Mildred Akinyi sits
in her tent in a camp for displaced people in the town of
Nakuru in Kenya’s central Rift Valley. “When my
village was attacked, I had just been released from hospital.
I fled with part of my family to a local church, while my
two oldest sons fled in another direction,” she says.
“The Red Cross helped a lot. I left home with nothing,
but they found my sons and, here in the camp, they are feeding
my family, they have given me clothes and arranged for shelter
with a tent.”
She is one of more than 300,000 people forced to live in
camps for the displaced, after fleeing their homes due to
the violence that followed the announcement of the results
of the Kenyan presidential elections in December 2007. The
government immediately designated the Kenya Red Cross Society
to coordinate humanitarian assistance efforts.
By the end of February it had delivered more than 8,000 tonnes
of food and essential household items, such as tarpaulins,
mosquito nets, blankets, kitchen sets, jerrycans, soap and
clothes to the displaced. Red Cross tracing services had reunited
some 400 people, mostly children, with their families and
its medical clinics had treated about 30,000 outpatients.
Red Cross counselling teams provided psychosocial support
The Kenya Red Cross also organized the delivery of more than
7 million litres of water a day to the various camps and installed
latrines and other sanitation facilities. From the outset
of the crisis, the ICRC supported the efforts of the Kenya
Red Cross. From its huge logistics centre in Nairobi, the
ICRC was able to provide trucks, light vehicles and air transportation,
medical supplies for hospitals to treat the wounded, and emergency
food rations, water and sanitation equipment and other essential
On 1 January, the ICRC dispatched its Nairobi-based regional
surgeon to assist hospital authorities in Eldoret and, later,
a field surgical team to provide training
or direct assistance. ICRC forensics experts helped morgue
and municipal officials to ensure proper identification of
the bodies of those killed in the violence.Expertise in the
fields of tracing, water and habitation, logistics and security
was also provided.
Keep on training
“The Kenya Red Cross was able to respond rapidly, because
we have invested a lot in training and disaster preparedness
over the last five years, with the help of the Danish Red
Cross in particular,” says Abbas Gullet, secretary general
of the Kenya Red Cross Society. “We had a network of
58 branches and thousands of trained volunteers in place.
We had also worked closely with the ICRC on a preparedness
plan before the elections. Together, we were the first to
go out into the field to get a true picture of the scope of
the violence. By 1 January, we were already delivering food
to those displaced.”
While other agencies were delayed by security concerns, the
Red Cross managed to move staff and relief supplies throughout
the affected regions, despite a few tense moments at improvised
roadblocks set up by local militias or gangs. “We had
local leadership and local staff who spoke the local languages
in each of the branches,” explains Gullet. “This
made a big difference. We were also very concerned that we
be seen as impartial. I believe the institution is now even
stronger and recognized as a reputable organization providing
assistance on an impartial basis.”
He adds, “It’s the first few hours and days that
are most important in making a difference in the lives of
those affected by the violence. We had to get assistance up
and running to help these people. And within a day and a half,
that’s what we were doing. As the crisis unfolded we
were also constantly in touch with the ICRC, and that link
“In Kenya, the National Society was able to respond
and also to coordinate the entire humanitarian response including
that of the United Nations,” explains Pascal Cuttat,
the head of the ICRC’s regional delegation in Nairobi.
“The Kenya Red Cross Society provided comprehensive
protection and assistance for displaced people in the camps,
where they effectively coordinated all humanitarian activities.
Our role was to support the Kenya Red Cross in their activities.
For the ICRC this was a new kind of partnership,” he
adds. “We have more experience being in the driver’s
seat in such emergencies, so we were breaking new ground.”
This partnership with the Kenya Red Cross was not the only
new ground for the ICRC. The Kenyan crisis was also the first
time it deployed its rapid response team in such an emergency.
In the first week of January, the ICRC sent an additional
15 expatriate staff from its headquarters in Geneva to bolster
the delegation in Nairobi. The Rapid Deployment Unit included
not only field delegates, but also administrators, coordinators
and medical personnel. “We have established a list of
the skill sets required in such an emergency,” explains
Alexandre Liebeskind, the ICRC’s head of operations
for the Horn of Africa. “We submit this list to the
delegation and they tell us which ones they need. Based on
a roster system for each department, we can deploy the people
needed within 24 hours. The system proved itself in Kenya.
The people we sent were very experienced and able to integrate
into the existing team quickly. Their mission was clearly
to support the operation, not to take it over. It’s
the same principle that guided our partnership with the Kenya
A truck from the Kenya Red Cross Society delivers water at
the Stadium camp for displaced people in Nakuru.
©BERNARD BARRETT / ICRC
A water and sanitation team sets up a tap stand to distribute
water for displaced people at the Elburgon Primary School
camp near Molo.
©BERNARD BARRETT / ICRC
The secretary general of the Kenya Red Cross Society, Abbas
©BERNARD BARRETT / ICRC