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Slaying in Congo

Six Red Cross workers were killed by unidentified attackers on 26 April in Ituri province, in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The team comprised two women and four men: Rita Fox, 36, a Swiss nurse from Berne; Véronique Saro, 33, a Congolese national; Julio Delgado, 54, a Colombian relief del-egate; Unen Ufoirworth, 29, a Congolese employee of the ICRC tracing agency; and drivers Aduwe Boboli, 39, and Jean Molokabonge, 56, both Congolese nationals.

Based in the ICRC sub-delegation of Goma, this team was travelling in two vehicles marked with the red cross emblem on an assignment to bring assistance to the region. The murders took place in the volatile north-eastern Ituri province, about 70 kilometres north of Bunia, where fighting between the local Hema and Lendu tribes over land and other resources has left thousands of people dead over the past two years. As a consequence of this attack, all ICRC aid operations in the area were halted.

Shelter from the storm

The Mekong delta in southern Viet Nam suffered its worst floods in 40 years in October 2000 affecting over 25,000 families. The death toll was particularly devastating with an estimated 340 people killed, 248 of them children. Most of the region's infrastructures such as schools and hospitals were either destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

The Australian and Vietnamese Red Cross are implementing a project to build primary schools and clinics in the Mekong delta to replace those structures lost during the floods. The project will use as a model an easily-assembled house frame developed jointly by the University of Hue and the Federation. The project is being financed by the Australian Agency for International Development. The Federation's Ho Chi Minh City office is coordinating.

The modular units will be made locally from galvanized steel and special concrete. Their design was pioneered by a young French architect, Frédéric Blas, who developed it while working for the Red Cross in central Viet Nam. In the central provinces 8,500 residential units have been built and another 3,000 are on order for the Mekong delta.

The components can be quickly transported and easily assembled, and the finished structure requires little maintenance. A key element in the new Australian project will be the raising of the concrete base on which the structure sits, above the 2000 flood level. The units will also double as safe havens in disaster preparedness for future floods.

The Australian Red Cross has a history of involvement in Vietnamese disaster relief - Typhoon Linda in 1997, the storms in 1998 and 1999 in the central provinces, and now the 2000 floods. Other Australian Red Cross projects in the country include HIV/AIDS and first-aid training for Viet Nam Airlines cabin crew.

Floods in Malawi

The heavy flooding, which affected three regions of Malawi and left many thousands of people homeless and without food, prompted the Federation to launch an appeal in February to assist some 20,000 of the most vulnerable. As the rains continued, a Red Cross assessment team - comprising representatives from the Federation and donor National Societies - gathered in Blantyre to make a more detailed survey as to priority needs. Initially viewing the worst-hit areas from the air, the team then managed to reach some communities by road. The lack of food and shelter increased the vulnerability of flood victims, and the situation was compounded by an increase in cholera and malaria cases, due to damaged sanitation facilities, contaminated water and increased stagnant water - which provides ideal breeding grounds for malarial mosquitoes. The Malawi Red Cross delivered essential items including blankets, plastic sheeting, cooking pots and jerrycans helping flood victims regain self-sufficiency.

The Red Cross snakes

Thailand is home to 163 different kinds of snakes of which 48 are venomous. Every year, more than 10,000 people are reportedly bitten by snakes. Proper first aid after a bite and quick professional help are essential for survival or mitigating the consequences. The Thai Red Cross runs one of two snake farms producing anitvenin against snake bites. Montri Chiohamrooongkiat, chief of the department for quality control and responsible for keeping the more than 1,000 snakes healthy in order to ensure high-quality antivenom, explains, "We are one of only two places in Thailand producing antivenin and distributing them to hospitals and clinics throughout the country as well as for export."

The Thai Red Cross snake farm, the second oldest in the world, is also an educational centre. "We inform people about the most common and the most dangerous snakes. Where they would find them, how to recognize them and what to do if bitten," says Montri. Twice a day the staff present a number of snakes for a thrilled and curious audience of tourists, each paying 70 baht as a much-needed income for the farm and the Red Cross. The show is a mixture of information, thrills, feeding and venom-extraction. The show's finale comes when a sleepy but impressive Burmese python is being pulled out and wrapped around whoever has the courage to hold it for as long as it takes to snap a photo. Until now no one has been bitten.

A tireless volunteer in Congo-Brazzaville

Among the hundreds of volunteers recruited by the National Society during the recent years of conflict, the remarkable case of one first aider deserves particular mention. Valentin Ngassaka is nearly 70 years old, the father of a prolific family and president of the district committee of Zanaga (south-western Congo). In July 2000, he travelled 250 kilometres on foot because insecurity still reigned in the south of the country. Why? Because the valiant first aider wanted to take part in a meeting of the central committee of the Congolese Red Cross in Brazzaville. When Valentin arrived, the assembled committee were astounded, because, being without news of him for several months, they thought he had died in the clashes.

A few months later, Valentin did the same thing again. This time, he walked 166 km from Zanaga to Sibiti to take part in a first-aid training seminar for volunteers organized with the support of the Federation and the ICRC in Congo. "Volunteering for the Congolese Red Cross is like a vocation, for it involves more sacrifices than rewards," he told the participants. No doubt, the young volunteers will have been favourably impressed by Valentin's experience and motivation.



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