The Canadian Red Cross has launched a campaign
to renew public awareness about the Red Cross. This new campaign
tells Canadians about the next chapter in the history of the
National Society and invites them to get involved. The theme,
‘Across the World, Across the Street’, zeroes
in on what the Red Cross is all about – helping people
deal with situations that threaten their survival and safety,
their security and well-being and their dignity in Canada
and around the world.
When a major disaster strikes – like the ice storms
in eastern Canada and floods in Manitoba – the Red Cross
comes to the aid of millions of Canadians. When disaster strikes
overseas, the Canadian Red Cross is ready to provide aid in
the form of financial assistance, goods and personnel. The
public service annoucements make a strong link between the
National Society’s international and domestic activities
– hence the slogan, ‘Across the World, Across
the Street’. The message of the dedicated staff and
130,000 volunteers is: “Whereever humanity is in over
its head, you’ll see our true colours.”
The Solomon Islands Red Cross (SIRC) recently
extended its assistance to the northern provincial region
of Choiseul. This was just in time for one newborn baby. Unable
to feed, his mother rushed him, malnourished and dehydrated,
to a nearby health clinic in the city of Taro. A nurse administered
glucose by feeding tube, stabilizing the day-old baby's condition,
prior to transferring him to the nearest hospital –
a three-hour trip in a small boat operated by the SIRC.
The boat, initially chartered to carry food rations to refugees
fleeing the conflict in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea and
living in the village of Sasamunga, also served as the local
ambulance. After successfully reaching the hospital with the
baby and his mother, the boat returned to Taro carrying aboard
two recently discharged patients and their families –
Last reported, the baby was doing well.
Options are few in the little town of Mellit,
north of El Fasher in the western Sudanese desert. The semi-nomadic
Zaghawa tribe breed camels, trade salt and keep sheep. Jobs
are hard to find, particularly if you are
The plight of women alone, widows, women fending for families,
concerned the North Darfur State branch of the Sudanese Red
Crescent. How could they assist them to make ends meet? What
natural resource could be harnessed for income-generating
ventures? Wool, from sheep and camels, was plentiful so a
carpet-making venture was born.
Since the European Community´s Humanitarian Office
(ECHO) provided start-up funds in 1993, a Red Crescent training
programme has nurtured 240 women weavers in Mellit, and their
product today has a growing reputation. Red Crescent regional
director, Ibrahim Suliman, says output sometimes cannot meet
local demand. “Most importantly, what the women earn
is sufficient to take care of a family,” he comments.
The training programme came to an end in July due to a shortage
of funds, but the weaving centres the Red Crescent established
remain available to the women. The wooden looms continue to
click and clack as private enterprise flourishes, and the
market widens for a distinctive weave in the natural colours
of brown, black, white and grey. The women are not just weavers.
The Sudanese Red Crescent has provided them with guidance
on bookkeeping, marketing and running a small business. For
Mellit an industrial revolution has dawned.
Dengue fever epidemic
Cambodia was struck this year with the worst
epidemic in its history of dengue haemorrhagic fever. According
to the Cambodian Ministry of Health figures, by the end of
August 11,348 children had been hospitalized and 267 had died.
Children are the most at risk because they have not built
up immunity to the disease, yet the government emphasized
that this year the entire population was vulnerable.
Dengue fever is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito, commonly
called the Tiger mosquito in Cambodia. Blame for the severity
of this year’s epidemic is being placed to some extent
on a warm winter, perhaps linked to the El Niño effect.
With no vaccination and no cure for dengue fever, prevention
is the main line of defence against the epidemic. The Cambodian
Red Cross (CRC), with support from the Federation and the
French and Japanese Red Cross, has been on the front line
in fighting the disease. IV fluids, essential medical supplies
and blood- testing kits were distributed together with posters
and t-shirts to increase awareness throughout the country.
Seven provincial Red Cross branches organized health education
and safe water campaigns. An important part of the CRC and
Federation programme was to mobilize hundreds of volunteers
to clean-up city streets eradicating the mosquitoes’
breeding ground – stopping the epidemic at the source.
