By New Zealand Red Cross' Secretary General, Sarah Stuart-Black

Disasters can happen without warning, anywhere or at any time, but being prepared can reduce immediate losses and minimise long-term impacts on our communities. At the household level, having a plan and connecting with your neighbours before a disaster strikes is a great start. Here at Red Cross, we have emergency relief items stocked in our warehouses and our Red Cross people around Aotearoa trained and ready to provide support in response and recovery.

Another important part of our preparedness at Red Cross is making sure we have the financial resources we need to respond quickly. While Kiwis often donate following an emergency, we need to make sure we have money before that, so that we know we can help when people need us most.

The Red Cross Appeal is our big annual campaign to raise vital funds to support people most in need in our communities.

Thanks to contributions from our generous donors, we’ve been able to support Kiwis in many different ways. We were there from the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing welfare support topeople quarantined at Whangaparāoa after returning on the first flights from Wuhan, China. As the virus reached our communities and Aotearoa went into lockdown, we continued to assist on the front lines of the response, delivering Meals on Wheels to vulnerable people, supporting former refugees and distributing Red Cross Parcels. We also had one of our busiest years responding to domestic disasters, including the Lake Ōhau fire and the impact from severe weather in Plimmerton, Southland and Napier. Throughout the last year, our business-as-usual work did not stop. We continued to help former refugees get settled in, helped new Kiwis into employment, knitted items for people in need, and so much more. This was all made possible by the generosity of individuals and our donors – groups and organisations – thank you. 

Our disaster response volunteers who were responding to the severe flooding in Napier.

As an organisation that was founded internationally more than 150 years ago, and active for over 100 years in New Zealand, we often get asked about how we work – about where the money goes, how quickly people are helped, who is helped and what kind of help people receive. I think we are in a pretty good place to share a bit about how it all works. 

We have more than 600 staff and over 10,000 volunteers across Aotearoa, prepared, trained and ready for the next emergency, which is critical for the communities we support.

Regardless of what caused the emergency, whether floods, landsides, fires, or our most recent experience of large earthquakes and the tsunami that can be generated, we know our communities are impacted. The response needs to be swift and in those early hours or days, deploying our people and ensuring they have fuel and transportation, food and accommodation is important for their safety and wellbeing. It means they can then focus on supporting our impacted communities. Assessments start, determining who needs what and where. Distribution of basic items begin – for this, we need human resources, logistics, transport, and sometimes office space and warehousing. If the scale of the disaster warrants it, we bring in additional staff or specific expertise to maintain high standards of care in all parts of our operation.

When the floodwaters recede and the debris is cleaned up, the disaster isn’t over. The initial response transitions into recovery and we continue to help. Recovery takes time, often years and possibly decades. We know this from our own experiences. For example, recovery continues in Canterbury following the earthquake sequence and is still ongoing following the mosque attacks. During the recovery journey, we’ve provided things like mental health support, community strengthening events, care packages for affected people and a new youth settlement worker to help young former refugees feel settled in their communities. Donations contribute to both response and recovery. This means that in the months and years that follow an emergency, support for our communities from Red Cross can continue where and when they need it most. 

One of our disaster response volunteers supporting a Plimmerton resident affected by severe weather.

Checks and balances are put in place to record our decisions, costs and operational arrangements as we are accountable organisationally, to our National Board and to you, our supporters and donors. While we receive incredible support from people donating time and goods, we must also be professional and ensure structures, systems and processes are in place to be efficient and effective.

In Aotearoa and around the world, Red Cross will continue to support people in need, wherever they may be and whatever they may face.

We need you to help New Zealand Red Cross get ready. Please donate today– you will be helping people in need tomorrow.