War and accountability
On 23 and 24 May, the ICRC organized a new international
humanitarian forum at Wolfsberg (Switzerland). The main theme
of the event was the accountability of humanitarian and political
actors to the people whose lives are affected by armed conflict.
The participants hailed from political, humanitarian, military
and economic circles, as well as from the media. A unique
aspect of this year's forum was the presence of survivors
of the armed conflicts in Rwanda, Guatemala, South Africa,
Afghanistan and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their personal accounts
and the role played in each case by the political and humanitarian
actors formed the basis for the debates.
In a wide exchange of views, the participants
were encouraged to consider the people affected by armed conflict
not as passive "victims" but rather as "survivors"
who have a voice and can work together to bring to account
those responsible for their tragic lot. Certain participants
felt that the involvement of local institutions, when it concerned
meeting basic humanitarian needs, was an effective means of
achieving this end. It was also the general opinion that humanitarian
organizations could show more commitment to the survivors
of armed conflicts by working closely with them beyond the
Drought in Sri Lanka
More than 400,000 people are affected by drought in southern
Sri Lanka after three successive years of crop failure and
poor rainfall. Sri Lanka Red Cross and Federation assessments
have found that people are receiving just one-third of their
daily energy and protein requirements. In the south-eastern
district of Hambantota, the average birth weight has fallen
and the number of dysentery cases is four times higher the
Last year the Sri Lanka Red Cross, with support from a Federation
appeal, distributed food to 21,000 people over six months
in the worst-affected areas of Hambantota. But with rains
failing again, many families are reduced to eating one or
two meals a day.
"Although staple foods are available in the markets,
people can't afford to buy them. Prices have risen by 50 per
cent and casual work opportunities have dried up just like
the paddy fields," said Erwin Bulathasinghala, secretary
general of the Sri Lanka Red Cross. "And those who pawned
everything to moneylenders to buy seeds have seen their crops
wither and die, leaving them in a desperate financial situation."
Preparing for climate change
The Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre came into being
in June at The Hague. Established by the Netherlands Red Cross,
the centre will strengthen Red Cross and Red Crescent relief
aid programmes by making better use of scientific data on
climate change and extreme weather. "By facilitating
an exchange of ideas between the worlds of meteorological
science and emergency relief," says Eva von Oelreich,
Federation head of disaster preparedness, "the centre
hopes to put the impact of climate change and the resulting
natural disasters on the agenda of policy-makers and organizations
in the field."
Scientists believe that extreme rainfall or drought arising
from increasing global temperatures in this century will lead
to more frequent and more severe disasters. Floods and landslides
could threaten more people; crop failures could lead to an
increase in malnutrition; and diseases like malaria and dengue
fever could reach places where people are less resistant to
The dzud continues
For the third year in a row the Mongolian Red Cross and the
Federation are providing relief to nomadic herders and their
families on the Mongolian steppes. Droughts last summer, followed
by heavy winter snowfalls and extreme temperatures have led
to an ongoing dzud in the country, especially in two south-western
provinces and to a lesser extent in four others.
A dzud, the accumulation of natural hazards, including severe
drought in summer, unusually cold temperatures in autumn and
winter followed by very heavy snowfall, is unique to Mongolia.
Worst affected is the Gobi Altai province, where many districts
have seen up to 70 per cent of all animals die over the winter.
Nearly 40 per cent of all livestock in the province have died
in the last five months - over 650,000 animals.
The Mongolian Red Cross, supported by the Federation, is
continuing to provide assistance to affected herders and their
families. Relief goods - wheat flour, cooking oil, tea, clothing,
felt boots - are being distributed to 3,700 families to help
them prepare for the coming winter. Also, over 17,000 radio
receivers are being distributed to herders, breaking their
isolation and enabling them to listen to weather reports.
The Mongolian dzud is exacerbating deep-rooted problems in
this country as it undergoes the painful transition from a
highly centralized socialist to a market economy. At the same
time, global climate changes are also affecting the country.
Helping hand in Argentina
José Lopez knows that once a day he will receive a
meal at a comedor popular, a soup kitchen run by the Argentine
Red Cross. It will be basic, but it will help him survive
the current socio-economic crisis that has left up to half
of the country's population living under the poverty line.
The social situation in Argentina has deteriorated dramatically
over recent years, and particularly since the beginning of
2002. Since 1999, there has been a significant increase in
the number of people living below the poverty line and health
and education services have eroded. Two large sectors of society
have been profoundly affected by the crisis: the poor who
already had limited or no access to food and health services,
and a significant majority of the middle class who now have
no access to public health services.
The Argentine Red Cross, with the help of the Spanish Red
Cross, is running or supporting a number of soup kitchens
in some of the most depressed areas of the country. It is
also assisting orphanages and day-care centres unable to continue
providing services. As long as the economic crisis continues,
the goal is to ensure the sustainability of these services
in all 24 branches of the Argentine Red Cross. With their
help, perhaps José Lopez and others like him can eat
regular meals with an easy mind, knowing that their families
are getting help.
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