Going on assignment in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea

20 November 2019
Going on assignment in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea
DSS water initiative in DPRK, ICRC

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) extends its capacity in innovative ways together with DSS water

Earlier this year, the ICRC formed a partnership with Dutch Surge Support (DSS water). DSS water is a programme which responds to calls for water-related disaster relief around the globe. They deploy water experts to help address water and sanitation issues, as well as challenges related to water resources management and water supply. It is an initiative founded by the Dutch government, the Dutch water sector and the Netherlands Red Cross. For the first time, they were able to partner up with the ICRC and deploy Mohan, a water engineer, on a three-month working assignment to the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea (DPRK).

The partnership facilitates the placement of technical experts with the ICRC teams, to work on water and sanitation programming. Mohan worked in the ICRC's office in the DPRK. "It is always interesting to work in ICRC's contexts. Most of my time was spent in the Pyongang office. I went to Sunchon for consultations and on the ground field work. It is a unique experience to stay in a city of 100,000 thousand people where you are the only foreigner," said Mohan.

His task was to assess the condition of water supply infrastructure for Sunchon city and come up with detailed recommendations to improve the water supply situation in the long run. "I had to consider many different aspects, hence it became a very challenging job from a planning, designing, implementation, operation and maintenance point of view, as there were so many constraints - such as limited well yields, intermittent electrical supply, adapting the design to make use of the material in stock, limitations on use of advanced equipment's due to sanctions, selection of beneficiary districts, etc.," he said. He added, "However, it was these limitations that made the job very interesting."

Mohan is a civil engineer who is currently a post-doctoral researcher working at IHE Delft - Institute for Water Education in Delft, the Netherlands. He works on increasing urban flood resilience and has experience in planning, designing and implementing urban water systems. "I was the first to test the partnership with DSS water and the ICRC and I think the experiment was successful! I am happy that such a partnership exists, through which ICRC and humanitarian organizations can make use of people with specific expertise for short term periods."

Sandra Cats, coordinator of DSS water, explained the rationale behind the partnership: "There are a lot of committed people in the emergency sector, but we often need more specialists or extra staff to meet all the demands. We like to think along with the organization to find the right specialist for the problem that needs to be solved." That is where DSS Water enters. They have a pool of 250 experts currently active, who, like Mohan, are already engaged in jobs and projects but make themselves available for shorter humanitarian missions.

"It is an interesting model for deploying technical expertise showcasing the clear added value of collaborating with an industry-based platform such as DSS water. Short missions for external experts to support our field operations can address skills and capacity gaps, but also facilitate knowledge exchange and bring in new ideas to tackle humanitarian challenges," said Guillaume Pierrehumbert, deputy head of the ICRC's water and sanitation unit.

The partnership is also an opportunity for water sector companies and experts, as some of their main obstacles in being able to engage in these types of projects are access and security. Sandra explains that she works to get the companies to realize that going and working with the ICRC would be very different. She said, "Security is always an issue, especially as the ICRC works in conflict areas. But the system within the ICRC is really good and very trustworthy." The partnership becomes a good segue: "People really want to make a difference. They are proud to be a part of the ICRC and make a difference in the way they can. And they can bring back the knowledge and motivate their colleagues," she continues.

Mohan agrees with the partnership being mutually beneficial, explaining that companies and consultancies sit on competences not as readily available to humanitarian actors. He said, "The humanitarian actors can benefit from this knowledge pool and the individuals like me or the agencies like DSS water, can synthesize the experience and knowledge gained and use them to formulate process and policies that can be used in similar contexts."

Now that the partnership has been established, it opens the door to future possible collaborations.

DSS water is an initiative of the Dutch government, executed by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency in cooperation with the Netherlands Red Cross and the Netherlands Water Partnership.

For more information please visit www.dsswater.nl or contact dsswater@rvo.nl.