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
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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