"It is not true,"
Ben Salem kept saying to anyone he saw on the street. "It
is not true. Maybe they weren't at home during the earthquake.
I'm sure they will be back. They have never left me alone
before. "Ben Salem went on a business trip to Paris.
When he came back he realized that his wife, his two children
and his mother had disappeared under the rubble of his home
in Boumerdes, Algeria. His family had died in the earthquake,
which struck the country on 21 May leaving more than 2,200
people dead, nearly 10,000 injured and at least 20,000 families
But Ben Salem was struggling to come
to terms with what had happened. A dozen times he walked around
what used to be his house, calling their names: "Mother,
Fathia, Omar, Nourddine…," and then to the people
who said that nobody could be left alive under the collapsed
building: "Liars, you are all liars."
Hundreds of people like Ben Salem have
been assisted by the Algerian Red Crescent Society (ARCS),
which was mobilized immediately after the earthquake. Staff
and volunteers were quick to respond to the disaster, participating
in search-and-rescue efforts, providing first aid, transporting
the injured to hospital, mobilizing blood donors and distributing
Once the emergency was over, the ARCS
appointed intervention teams and local committees to coordinate
and organize the operation in five of the most affected sites:
Algiers, Rouiba, Boumerdes, Thenia and Bourdznail.
Today, the National Society, with support
from the International Federation, is concentrating on assisting
those people left without shelter, and erected 600 tents to
accommodate 6,000 people in 11 different sites. The camps
are expected to be operational for a six-month transitional
stage, ahead of the construction of new homes.
"The people are traumatized, scared
and lost," said Fateh Khallab, a volunteer, who adds
that their faith is sustaining them. A natural disaster, it
seems, is easier to take than a man-made one. "It is
a test from God," Fateh said.
Caring for mind and body
Years of civil strife have put the
ARCS on the front line of national emergency response. From
this experience, the National Society has gained considerable
experience in providing assistance and psychological support
to hundreds of victims of the violence. Following the earthquake,
the ARCS and the Spanish Red Cross used this experience and
quickly established a unit that offered a traumatized population
psychological support. The unit also took care of injuries
and treated a series of ailments. "The cases we received
were injuries due to the earthquake and respiratory problems
caused by the dust from building demolition," explained
Dr. Carlo Urkid, who headed the unit. "Many patients
suffer from stress, trauma and stomach problems caused by
constant fear," he adds. Since the earthquake, the International
Federation, through the Algerian Red Crescent, significantly
increased its aid to victims of the earthquake. The assistance
is designed to tide over the most vulnerable families, those
whose homes have been destroyed and who have lost most of
their possessions, over the next few months.
"We estimate the operation may
continue for up to a year, depending on how soon survivors
will be able to move into new homes and return to normal,"
notes Abbas Gullet, director of the disaster management department
at the International Federation's secretariat in Geneva. "We
also plan to help the Algerian Red Crescent strengthen its
disaster prevention programmes including providing more training
for its staff and volunteers, equipping and restocking its
warehouses and ensuring sufficient logistics and transport