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Floods across Horn of Africa

Unusually severe floods swept across Ethiopia in August, killing more than 600 people, and destroying thousands of livestock and more than 42,000 hectares of crops. Risks included food insecurity and deaths from watery diarrhoea. Ethiopian Red Cross Society volunteers were involved in search and rescue, distributed relief goods and gave psychosocial support. In neighbouring Sudan, 9,000 families along the Nile and Blue Nile had to leave their homes after floods destroyed more than 7,000 houses, damaged schools, shops and clinics, and left large swathes of farmland under water. Sudanese Red Crescent staff and volunteers helped rescue people, handed out emergency stocks and helped set up sources of clean water. The International Federation launched emergency appeals for both disasters to raise funds for shelter and blankets, kitchen equipment and mosquito nets, and to build latrines and safe water points.


Puppets comfort after quake

In Klaten village, 200 children sit glued to their seats as Indonesian Red Cross psychosocial support workers use puppets to help them deal with their fears. “Please take me to the bathroom, mum. I’m very afraid,” says the child puppet. “Why?” asks its mother. “Because I’m afraid after the earthquake,” she responds. The children stare at the spectacle. There is recognition and laughter. The show is part of a programme aimed at helping children and their parents cope with their fear and grief following the earthquake, which struck the region of Yogyakarta on 27 May, killing more than 5,700 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. Coordinator Ibu Agnes Widyastuti, 24, encourages children to talk about the quake. “They’ll have good memories of this day, the singing, the puppets and they’ll take away good experiences to do with the earthquake. I believe they can find happiness again.”


Sri Lanka

Intermittent fighting in parts of northern and eastern Sri Lanka has persisted, resulting in casualties and displacement. By the end of September, the number of internally displaced people was estimated to be 200,000. Road traffic between the Jaffna peninsula and the rest of the country has been cut off since 11 August. The population on the peninsula is enduring the hardships of isolation and their concerns have focused on whether food supplies will reach them regularly. Most of the estimated 40,000 displaced people in Jaffna are living with host families or in school buildings, community centres or abandoned private houses. They have received food from the government and private donors. Following a recent assessment, the ICRC has supplied them with hygiene items.

Since June 2006, the ICRC has increased its assistance in conflict-affected areas and has provided essential household items for 60,000 people and distributed medical supplies to 12 hospitals and other health-care facilities in the north and east. It is also supporting the Sri Lanka Red Cross mobile clinic services which are providing displaced families with basic health care in Jaffna, Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts. Meanwhile, the ICRC continues to visit people arrested for security reasons.


Violence in Gaza

Since August 2006, the situation in the Gaza Strip has continued to deteriorate. At the same time rockets from inside Gaza have continued to fall on Israeli territory, threatening civilian lives and property.

In a week-long operation launched by the Israel Defense Forces in early November in Beit Hanoun, over 90 Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded, including many civilians. On 3 November, two Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) paramedics were killed while performing life-saving work in Beit Lahiya, south-west of Beit Hanoun. In the early hours of 8 November, 18 people, including 14 women and children were killed and some 60 people were wounded during Israeli military operations.

The ICRC urged Israel to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law which prohibits attacks on civilians. "Any civilian loss of life further fuels the conflict and generates more loss, suffering and grief," said Dominik Stillhart, ICRC head of delegation in Israel and in the Palestinian territories.

Since August, the ICRC has facilitated the movement of ambulances operated by the PRCS and the Ministry of Health so the wounded could be safely evacuated and treated. It also provided the Ministry of Health with essential medical supplies to treat war-wounded patients.

On 13 August, the ICRC's family visit programme for Palestinian detainees held in Israeli prisons resumed. As of 8 November, 3,040 family members visited 1,392 detainees in Israeli places of detention. Also, the ICRC kept in touch with the relevant authorities and various Palestinian groups in order to gain access to captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.


Extremes in China

China was battered by a series of ferocious typhoons, floods and droughts that killed an estimated 2,200 people and forced 13 million to evacuate between May and September. While families in southern China struggled to recover from severe flooding that also destroyed farmland and killed animals, people in northern and western areas suffered a severe drought. Nineteen million people had to draw on polluted water sources for drinking. The Red Cross Society of China and the International Federation gave first aid, food, blankets and tents to people made homeless by the rains and launched an emergency appeal.



