LOVE life… I hate war!” insists Khaled Bazzi,
a Lebanese Red Cross official in Bent Jbail, a small town
in southern Lebanon partially destroyed by Israeli bombardments.
Perched on a hill, the building which houses the Lebanese
Red Cross regional committee is more or less intact, except
for the northern façade, which is riddled with shrapnel.
The burnt-out shell of an ambulance in the parking lot is
evidence, if needed, of the recent hostilities.
During the 34 days of the war, the Lebanese Red Cross first-aid
teams who stayed to run the clinics in the neighbouring villages
of Hanine and Rmaich did everything they could to save and
evacuate the wounded. Since the cease-fire of 14 August, the
residents of Bent Jbail have gradually been returning, many
of them hard at work amid the ruins of their homes.
With the aid of a team from the Qatar Red Crescent Society,
the Lebanese Red Cross clinic is up and running again. Three
ambulances, medicines, generators and other equipment were
donated to enable medical care to resume in the worst-hit
villages of the district.
The emergency phase is now over, but public health needs
are still immense, especially in terms of access to clean
water. During this period of uncertainty, as the country begins
to get slowly back on its feet — and prepares for the
major reconstruction effort ahead — the Movement has
a number of projects under way to ease the transition and
the return to normality, itself a relative concept in a region
characterized by constant tension. The most pressing task
is to clear the ground of unexploded ordnance, which claims
new victims every day.
In Saida, the country’s second largest city and logistical
hub of southern Lebanon, the war has left few visible traces,
other than destroyed bridges. A Qatar Red Crescent medical
team works from the third floor of the hospital serving some
of the city’s poorest districts, including the Ain El
Helwa Palestinian refugee camp. The consulting room has been
besieged by hundreds of people, mainly women and children.
Abdul Fawzi, a Jordanian who has no social security and is
suffering from respiratory problems, is there to pick up medicines
which are free of charge to everyone. “When the poor
are sick, they die,” says one nurse simply.
In Beirut, Movement efforts are concentrated in the heavily
bombarded Shiite suburb. The ICRC and young Lebanese Red Cross
volunteers are working to improve access to drinking water,
while substantial amounts of assistance — notably family
parcels donated by the Kuwait Red Crescent Society —
are still being distributed to the devastated population.
A stone’s throw away is the headquarters of the Lebanese
branch of the Palestine Red Crescent Society, which runs five
hospitals and nine health centres for the 400,000 or so Palestinian
refugees in Lebanon. More than half of the Palestinians in
Lebanon still live in refugee camps; some have been there
since 1949. “In general, the Palestinian community has
only been mildly affected by this conflict. In fact, some
Palestinian camps have given refuge to Lebanese civilians
fleeing the more dangerous areas,” explains Dr Mohammad
Osman, secretary general of the Lebanese branch of the Palestine
Red Crescent. “The ICRC has helped us to transfer medical
supplies to the camps in the south, and the coordination has
worked well.” He adds that since the Palestine Red Crescent
Society’s recognition as a National Society in June
(see pp. 26–27), “we are now invited to Movement
meetings in Lebanon and we feel accepted into the family”.
For its part, the Saudi Red Crescent Society is deployed
in the centre of the Lebanese capital, in the grounds of the
racecourse, where it has set up a field hospital dispensing
free medical care to several hundred patients a day. The hospital
is subdivided into 18 consulting units, with more than 100
employees and cutting-edge equipment. “Following an
initial wave of displaced people, most of whom have returned
to their homes, we are now mainly treating people with chronic
conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure,”
says Dr Saud Al Omani, a surgeon with the Saudi Red Crescent.
Throughout the 34 days of war, the Lebanese Red Cross with
its 6,000 volunteers was the main humanitarian actor and sometimes
the only one operational on the ground, a central role it
continues to play today. Its performance can be attributed
to two basic factors: one, the experience and internal cohesion
the National Society has gained over the past 30 years —
in particular during the civil war; and two, the powerful
support of the Movement, whose combined forces are impressive.
Indeed, the early, rapid decision to launch a coordinated
Movement response with the ICRC as ‘lead agency’,
in accordance with the Seville Agreement, has paid dividends.
Cooperation between the Lebanese Red Cross, the ICRC, the
International Federation and National Societies present in
Lebanon has enabled all the partners to benefit from substantial
information on the most urgent needs and logistical support
for their operations. One crucial element was the ICRC’s
coordination of security procedures with the parties to the
conflict to facilitate evacuations and the safe passage of
aid convoys. Despite the ICRC’s unceasing efforts, Lebanese
Red Cross ambulances were targeted, a first-aider was killed
and others were wounded while carrying out their medical mission.
