Aid worker stories

World Humanitarian Day 2015: Arno Coerver in Nepal

Arno Coerver has a long history with Nepal, dating back to his first ever humanitarian mission. He worked in the country from 1986 to 1995, and has been based there since 2011 working for Malteser International as Global WaSH Advisor and Coordinator of partner projects in India and Nepal. 

Arno was in Haiti, thousands of miles away from his adopted homeland, when the first earthquake struck on April 25th. He rushed back to Nepal and took the lead on Malteser’s emergency response activities.
Arno Coerver at the temporary basic health unit of Lamosanghu, SindhupalchokWhat inspired you to go into aid work?
Well, it was some time ago now! In the 1970s and 80s, there was a succession of major disasters. These crises received a lot of media coverage - the famine in Ethiopia, for example - so everyone could see how much people were suffering. I thought that if I could contribute to relieving that suffering, it would be very rewarding. 
I studied civil engineering, which is a profession that gives you a lot of scope for working in emergency relief or development. I suppose humanitarian work was always in the back of my mind somewhere. So I spent a few years working in the private sector in the Netherlands, then applied to SNV (Netherlands Development Organisation) and was sent to Nepal for my first mission.
Tell us about your history with Malteser International, and with Nepal.
I started working with Malteser International in Sri Lanka in 2007, as part of the tsunami response, and I’ve been with them ever since. Since 2011 I've been based in Nepal but travelling to other countries - sometimes in Africa, but mainly in Asia - as a Global WaSH Advisor. 
Nepal is both a nice country to work in, and a challenging one. I know it pretty well by this stage: I’ve worked in the west of the country, building irrigation systems, water supply systems and bridges, and in eastern Nepal, rebuilding schools post-earthquake. In the early 1990s, I worked with Bhutanese refugees, supplying camp infrastructure. I speak Nepali. And my wife is from Nepal, so of course I have personal connections here, too. 
What is your favourite thing about your job?
I love being in the field. Having contact with communities and local colleagues is the most rewarding part of my job, and it still inspires me, all these years later. I love the fact that you can look at common problems and find solutions together. When you see progress being made, no matter how small, it’s encouraging.
What motivated you to become a RedR Member? Have you attended any RedR training?
I had always been aware of RedR’s work, but it wasn’t until I was working in Sri Lanka in 2007 that I came into closer contact with them. I was able to take part in some Community-Based Disaster Risk Management training conducted by RedR. The following year, I applied to be a Member.

For me, RedR membership is a way of learning new things - especially with regard to WaSH and emergency sanitation - and an opportunity to network. You can share common problems, and discover new solutions. It’s a forum for exchange. In 2014, I came to London to attend the first round of the Urban WaSH training programme. Urban emergencies present real challenges, and many humanitarian agencies are struggling to adjust. In this case, all the trainees had substantial experience, and the speakers were really knowledgeable too, so we had a lot of interesting discussions.  

What do you think are the main challenges facing aid workers today? 
Overall, I’d say that everything is a lot more complex than it used to be: both the contexts we work in, and the work we do. The scale of the humanitarian crises the world is facing is growing, and there’s increasing crossover between natural disasters and political conflict. All of this puts added pressure on people who already have a lot of work to do.
Resources are also increasingly limited. Donors are very strict these days - and for the right reasons. Humanitarian agencies must be accountable for everything we do. This is a good thing, but it does mean that our working environment is more challenging that it once was.
At the same time, expectations are higher than they used to be. Not only donors, but communities, expect us to achieve a lot with very few resources. For humanitarian organisations, the challenge lies in accepting that we’ll never be able to satisfy all the needs - and knowing this, in finding a solution that’s manageable and acceptable for all involved.

- Meet more Members
- To find out more about Malteser International, visit
- Read about what RedR is doing in Nepal

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