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Floods in Asia

While the floods in central Europe held much of the world's attention, Asia was once again hit by devastating storms and floods, causing considerable loss of life and property.

Typhoon Rusa, the most powerful tropical storm to hit the Republic of Korea in 43 years, caused widespread flooding and mudslides with at least 128 people dead or missing. Staff and volunteers of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) National Red Cross in the affected regions quickly responded to the disaster. Red Cross branches in several cities and provinces also ran soup kitchens for disaster victims and relief personnel.

Two states in Myanmar experienced their worst floods in living memory. More than 4,000 square kilometres of arable land were flooded along the country's three major rivers - the Irrawaddy, the Chindwin and the Thanlwin - leaving more than 10,000 families in dire need of relief assistance. The Myanmar Red Cross organized emergency relief distributions.

In Cambodia, a combination of floods and drought were a major cause of concern as the country's most vulnerable populations face food shortages next year. Late rains brought some relief to eight drought-stricken provinces, but extensive flooding in another five has affected more than 1 million people.

The northern and central provinces of Thailand experienced their worst floods in decades. Thirty-one of the country's 76 provinces were affected and approximately 200,000 acres of farmland have been damaged. The economic cost of the disaster is estimated at more than US$ 4 million. Thai Red Cross staff and volunteers have actively taken part in the relief operations.

Moscow theatre siege

Russian Red Cross (RRC) workers provided support to former hostages and bereaved relatives following the traumatic events of the Moscow theatre siege in October. Their work was tinged by grief, with the discovery that one of the 117 hostages killed was a senior RRC officer.

Moscow health officials said nearly 650 rescued hostages were treated after inhaling a gas that was pumped into the building by security personnel. Up to 50 Chechen rebels were killed during the storming of the theatre.

Among the dead hostages - all but one of whom died of gas poisoning - was the Russian Red Cross chief accountant, Svetlana Apsheva. Apsheva, 38, who leaves a 16-yearold daughter, joined the National Society in April 2002.

RRC staff and volunteers, working from a Crisis Centre, set up in a school building close to the besieged theatre, provided psychological support and tracing services to the victims and their families. They also provided medicine and food to victims, soldiers, police and rescue teams.

During the hostage crisis, delegates and doctors from the ICRC entered the theatre to provide medical assistance to hostages and to evacuate some of them.

Red Cross joins global immunization initiative

Abbas Gullet, former secretary general of the Kenya Red Cross, was appointed to the board of directors of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI). The GAVI board is composed of 15 members on two-year rotational posts, representing UN agencies, governments, the World Bank and various organizations involved in vaccination and immunization issues. A public-private partnership created in 1999, GAVI focuses on improving access to vaccines and vaccination services in poor countries.

GAVI also oversees the operation of the Global Vaccine Fund which has received more than US$ 1 billion from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other donors. The fund provides vaccines and support to the 74 poorest countries to improve health systems and introduce new or underutilized vaccines, such as hepatitis B.

"It will be a challenge to work out how to maximize this two-year period so that we make a difference in reducing the number of lives lost to infectious diseases. Social mobilization is key to raising awareness on vaccines among communities and here, the Red Cross and Red Crescent has an important role to play," Gullet says.

Individual Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and Federation staff in the countries GAVI is targeting will be used as entry points. Gullet explains: "With our network of grass-roots volunteers, the Red Cross and Red Crescent can make a huge difference to the GAVI initiative."

In Myanmar

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the co-founder and leader of the National League for Democracy who was released from house arrest, paid a visit to the ICRC delegation in Yangon on 17 June. During her three-hour visit, Ms Suu Kyi reviewed the humanitarian activities currently carried out in Myanmar. With the support of the authorities, the ICRC has conducted regular visits to people deprived of their freedom in Myanmar since May 1999. It has also carried out prosthetic/ orthopaedic programmes for the disabled - for the victims of mine accidents in particular - since 1986.

Biotechnology and weapons

The ICRC has launched a public appeal on "Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity" calling for a reaffirmation of norms against biological weapons and for better controls on potentially dangerous biotechnology. The call comes at the end of a two-day conference hosted by the ICRC in Montreux, Switzerland, where government and independent experts met to assess the risk of abuse of advances in this domain.

The appeal calls on all political and military authorities, the scientific and medical communities, and the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries to "work together to subject potentially dangerous biotechnology to effective controls". It also requests that states reaffirm existing prohibitions on poisoning and on the deliberate spread of disease, in particular the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. National authorities are asked to ensure that these prohibitions are known and respected by members of their armed forces and to prosecute those who contravene them. In addition, the scientific community and biotech industry are urged to "adopt professional and industrial codes of conduct aimed at preventing the abuse of biological agents".

Further information can be found on the ICRC's Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity web page, accessible on

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