Swedish rounding

Swedish shoppers are asked to round up their purchases and give their small change to the Swedish Red Cross, in a new collaboration with major clothing chains that turns salespeople into Red Cross ambassadors. Last year, Swedish shoppers bought clothes worth US$ 825 million before Christmas and this year the campaign, ‘Round Up!’, aims to cash in while people’s wallets are out. Swedish Red Cross head of communications and fundraising
Johan af Donner says the idea that shoppers’ spare change can make a difference in the world is very appealing.


Disaster in India

The worst floods in decades killed an estimated 130 people and left up to a million people homeless across central and western parts of India between June and September. Violent rain storms and flash floods destroyed villages and crops, severed transport routes, drowned thousands of cattle and contaminated water supplies. In coordination with other agencies, the Indian Red Cross Society helped rescue people and distributed clothing, kitchen items, buckets, towels, blankets and sheets.


Islam and humanitarian law

Forty-two religious leaders from 32 Afghan provinces took part in conference on Islam and international humanitarian law held at the headquarters of the Afghan Red Crescent Society in Kabul from 18 to 20 September. During this event, organized jointly by the ICRC and the Afghan Red Crescent, similarities and differences between Islamic values and humanitarian law were discussed with a view to ensuring that the victims of the intensified conflict in Afghanistan were better protected and assisted.

At a time when a sharp increase in the violence in Afghanistan is having dire consequences for large segments of the population, the discussion with the religious leaders in the light of Islamic values was timely. “Close contacts with leaders is critical if we want to be accepted by all and create the security conditions we need to carry out our activities,” explained Reto Stocker, head of the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan. Debate focused on basic rules of humanitarian law, like the obligation to protect wounded people, detainees and civilians and to come to the aid of war victims. “Islam has rules similar to those of international humanitarian law. However, it has different sets of rules for different situations. The work the ICRC does to treat the wounded and sick, protect detainees and transport mortal remains is in accordance with the Islamic tradition,” said Mufti Habib-ur-Rahman, lecturer at the Faculty of Theology in Khost, south-eastern Afghanistan.

As part of its ongoing dialogue with scholars and other intellectuals from the Muslim world, the ICRC has held three similar meetings in Pakistan (2004), Yemen (2005) and Morocco (2006), and is planning to hold more events of the same kind in the near future.


Ecuador eruption

Ecuador’s Mount Tungurahua erupted on 16 August, damaging houses, destroying crops and forcing people to evacuate. Clouds of gas and molten rock destroyed everything near the mountain. The Ecuadorian Red Cross provided first aid, basic health care, face masks, protective glasses and psychosocial care to support those who lost not only their belongings but also their work and livelihoods. Fearing a worse disaster, Red Cross staff and volunteers were on standby for any subsequent eruptions. The International Federation launched an appeal to help 5,000 affected people for five months. The appeal will fund hygiene and cleaning materials, food and community-based education on disaster risk reduction. In addition, 1,400 children will be helped to deal with the trauma caused by the catastrophe.


Action on cluster munitions

History has shown cluster munitions to be inaccurate and unreliable, with severe consequences for civilians. They regularly fail to detonate as intended and create a long legacy of civilian injury and death. Laos and Afghanistan have been dealing with the consequences of cluster munitions for decades. More recently, scores of Lebanese civilians have fallen victim to unexploded cluster munitions used in the armed conflict which took place in July and August 2006.

The ICRC recently called for effective action to reduce the threat posed by cluster munitions. In its statement to the Third Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, it called on governments to prohibit the use of cluster munitions against military objectives located in populated areas, to immediately end the use of inaccurate and unreliable cluster munitions; not to transfer these munitions to other countries. The ICRC also offered to host an international expert meeting in early 2007 for the purpose of identifying the elements of a possible international humanitarian law treaty to better regulate these weapons.

From Chechnya to Daghestan

Ten families of displaced persons from Chechnya living in Daghestan were able to start their own businesses this year through ICRC sponsorship.

In Khasavyurt, Aminat Shakhmirzaeva has just opened a cafe after receiving a refrigerator, a gas stove and tables and chairs. Aminat and her daughter fled Chechnya during the conflict and settled in Daghestan. Although the cafe is located in a relatively quiet street, Aminat has a good number of visitors every day. “In the beginning, I was wondering if I would be able to manage,” she says. “Making food for people is not easy — it has to be tasty, served quickly and should not cost much.” As it turns out, the cafe’s clientele highly appreciate her cooking. The most popular meal is kurze, Caucasian ravioli. “I now have the opportunity to earn a living. I do not make big profits, but I receive regular income. It allows me to think about my future and that of my daughter,” she says. So far 150 families have been given a new lease of life, while over 20 project proposals are currently under study.



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