Following a new upsurge in armed clashes
in the region of Cauca, south-western Colombia, some 1,600
indigenous people had to flee their homes in January 2006
and are currently living in three locations. After assessing
the situation, the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross Society
began handing out 14 tonnes of food, 240 mattresses and blankets,
sheets, hygiene requisites and cooking utensils.
After returning from a recent visit to the country where
he held talks with parties to the conflict, the ICRC’s
director of operations, Pierre Kraehenbuehl said in a press
conference that one of the most worrying aspects of the violence
in Colombia continues to be the number of internally displaced
persons (IDPs) generated by the conflict, adding that more
people had been forced to flee in January 2006 than in the
comparative period last year. Official government figures
put them at 1.8 million though other estimates are higher.
The ICRC foresees assisting up to 45,000 IDPs with food,
shelter and access to medical care during the current year
but stands ready to help more if needed.
©Boris Heger / ICRC
On 18 January one Armenian prisoner of war
previously detained in Azerbaijan was repatriated under the
auspices of the ICRC. The operation took place on the road
between the Azerbaijani town of Gazakh and the Armenian town
The ICRC, participating as a neutral intermediary and in
accordance with its mandate, facilitated the repatriation
of the released prisoner at the request of the Azerbaijani
and Armenian authorities. ICRC delegates visited the serviceman
before the operation to ensure he was returning home of his
own free will.
Since the start of its activities in connection with the
Nagorny Karabakh conflict in 1992, the ICRC has helped repatriate
or transfer 655 people, and will support any similar operation
in the future.
in Bosnia and Herzegovina
On 7 January 2006, the ICRC published the
seventh edition of the Book of Missing Persons on the Territory
of Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of its ongoing efforts to
tackle one of the most serious humanitarian issues in the
country. The latest edition of the book, first published in
1996, contains the names of 15,275 people still unaccounted
The book bears witness to the suffering of thousands of families
in Bosnia and Herzegovina who, ten years after the end of
the war, are still waiting for news of their missing loved
The book lists the names of the missing in alphabetical order
and by place of disappearance. It provides separate lists
of people about whom no information has been obtained since
they were reported missing by their families and of those
whose deaths have been reported to the ICRC but whose remains
have yet to be found. It can be consulted by the general public
in the offices of the ICRC and of the Red Cross Society of
Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Since 1995 the ICRC has received 21,480 tracing requests.
So far, 6,855 cases have been resolved, mainly through the
exhumation and identification of remains. The ICRC will pursue
its efforts to ascertain the fate of all those still unaccounted
for and to support their families, in accordance with its
mandate and the Dayton Peace Agreements.
The information contained in the Book of Missing Persons
is available on
©Benoît Schaeffer / ICRC
Crescent aids Mecca pilgrims
Hundreds of Saudi Arabian Red Crescent Society
(SARCS) staff and volunteers went into action during a stampede
on 12 January at the Hajj pilgrimage at Mecca, where 350 people
are reported to have died and hundreds were injured. The tragedy
occurred at the foot of Jamarat bridge where pilgrims were
performing a symbolic stoning ritual during the annual pilgrimage.
This year some 2.5 million people are believed to have taken
part in the Hajj, which is the world’s largest gathering.
Taking the lead in triage, 120 Saudi Arabian Red Crescent
ambulance teams, each consisting of a doctor, nurse and driver,
helped recover bodies and evacuate the injured to hospitals.
The SARCS also helped people at 20 medical posts at Jamarat
bridge with six staff at each post. Activities were carried
out in coordination with the Saudi government.
The stampede seems to have been caused by some Hajjis or
pilgrims tripping over luggage and being crushed by the crowd.
The SARCS advises Hajjis not to bring luggage with them. Before
each Hajj, the Saudi Arabian Red Crescent Society and several
other National Societies carry out exercises and give pamphlets
with advice to pilgrims. Since the tragedy, the SARCS has
proposed discussing more cooperation with other National Societies
to prevent future problems at the Hajj.
©Saudi Arabian Red Crescent Society
Christo Rey High School looks like any other
school in the Philippines. But after a deadly landslide that
claimed more than 1,000 lives in the province of Southern
Leyte on 17 February, the school became a disaster relief
operations centre for the Philippine National Red Cross.
Leonida Catalonia, an English teacher and now a Red Cross
volunteer, opens up plastic bag after plastic bag with donated
clothes and separates them into different piles for men, women
and children. She recalls the day:
“Teachers were preparing students for final exams,
but after 10:00 students lost concentration as text messages
starting to come in telling about a horrible disaster in Guinsaugon
“Many children started to cry and worry for families.
They wanted to leave immediately. I urged them to wait for
more information. Unfortunately, only bad news was in store
The Philippine National Red Cross set up an operations centre
at Christo Rey High School to house 650 people affected by
the tragedy and to distribute food and water. Meanwhile, Red
Cross disaster specialists searched for survivors. Psychosocial
support teams helped people come to terms with the disaster.
And the Red Cross received nearly 100 requests to trace missing
On the day of the disaster, the International Federation
launched an appeal for US$ 1.6 million — later revised
to US$ 2 million.
One of the people at the school is Hilario Pia, 90, a gentle
Guinsaugon village resident who bears his age with dignity.
“Eight relatives — my wife, my son, my daughter,
my grandchildren — are all gone,” he says slowly.
“I cannot sleep, my heart hurts so much. I feel so incredibly
After the disaster, survivors face a tough question: where
can they relocate their village?
“Risk reduction is a must in this area. People should
not be exposed to dangers that can be avoided,” says
Raul Garganera, head for operations for the Philippine National
Red Cross. “Disaster preparedness is essential, since
Southern Leyte is a disaster-prone area. And that does not
only involve training, but also rescue hardware, like shovels,
ropes, rubber boots and a transportation fleet.”
©Romulo M. Godin / Philippine National
records in Niger
In December 2005, the International Federation
distributed more than 2 million long-lasting, insecticide-treated
mosquito nets in Niger during a week-long, nationwide government
polio vaccination campaign that is believed to be the largest
of its kind ever undertaken.
The nets will cover every child under 5, a total of 3.5 million
children. The International Federation estimates that these
nets will save the lives of 40,000 children in the first year
alone. In Niger, one child in four does not reach her or his
fifth birthday and half the deaths among children under 5
are due to malaria.
Amina Adimou, who lives in the far north of Niger, is one
of many women who took part in the campaign. After her children
were vaccinated against polio, door-to-door campaigners marked
one of Amina’s thumbs with indelible ink, indicating
she was eligible for a net. She walked to one of the 21,000
distribution points, where Red Cross Society of Niger and
other community volunteers gave her a net and showed her how
to hang it.
Programmes like this play a crucial role in achieving the
Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by
two-thirds by 2015. The Niger programme follows the successful
distribution of nearly 1 million nets during a measles campaign
in Togo in 2004. Linking mosquito net distribution to vaccination
programmes helps overcome many logistical and organizational
The Niger mosquito net distribution was funded by US$ 11 million
from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria
and US$ 2 million from the Canadian Red Cross Society.
Next steps include conducting research on how effective the
distribution was, and training Niger Red Cross volunteers
to run an information campaign on hanging and using the nets
correctly before the rainy season.
©John Haskew / International Federation