Weighing independence with the auxiliary role to government.
Ever since Arma Oruc took the helm of the Zenica branch of Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) five years ago, the branch has slowly built up a reputation among the community and local authorities as a critical service and important partner during times of crisis.
But it hasn’t been easy. Local authorities have not always seen the branch as a partner in preparing for and responding to natural disaster, while for many years, the branch was unable to get access to badly needed government funding. Things started to turn around after branch activities such as blood donation and first aid captured the attention of the media, which brought wider recognition of the branch’s contributions to the community. Ultimately, the branch’s efforts paid off and local authorities allocated the branch an annual budget of approximately US$ 8,000.
Then, in May last year, the organization was thrust into the spotlight when the worst floods in a century hit BiH and several other countries in the region. The situation required fast decisions under the considerable pressure caused by an unfolding, widespread disaster. Throughout, branch staff cooperated with local authorities on a daily basis, responding to a wide range of urgent needs. Local officials and beneficiaries saw first-hand the efficiency of the National Society’s distribution system, the ability of its workers to manage the registration of those receiving aid, as well as the enthusiasm and commitment of its staff and volunteers.
Now, almost a year after that crisis, the Zenica branch — as well as branches in nearby Bijeljina and Brcko — enjoy more respect and better recognition for their work, by both local communities and authorities. For this reason Oruc feels more confident in approaching local authorities with proposals aimed at improving cooperation and strengthening the auxiliary status of the National Society at branch level. One key aim, she says, is for the Zenica branch to become part of the area’s official civil protection team, which coordinates preparations for crisis and emergency response. She would like to see the branch become an equal and independent partner in preparation and response; now, during crisis, there is a tendency to take direction from civil protection officials.
The Zenica branch, therefore, faces a challenge common to many Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies: how to forge a close working relationship with local authorities while retaining autonomy in its humanitarian actions.
By Andreea Anca
Andreea Anca is a senior communications officer for the IFRC.
Arma Oruc, head of the Zenica branch of Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Photo: ©Andreea Anca/IFRC