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.
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."
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 www.icrc.org.
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