Jessica Ramirez Mendoza: ex-equo award winner



CERAH acknowledges an outstanding dissertation submitted by Ms Jessica Yohana Ramírez Mendoza for her Master of Advanced Studies in Humanitarian Action (class 2016-17). Together with Ms Serri Mahmood she has ex-equo been awarded with the Swiss Humanitarian Award for her dissertation:

“The Role of First Responders and South-South Cooperation during Earthquake’s Response and Management.”

(click here to read the dissertation online)

Both dissertations have been selected for the originality and modernity of the subjects as well as for the high quality of the written text. We seize the opportunity to thank our longstanding partner Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) for granting this award.

Jessica, you have been co-awarded the “Swiss Humanitarian Award” for this year’s best Master’s dissertation. What is your first reaction?

I feel extremely excited and grateful to hear that I am one of the recipients of the award from the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development. It is wonderful to know that the hard work during this past year is recognized in a way that can showcase the beauty of this research topic.
It was challenging to narrow down the diversity of concepts on my research, I wanted to tackle earthquakes, target first responders including those at the community level, and at the same time, bring to light South-South Cooperation (SSC) which was quite difficult at times. I kept going back and forth, and questioned myself but the feedback from my supervisor and from the experts kept me motivated as they were a source of inspiration.

Earthquakes are devastating, especially in developing countries. But worldwide disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts do not show positive results on the numbers of victims. Why is that?

While over the past 20 years more than half of mortality was associated to earthquakes, there were two unprecedented events - Haiti’s and Sri Lanka’s 2004 earthquake and tsunami - that accounted for a large proportion of the mortality. This means that there are particular regions in the world not only at high risk of earthquakes but also with huge vulnerabilities. One of the most important ones is the rapid urbanization growth where we see an influx of the population living in unsuitable housing. Unfortunately, DRR strategies are not often put at the top of the concerns by countries facing these challenges. And in order to see real change, DRR activities need to be provided on an ongoing basis which requires funding, and more importantly political will.

Most deaths occur in the first hours; that is when mostly members of the community and local emergency services are responding. You mention in your dissertation that “improving the capacities of first responders should be a priority”. Which efforts for improved local capacity building do you identify and how to make sure that these efforts are sustainable?

The more I researched into the subject the more interesting examples of capacity building for first responders I found. In Manila for example, a Community-Base Disaster Risk Management exercise was conducted where members of the community identified their own vulnerabilities and designed their own emergency earthquake planning strategy. Another example was the IFRC's cross-border exercises in Latin America. In Nepal earthquake preparedness training was provided to teachers, parents, and students at schools. The program also integrated local masons to train them on earthquake-resistant construction and subsequently hired them to reconstruct schools. I liked these examples because they showcase community empowerment and self-reliance. Given that governments and donors may hesitate to fund these activities, advocacy and awareness efforts need to come from local communities themselves to make them sustainable. And more importantly these activities need to be documented to showcase the importance to invest in these type of solutions.  

Jessica-Ramirez-MendozaWhich benefits of South-South Cooperation (SSC) are addressed in your dissertation?

This research also highlights that a framework for SSC can be built for knowledge exchange activities targeted to first responders. This type of cooperation can help strengthen the capacity of developing countries at risk of earthquakes, but it also may improve the coordination of the response across country teams such as Search and Rescue Teams. SSC may be also used as a venue to enhance efficiencies on airport and custom processes and improve compliance of international standards to ultimately save more lives.

Who would benefit from reading your dissertation?

My paper may be used by researchers working on DRR strategies, early earthquake response, capacity building, or international cooperation. At the same time, I hope that members of the first responders’ community would feel heard and inspired to learn from their peers or from community based activities. Additionally, this dissertation may provide a source of reference for the 2017-2018 or future CERAH students.


Thank you Jessica for this interview.

More about the laureate:

Jessica RAMIREZ MENDOZA is specialized in Health Evaluation, Advocacy, and Human Rights. Originally from a Veterinary Medical background, she topped her education with a Master of Science from McGill University (2008) and CERAH’s MAS in Humanitarian Action (2017). Jessica has built a sound experience in Health System Information and Epidemiology as a Project Lead for the development of performance indicators for decision-makers at the Canadian Institute for Health Information. Her current position as Geneva Representative of the Association Miraisme International completes her strong involvement in the not-for-profit sector, supporting the promotion of human rights, peace, and Sustainable Development Goals with a focus on the rights of migrants, women, and children.

Interview conducted by Désirée Walter, PR Manager at CERAH.