The emergency assistance provided by the National Societies
of the region has been considerable. The efforts of the Red
Crescent Societies of Syria, Egypt, Iran and Turkey, as well
as those of the Gulf region, have made an enormous difference.
The immediate outpouring of solidarity from Kuwait, United
Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar was just the
initial phase of the massive support pledged for the reconstruction
of Lebanon by the Gulf states. Images of the conflict relayed
by Arab satellite channels prompted a host of humanitarian
initiatives backed by commercial companies and governments.
Some National Societies have opted for a coordinated approach
within the Movement, others not. “People in the Middle
East and in Turkey want to help the Lebanese, they want to
make a gesture of solidarity,” says Andreas Wigger,
head of the ICRC delegation in Beirut. This generosity, often
in kind, can at times disrupt coordinated action founded on
predetermined needs. The challenge, therefore, is to find
a meeting point between a spontaneous gift and a planned and
considered approach, which inevitably requires time for assessment
and consultation but which can be frustrating for donors that
are keen to act fast.
Whether operating alone or in concert, neighbouring Red Crescent
Societies offer a proximity and a shared culture that can
only be of benefit to the Movement. “We know people
from the very highest to the lowest rungs of Lebanese society,”
says Mohammed Al-Ali, secretary general of the Qatar Red Crescent.
Scores of young volunteers are rallying to the appeals of
these National Societies. “We systematically include
young people in our activities abroad,” says Sadiq Al
Shehabi, secretary general of the Bahrain Red Crescent. “As
long as I see people smile, I am not tired.” affirms
Anwar Ghadhanfari, a young volunteer of the Kuwait Red Crescent
who came to Lebanon with a convoy of trucks laden with family
Clearly, unilateral action is still occurring. Certain National
Societies consider cooperation with the ICRC to offer too
little visibility and to be too costly and constraining. Despite
this, the desire to work in operational cooperation within
the framework of the Movement is gaining ground everywhere.
“Each one of us needs to make the effort to understand
how the other works,” says Jean-Michel Monod, ICRC regional
delegate in Kuwait. It is a concern that is not lost on Mohammed
Al-Ali, according to whom: “The Movement must be there
for the benefit of all.”
The Movement is likely to be engaged in Lebanon for some
time to come. The work of the neighbouring Red Crescent Societies
is complemented by that of the National Societies of Belgium,
France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom
and other countries. Rehabilitation projects, which are now
getting under way in the key areas of health and education,
offer a golden opportunity to boost the efficacy of the Movement’s
action in a field where, if peace holds, other actors —
both humanitarian and military — will become more involved.
ICRC editor of Red Cross Red Crescent.
Chamaa village, south of Tyre. ICRC delegates
and a volunteer from the Lebanese Red Cross look for a free
passage for an ICRC convoy.
Red Crescent Society
Saudi Arabia population: 16 million
At home: Emergency services with national
coverage; first aid during the hajj in Mecca.
Abroad: Projects in many countries,
including field hospitals in Afghanistan and Sudan;
food parcels and water/habitat projects in Palestine;
food, medical assistance and Beirut field hospital in
Volunteer paramedics from the Lebanese Red
Cross branch in Tyre preparing to go out in the field.
Qatar population: 500,000
At home: Primary health care; first
aid; training in disaster management; hosting of Lebanese
families temporarily staying in Qatar.
Abroad: Donations to and projects in
many countries including distribution of relief and
construction of houses in Pakistan (earthquake); medical
programmes in Somalia, Sudan and Palestine; ambulances,
food, fuel, hospital support and mobile clinics in Lebanon;
and support to the ICRC/Lebanese Red Cross Appeal for
Saida hospital, Qatar Red Crescent medical
unit. A receptionist signs in patients on the first day of
Red Crescent Society
Bahrain population: 500,000
At home: Blood donation campaign; first
aid; health education, training in hairdressing for
women; sewing training for needy families; donations
to people in need, in particular during Ramadan; visits
to the elderly by the youth section.
Abroad: Orphanage in the Maldives;
health centre in Indonesia (tsunami); relief and school
reconstruction in Pakistan (earthquake); food parcels
in Hebron (Palestine); response to the ICRC/Lebanese
Red Cross Appeal for Lebanon through cash and in-kind
Following war damage to the water supply, ICRC’s
top priority in Lebanon is to restore access to safe drinking
Red Crescent Society
Kuwait population: 3 million
Headquarters: Kuwait City
At home: First aid; donations to needy
families, in particular during Ramadan; assistance to
detainees, visits to patients in hospitals.
