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Going home

Like thousands of other children, Jacqueline and Abyaremyí were swept up in the exodus that followed the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, during which some 2 million people fled into neighbouring Tanzania, Burundi and the former Zaire. The two children, then aged 10 and 7, were initially lucky enough to remain with the family unit, which settled in one of the camps in Kivu in the former Zaire. Their parents died of cholera two years later, however, and their eldest brother, 14-year-old Ntaganda, became head of the family.

When the Rwandan army attacked the camps in Kivu a few months later, Ntaganda was caught up in the rush of people heading for Rwanda. His four brothers and sisters were left behind. Abyaremyí and Jacqueline remained together, taken in by a host family in the Masisi region. As for the others, they had no idea what had become of them.

"In June the Red Cross people brought me a message from my brother. In it he told me he has been looking for me for four years. He had gone back to our little house in Kanzenze [about 50 kilometres from Kigali], where he was living with my other brother and sister whom the ICRC had brought back a month ago." Once the various formalities are completed and with the help of the ICRC, Jacqueline and Abyaremyí, too, will return to Rwanda to join the rest of their family.

Theirs is no isolated case. Since 1994, thanks to the efforts of humanitarian organizations, the Red Cross message network and the active searches of members of their families, more than 67,000 unaccompanied children have been reunited with their relatives. Indeed, the ICRC and the Congolese Red Cross are still finding Rwandan children left to their own devices or living in host families in Kivu. Between January and November 2000, the ICRC reunited 404 Congolese children with their families and repatriated 310 children to Rwanda and one to Burundi.

Troubled times in the Solomons

Since June 1999 internal tensions have dogged the island of Guadalcanal. Pitted against each other are two opposing factions: the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM), whose forces are made up of people native to Guadalcanal, and the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF), grouping armed elements of immigrants from the island of Malaita.

In close cooperation with the staff of the Red Cross of the Solomon Islands, the ICRC is carrying out a relief operation - mainly distributions of blankets and clothing - for the people displaced by the fighting, estimated at around 5,000. Priority is being given to medical needs, notably through assistance to the hospital in the capital, Honiara, and to rural health clinics, which lack staff and basic medical supplies.

Following an attack at gunpoint during a distribution of goods on the island of Marapa on 6 October in which one delegate was wounded, the ICRC suspended its relief activities. More encouragingly, talks with representatives from the warring factions aimed at ending the conflict began at about the same time in Australia.

Out in the cold

It would be hard to get more remote than Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky at the eastern edge of Russia, 9,000 kilometres from Moscow, the setting for a conference held in September 2000 on the theme "Severe poverty in the northern territories". Yet go further, deep into the Arctic Circle, in the farthest reaches of the Russian Federation, and you will find people living in the direst necessity, cut off from the rest of Russia and bereft of even basic coping mechanisms. Over the last decade, about one-third of settlers from elsewhere in Russia, including doctors and teachers, have moved from the area, leaving the indigenous population to cope with severe hardship in an abandoned land.

The purpose of the Kamchatka Conference, which brought together senior officials of the Russian Red Cross Society, the Federation, Russian federal and local authorities, donor countries and international organizations, was to outline their respective future roles in these isolated territories in order to make relief operations for these people more efficient.

"Our urgent task is to help the people isolated from the main body of Russia, who in the current harsh economic, social and climatic conditions won't be able to survive without external support," says Oleg Chestnov, director general of the Russian Red Cross Society.

The conference participants signed the Kamchatka Declaration, which recognizes the urgent need for continued assistance to address both the immediate problems and their underlying causes. An appeal is being issued with 209,000 beneficiaries in mind and concentrating exclusively on Russia's northern territories and the far north-east. Programmes will focus on support to health centres and to families in need through the establishment of community canteens.

ARCHI goes forward

In the shadow of the HIV/AIDS pandemic devastating Africa, the 5th Pan-African Conference of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies went ahead in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso in September 2000, with representatives of 51 African national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. The theme of the conference could not have been more pertinent: "The power of humanity - building a healthy future". The meeting culminated in the Ouagadougou Commitment, which listed the four areas in which the National Societies resolved to focus their efforts: the African Red Cross and Red Crescent Health Initiative (ARCHI) 2010; HIV/AIDS; food security; and volunteer management.

While the scale of the HIV/AIDS disaster clearly demands urgent attention, other public health issues are also firmly on the ARCHI agenda, which was formally adopted at the conference. The ten-year strategy aims to "make a major difference to the health of vulnerable people in Africa". ARCHI 2010 provides the guiding framework on which will be built tangible programmes to address such Africa-wide health problems as pregnancy-related issues, vaccine-preventable diseases, diarrhoea, malaria, acute respiratory infections, accidents and injuries, substance abuse, malnutrition and poverty. The programmes will be based on advocacy, health promotion, initial response and community action and implemented with the support of Africa's network of 2 million volunteers. An appeal is being launched to secure the moral and financial support of the rest of the Movement, governments, supranational and intergovernmental organizations and other donors.

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