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Food crisis in Ethiopia

Food production in Ethiopia is reported to be 20 per cent lower than the national average of the past five years, and 90 per cent lower than 2001 in the worst-hit lowland regions. Acute food shortages are expected to peak between the end of the dry season in March and the first harvest of 2003 in July. The food crisis is due to the combined effects of poverty, severe drought and ongoing armed violence. The ICRC is extending its urgent preventive action in Ethiopia to assist the most vulnerable people. The action is targeting to assist up to 800,000 people and is being carried out in close coordination with other national and international humanitarian organizations, the Federation, the Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS), the United Nations and its specialized agencies, in particular the World Food Programme, non-governmental organizations active in the country and the Ethiopian government's Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Commission.

Central African Republic: Rapid Red Cross response

Within days of the latest attempt to overthrow the government in the Central African Republic on 25 October 2002, the ICRC and the national Red Cross mobilized their joint forces to come to the aid of the victims of the tensions. With ICRC support, the management of the National Society trained several groups of volunteers to carry out the most urgent tasks. One of these required the exhumation and reburial of some 20 bodies that had been hastily buried and were at risk of polluting drinking water sources. As a preventive measure, the Red Cross volunteers also set about cleaning and disinfecting more than 200 wells. Meanwhile, other volunteers assessed the needs of people whose homes had been looted or damaged by the fighting, as well as those of people who had fled to safer districts of the capital Bangui. More than 4,000 people were provided with blankets, buckets, soap and plastic sheeting.

An African safe haven

Since 1996, the Tanzanian Red Cross, with support from the Federation, provides health services, water and sanitation to more than half a million refugees living in 14 different camps in Tanzania.

Tanzania has a proud history of hosting refugees. While most of the eight neighbouring countries have experienced civil war, Tanzania has been a haven of relative peace and political stability.

At the same time Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world, with half of the population living below the poverty line. The presence of some 670,000 refugees has become an immense burden, especially in the Kigoma area, where they make up one-third of the population.

"In Europe people are refusing to take refugees, because they think refugees are a big burden. Yes they are, but still we have an obligation to receive them. And even if we are not too well off ourselves, Tanzania has done that so far. But we definitely need support from outside," explains Tanzanian Red Cross secretary general Adam Kimbisa.

When the Federation unveiled its annual appeal for 2003, Tanzania was the African country earmarked to receive the biggest single support of US$ 4.2 million, much of it destined to help refugees.

Joint effort

The Dominican and the Haitian Red Cross are reaching across their common border to bring assistance to the victims of natural disasters.

At the end of last year, a team from the Haitian Red Cross arrived in Santo Domingo, the capital of the neighbouring Dominican Republic, to procure kitchen sets and other relief supplies for the victims of floods and landslides in south-western Haiti. With funds raised from donors locally, the Haitian team was able to obtain the needed goods, assisted in the procurement process by the Dominican Red Cross.

This is the latest in a growing number of initiatives strengthening the cooperation between these two National Societies, whose countries share the island of Hispaniola in the north-western Caribbean. The two countries, apart from their shared geographical location, are exposed to a common set of challenges and problems — a spiralling rate of HIV/AIDS infection (Haiti being the worst-affected country in the Caribbean), areas of entrenched poverty, and exposure to recurring natural disasters such as the annual hurricane season. In both 2001 and 2002, the southern districts of Haiti were badly affected by tropical storms and hurricanes, and the recent visit to Santo Domingo by the Haitian team was part of the response to these disasters.

Lifeline in Somalia

Life expectancy in Somalia is 47 years; every day 45 Somali women die as a result of complications during pregnancy or childbirth; only one in ten infants is fully immunized against all major diseases; nearly 15,000 new tuberculosis cases are registered every year.

These are figures one might expect from a country ravaged by over a decade of war. But they would probably be even worse if it were not for a nationwide network of 49 Red Crescent clinics, which represent the only reliable source of basic health care for thousands of Somalis.

"In a country without a health infrastructure and with the worst health indicators in the world, the work of the Somali Red Crescent is invaluable, as it serves nearly one million beneficiaries every year," said Ahmed Gizo, head of the Federation delegation in Somalia.

Gizo was speaking during a meeting in Nairobi — held under the auspices of the Somali Red Crescent, the Federation and the World Bank — on Community Health Services in Somalia. The meeting, the first of its kind, was attended by United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and members of the diplomatic community.

It is being seen as an important step towards building closer partnerships for the creation of a coherent and sustainable health system in Somalia. "Without an appropriate and adequate public health network, health conditions will remain appalling, and may even deteriorate as unsustainable, externally driven health programmes are abandoned or closed," warned Nur Hassan Hussein, Secretary General of the Somali Red Crescent Society.

Leader in first aid

The British Red Cross is working towards having the widest and largest reach in first-aid education in the United Kingdom by 2006. An estimated 40 per cent of first-aid education will be delivered through community development models.

Community development involves targeting individuals and communities to receive first-aid education on the basis of how vulnerable and excluded they are. Those vulnerable and excluded communities — for example, groups with special needs and ethnic communities — are often more susceptible due to their circumstances and ones where accidents occur more often.

This approach to first-aid education will typically involve identifying a target group, developing pilot activity, and following it with a rollout of learning to other areas with similar needs. For example, the British Red Cross pilot training programmes to promote first aid for young people with special needs have already been set up. Seven pilot sites have been secured, including one in Leicester with a special needs youth group, and one in Edinburgh with a school for students with hearing impairments; two others in Lanarkshire and Northern Ireland will follow.

Community first aid with ethnic groups will help reduce accidents, disease and death; reduce exclusion and address health inequalities; assist communities to build sustainable capacity, and will help raise awareness of the community's vulnerability.

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