Abroad: Donations to and projects in
58 countries, including assistance, equipment and house
building in Indonesia and Sri Lanka (tsunami); relief
in the United States (Hurricane Katrina); aid in Pakistan
(earthquake) and in Iraq; in Lebanon, donations of over
2,000 tonnes of bulk food, family parcels, materials
and medical items to the Lebanese Red Cross, the High
Commission for Relief and the Ministry of Health.
Saudi Red Crescent field hospital in Beirut.
A wounded child receives medical attention.
of the United Arab Emirates
At home: HIV/AIDS campaigns; food distribution
to needy people during Ramadan; social sponsorship to
students, assistance to prisoners and the disabled.
Abroad: Donations and projects in 40
countries including relief programmes in Iraq; orphanage
in Jordan; reconstruction and a hospital in Jenin (Palestine),
cash and equipment to Palestine Red Crescent Society;
donations of medicines, food, generators, 24 ambulances
and cash for helmets and flak jackets to the Lebanese
Red Cross in response to ICRC/Lebanese Red Cross Appeal
road to Damascus
“There are no refugees,” declared Dr Abdul Rahman
Attar, president of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society.
“We have approximately 160,000 guests, and it is our
pleasure and duty to welcome them to our country.” Such
sentiments typified the swift and effective response to the
crisis in Lebanon by more than 900 Syrian Red Crescent volunteers
and staff. Day and night, Red Crescent personnel, many of
whom gave up their summer holidays to assist the evacuees,
manned border crossings and reception centres. They provided
much-needed food, water and medical and psychosocial assistance,
as well as the means to restore links between families separated
as a result of the conflict. Evacuees were concentrated mainly
in Damascus and Homs, but ten of the Syrian Red Crescent’s
14 branches throughout the country were engaged in the operation,
which lasted for more than a month. Activities were conducted
in both communal shelters and private homes, which were made
available to evacuees, often complete strangers.
Syrian Red Crescent involvement in the crisis was not limited
to Syria. For almost a month, Damascus was a critical staging
post for the movement of essential goods and personnel bound
for Lebanon. The National Society provided a key facilitation
role and, in close collaboration with the Syrian authorities,
was instrumental in ensuring a seamless pipeline not only
for its Movement partners, but also for other humanitarian
The Syrian Red Crescent was not alone in its efforts. Support,
both financial and material, was quick to arrive, particularly
from Arab Red Crescent Societies and traditional Western European
National Society partners.
While the international spotlight remained firmly on Lebanon
and Israel, the Syrian Red Crescent kept up its activities
for the duration of the conflict. Within hours of the ceasefire
taking hold, Red Crescent volunteers were again at the borders
providing much appreciated support for people eager to return
to their homes in Lebanon. The National Society, together
with the International Federation and the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees and with the support of the ICRC,
provided buses to enable people with no other means to return
Although it no longer assists victims of this particular
conflict, the Syrian Red Crescent is not remaining idle. Together
with the International Federation, it has just completed an
after-action review and will be acting upon the lessons learned
to ensure that its response to any similar situation in the
future will be even better.
Linda Ta’ef, Syrian
Arab Red Crescent Society, and Craig Strathern, ICRC
northern Israel with
the Magen David Adom
“FROM 22 July to 14 August, 1,012 Katyusha rockets
fell on the town of Kiryat Shmona,” says Shimon Abutbul,
deputy head of the regional branch of the Magen David Adom.
During that same period, tens of thousands of people in northern
Israel lived in constant fear, spending some of the time in
bunkers, if they had access to one. Caring for the wounded
is familiar territory for a man who has worked for the Magen
David Adom for 25 years in an area that has been particularly
exposed. In a blank voice, he recalls the day, 6 August, when
he was called out with his ambulance to Kfar Giladi: “All
the soldiers were dead. I counted eight, then twelve. Where
were the wounded? I felt something die inside me.” Silence.
In Avivim, a village a few metres from the Israeli–Lebanese
border, the Magen David Adom’s Meir Biton is on permanent
standby. Bunker, armoured ambulance, helmet and bullet-proof
jacket are the everyday currency of his job as a fi rst-aider.
During the confl ict, the six Magen David Adom ambulance staff
gave shelter to 1,200 people, of whom 120 were soldiers evacuated
from the front line to the hospital in Zefat.
With its 10,000 volunteers and 1,200 staff, of whom 450 are
paramedics, the Magen David Adom is primarily a rescue and
first-aid service. “We carry out around half a million
interventions a year,” explains David Abadi, head of
the paramedical unit. However, since
the National Society was formally recognized in June 2006
(see pp. 26–27), it may evolve. This view is confirmed
by Shimon Abutbul, for whom the recent conflict was an opportunity
to expand its humanitarian action, such as assisting people
in the shelters: “It has recharged our batteries!
Interview by J.-F. Berger
ICRC editor of Red Cross Red Crescent