by sharing knowledge and doing things together.

The first Red Cross Disaster Preparedness Plan for the Baltic Sea Region has been created. The purpose of the planning process has been to strengthen understanding of cross-border risks and hazards as well as joint knowledge of available capacities to address national level and cross-border emergencies. During the process Red Cross National Societies have increased their joint understanding on preparedness planning and how to request or host support from neighbor National Societies in time of emergency. Although there are many different interests and actors involved in disaster preparedness, one lesson learned is that an open and consultative process and ongoing dialogue are important.

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

During COVID-19 outbreak Red Cross National Societies have supported authorities in the Baltic Sea Region, but also worldwide. COVID-19 is not only a public health crisis but also a humanitarian crisis that will impact the lives, health and livelihoods of people around the world. It has special characteristics such as the implementation in many countries of Emergency Powers Law and restrictions which also affect the work of the Red Cross. Cooperation and collaboration between the National Societies and with civil protection authorities in the region have been done at all levels: local, regional and national. Red Cross National Societies reaction varies a bit from country to country but common response is to help the most vulnerable people. Also protection of volunteers and staff has been an integrated part of response.

During the second wave of COVID-19 Lithuanian Red Cross volunteers have been helping with contact tracing during the weekends. Almost 2 000 people signed up for volunteering in hospitals and care homes around Lithuania. Almost 300 volunteers have joined to help doctors and nurses. In the biggest hospital in Vilnius there have been 150 volunteers. All volunteers are trained by the Lithuanian Red Cross and by hospitals. This has been one of the biggest projects Lithuanian Red Cross has had.

Latvian Red Cross has been supporting people in need ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started. It has actively communicated safety measures and tips on how to support mental health. Red Cross offered help to persons in self-isolation and quarantine. Latvian Red Cross was appointed as the Coordinator of distribution of disinfectants and protective facemasks that have been procured by the Latvian Government to all non-governmental institutions. In cooperation with the IFRC, a large-scale public information campaign “How to protect yourself from COVID-19 infection” has been developed – more than 200 information materials made in Latvian, Russian, English, Dari, Turkish and Arabic languages have been distributed to local population, including refugees and asylum seekers. In cooperation with the Latvian Automobile Club, a communication campaign “Drive Healthy” has been implemented to strengthen the knowledge and skills of the society on health safety while using private, rented and public transport; in addition, face masks and information material on the proper wearing and disposal of protective masks were distributed on the streets in capital Riga.

Latvian Red Cross also continues to provide support and services, such as distribution of EU Support packages (food, hygiene, school supplies, hot meals), continues its work in 17 social care, rehabilitation, crisis and day care centers and organizes online webinars with the aim to educate and motivate people on matters such as self-motivation, looking for a job, doing regular exercises and building the notion that people are not alone but are connected with the community, although in new, digital ways.

Spring 2020, when the Estonian government declared an emergency, Estonian Red Cross started working together with the Health Board of Estonia –  volunteers were almost 18 hours on a daily-basis at Tallinn airport and two ferry harbors, where they measured passengers`temperatures and shared COVID-related information.

Estonian Red Cross organized online trainings at schools in Southern Estonia – children gained knowledge about viruses in general and guidelines how to behave and protect themselves in the current corona period. Red Cross would like to expand these online training sessions all over the country both in Estonian and in Russian. Many branches of Estonian Red Cross have been carrying out care for people who are ill at home or at self-quarantine. Volunteers have mostly been bringing them groceries.

In cooperation with the Eastern Region of the Estonian Rescue Board, Red Cross volunteers took part of the campaign, which was promoting wearing of masks. The outreach campaign was carried out at shopping centers and stores in Eastern Estonia.

Finnish Red Cross is supporting the most vulnerable groups as requested by the authorities. Finnish Red Cross is supporting authorities eg. in the vaccination process over 40 municipalities. Over 500 volunteers have participated in these activities. Visiting services are available, mainly online. Need for food aid has increased due to layoffs and uncertainty in the labor market. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic focus was in psychosocial support activities eg. telephone online for citizens and psychoeducative videos. The Finnish Red Cross Youth Shelters run a chat service for youth in cooperation with two associations. On request, the Red Cross provides hospitals with Triage units to enhance the capacity to assess people’s need for treatment.

Polish Red Cross (PRC) stands in solidarity with communities and are front-line responders to this pandemic. With an extensive network of branches and highly trusted volunteers and staff across the country, the National Society is placed to support people and their communities to prepare for and respond to this global emergency.

PRC is active in field of rescue services, promotion of blood donations, food distribution, home care services, psychosocial support and education. PRC was running a psychological helpline in the beginning of pandemic. Psychoeducation materials about dealing with stress and crisis were created and distributed among people in need. Special psychoeducation material about deppression and mental health dedicated to youth was created and distrubuted in schools. Special help was provided for refugees and migrants who live in Warsaw and refugee centers around Poland. PRC provided COVID-19 protection items, hygine kits and school support sets for children.

PRC Rescue Teams are supporting national medical health care system in their daily work and helping with transport of seniors for vaccinations, hospitals etc. One of PRC Rescue Teams organized a mobile vaccination point. PRC is also active in prevention. Its basic activities are focused primarily on educating the community how to protect themselves against infection and how to care for the others. PRC uses info-graphics and messages about good social behaviour in social media and its website. Youth volunteers are active in supporting peers by organising online meetings, webinars, workshops.

Baltprep is funded by the EU and is a flagship project of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR).

Expert article 2986

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