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Healing wounds in Kenya


The post-election crisis in Kenya has left hundreds of people dead and displaced more than a quarter of a million. The efforts of the Kenya Red Cross Society, supported by the ICRC, proved very effective for those affected by the violence.


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 to thousands.

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 items.

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 was crucial.”

“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 Red Cross.”


A truck from the Kenya Red Cross Society delivers water at the Stadium camp for displaced people in Nakuru.













A water and sanitation team sets up a tap stand to distribute water for displaced people at the Elburgon Primary School camp near Molo.












The secretary general of the Kenya Red Cross Society, Abbas Gullet.

Bernard Barrett
Bernard Barrett is former ICRC information delegate in Nairobi.



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