The bomb blast in Nairobi in August 1998
caught the city unprepared to handle a disaster of such magnitude
that cost the lives of 253 people and injured more than 5,000.
The disaster proved a sad test for the preparedness of the
Kenyan Red Cross, whose volunteers showed remarkable presence
of mind and determination to help. They were on the scene
within minutes of the blast, giving first aid to those with
minor injuries and mobilizing cars to take the seriously injured
“At first I was in shock and just stood there,”
said Shadrack Ogoyo, primary health care coordinator of the
Kenyan Red Cross. On why he felt it was vital to help his
countrymen, he continues: “Then I looked at the people
all around me with blood running down their faces, and I thought:
if I don’t help them, they will die.”
With the support of the ICRC and the Federation, Red Cross
teams worked with their bare hands, ropes, pickaxes, shovels
and buckets in shifts round the clock, rescuing people trapped
in the rubble of the collapsed buildings, organizing blood
donations and ensuring that all involved in the rescue operation
were fed. With the number of dead at the scene ever-rising,
the Red Cross gave two of its trucks to be used to carry away
the bodies. A tracing network was promptly set up, with Red
Cross personnel visiting hospitals to make sure that all the
dead, especially children, could be located by their families.
“People are still coming forward with offers of assistance
one month after the blast,” says Navaz Parekh, ICRC
administration officer. But the Kenyan society continues to
mourn. Churches hold ceremonies on weekends, candles are lit
and flowers are laid at the site. Many patients with eye injuries
and other ailments are bedridden in hospitals, while families
in the countryside have lost their breadwinners.
Asian flood crisis
The 1998 monsoon season wrecked havoc in
many parts of South Asia. On the Indian subcontinent, incessant
rain caused all the major northern rivers to break their banks
flooding the plains of northern India, southern Nepal and
Bangladesh. In India, 23.6 million people were affected by
the disaster and in Bangladesh 30 million. The record rains
set off massive landslides in the mountain areas of northern
India and Nepal, with entire villages disappearing under a
lethal mix of water, mud and debris. In one landslide alone
in northern Uttar Pradesh, 333 people were killed.
“This is a catastrophe affecting almost an entire continent,”
said Margareta Wahlström, Federation under-secretary
general, earlier this year. In Bangladesh alone, more than
half the country was under water. An estimated 1,050 people
were killed with 227 dying from diarrhoea.
National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies worked to relieve
the suffering of the millions of victims. In Bangladesh, the
Red Crescent distributed food and medicines. The Indian Red
Cross helped evacuate thousands of people and provided food,
clothing and basic medical assistance. The Nepalese Red Cross
distributed relief items and led assessment missions to areas
affected by landslides.
The Wolfsberg Humanitarian Forum is a process
triggered by the Humanitarian Summit held in Madrid in December
1995 at the initiative of Emma Bonino, member of the European
Commission. Its main aim is to foster a dialogue between humanitarian
and political players, by encouraging an informal and open
exchange of views on
the growing challenges encountered in managing crises.
Since the Madrid Summit, the ICRC has convened two sessions
of the Humanitarian Forum in Wolfsberg, Switzerland, the latest
from 5 to 7 June 1998. The main topics
discussed were: ethical and professional standards for humanitarian
aid; mechanisms for supportive strategies between political
and humanitarian players; and the transition from emergency
action to reconstruction in the post-conflict phase.
Governmental and supranational donors were represented at
ministerial level or by high-level officials in charge of
humanitarian affairs. Senior staff members from the main UN
humanitarian agencies and the Federation, as well as from
the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Co-operation
and Development and NGO consortia, also attended. All participants,
including individual experts, insisted on the continuation
of the Wolfsberg process.
Jakob Kellenberger will become the new
ICRC president at the beginning of the year 2000. Appointed
by the ICRC Committee, he will succeed Cornelio Sommaruga,
whose third term comes to a close in 1999. Fifty-four-year-old
Kellenberger is currently the Swiss Secretary of State for
Foreign Affairs. Professor Jacques Forster will become the
new vice-president on 1 August 1999, taking over from Eric
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