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Getting across

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.”

Local transport

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 – all refugees.

Last reported, the baby was doing well.

Weaving success

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
a woman.

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.

On the spot

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 to hospital.

“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.

The 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.

Humanitarian get-together

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.

Future ICRC president

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 Roethlisberger.

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