Maya Indian father plays with his son
among the destruction left by a deadly mudslide in the
village of Panabaj, Guatemala, 7 October 2005.
©REUTERS / DANIEL LECLAIR, COURTESY www.alertnet.org
ON 17 October, Hurricane Wilma set its own record as the
strongest storm with wind speeds of 280 km/h. It also represented
the first time that the list of internationally
approved names had been exhausted, forcing the World Meteorological
Organization to resort to the letters of the Greek alphabet
for subsequent storms.
The human toll has been considerable with dislocation, flooding
and mudslides. At least 3,000 people died in both parts of
the continent and the economic damage is estimated at more
than US$ 100 billion.
The Pan American Emergency Response Unit (PADRU), which was
established in 2001 to boost disaster preparedness and cooperation
among National Societies in the Americas, played an important
role in this year’s hurricane season.
Never intended to be large, the unit has been reinforced
in recent years. It is centred on a small core of professionals
who can call on the help of standby teams from participating
National Societies. More than 200 delegates and specialists
have supported the countries affected in the 2005 hurricane
is based in Panama and maintains a stock of relief goods in
its warehouses there. During a disaster, it becomes a focal
point for weekly meetings among National Societies to coordinate
their relief efforts and take advantage of logistical synergies.
In recent years, this has grown to include representatives
of institutions outside the Movement such as the United Nations
and the European Union. Memoranda of understanding have been
signed with the United Nations Children’s Fund and the
World Food Programme.
In 2005 PADRU has been instrumental in getting emergency
aid to 10,250 families across the region. In Guatemala alone
6,500 families received food, clean water, first aid and sanitation
kits from the Guatemalan Red Cross using PADRU stocks. In
a four-month period, 12 PADRU flights carried 218 tonnes of
relief goods from Panama for distribution by National Societies
in the region. In Guatemala a water purification and storage
system was set up to provide 80,000 litres of clean water
a day. It is complemented by two suction pumps cleaning wells
in the area.
The Disaster Response Emergency Fund made
US$ 700,000 available to cover the immediate needs of 170,000
people. Further help was forthcoming as the International
Federation issued several international appeals and coordinated
international aid of some
US$ 7.9 million. These figures are considerably larger if
assistance by the American Red Cross to the millions affected
by hurricanes Katrina and Rita is included.
The severity of this hurricane season will mean that people
will be dependent on emergency aid longer than usual. “People
have lost everything and will need shelter, food and health-care
for months to come,” says Nelson Castaño, head
of PADRU. “We are distributing kitchen utensils, hygiene
kits, blankets and mosquito nets.”
He adds: “At the moment we are asking National Societies
to maintain operations already in place, as we turn to rebuilding
stocks of emergency goods in our warehouses to be ready for
the next disaster.”
©MARKO KONKIC / INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION