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Ban on cluster munitions agreed

In Dublin on 30 May 2008, 110 states adopted a historic treaty prohibiting the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions. The convention commits states to clear areas contaminated with unexploded cluster munitions and to provide assistance to victims and their communities. “The ICRC has regularly witnessed the terrible impact of cluster munitions on civilians,” said ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger. “This convention means that these weapons are not only morally unacceptable but now illegal under international humanitarian law. When implemented, it will prevent tremendous civilian suffering.” The ICRC urged all states to adhere to the convention in the near future and called on them to end the use of the prohibited weapons, regardless of whether they had participated in the Dublin negotiations. The ICRC first called for a cluster munitions treaty and an end to their use in 2000 following the conflict in Kosovo, where it documented widespread civilian casualties. In more than 20 countries, unexploded submunitions have rendered large areas as dangerous as minefields. Their deadly legacy can continue for generations. The Cluster Munitions Convention will be opened for signature in Oslo in early December 2008 and will enter into force when 30 states have deposited their instruments of ratification with the UN secretary-general.



Conflict-related needs linger on in Yemen

Many parts of the Sa’ada governorate in northern Yemen are struggling to recover from four years of conflict between the Yemeni armed forces and the Believing Youth movement. The ICRC maintains a presence in the region and, with the Yemen Red Crescent Society, responds to the considerable needs of the displaced families, returnees and vulnerable host populations affected by the violence. Between September 2007 and March 2008, the ICRC, in cooperation with the Yemen Red Crescent’s Sa’ada branch, provided 80,000 people with emergency assistance, consisting mainly of items such as tents, tarpaulins, mattresses, blankets, jerrycans, stoves and assorted hygiene products, and primary healthcare services. To assist the population of Sa’ada city, where most of the displaced had sought refuge in 2007, the ICRC donated a generator to the water board.




Conflict and drought wreak havoc
in Somalia

In recent years, the Somali people have had to cope with natural disasters and an escalation of the armed conflict that has been tearing the country apart for decades. Living conditions are worse than ever before and the outlook is grim. Poor harvests due to insufficient rainfall in the last two years have caused immense suffering. Grazing land has dried up and livestock are dying. "When distributing aid to nomadic communities — whether resident or internally displaced — we come across women who have sad stories to tell. Although they depend on the humanitarian aid, they remain strong and resilient; they deserve our respect." said Patricia Danzi, ICRC adviser to the director of operations. Many families displaced by the fierce fighting in Mogadishu have found temporary refuge near Afgooye and Danile. They live in makeshift shelters, far from medical facilities. The Somali Red Crescent Society has opened five temporary dispensaries in Afgooye and Danile for 150,000 people. It also runs, with ICRC support, 25 dispensaries serving 260,000 people in central and southern Somalia. Since January, these dispensaries have carried out some 20,000 consultations.

In Mogadishu, surgeons at the Keysaney and Medina hospitals often work around the clock to treat the injured. Since January 2008, they have treated 1,100 wounded patients, including 253 women and children. In 2007, they treated more than 4,000 wounded, with the help of Qatar Red Crescent Society surgeons based at the Keysaney hospital, which is run by the Somali Red Crescent with ICRC support.

Since January, the ICRC has trucked 2 million litres of water per day to 470,000 people in more than 400 places. In addition, 19,000 displaced families in Bakool, Middle and Lower Juba, Kismayo and Bay have received tarpaulins, blankets, kitchen utensils, jerrycans and clothes, while several thousand others are being assisted in the capital and the Middle Shabelle region.

Meanwhile, deliberate attacks against humanitarian workers — both nationals and expatriates — have escalated and are making relief efforts ever more hazardous.



Wrapping up a record

The 37th Hungarian Red Cross national competition in first aid drew 540 participants aged 10 to 20 from across the country as well as from Croatia, Poland, Romania and Serbia to demonstrate their skills in providing first aid in accidents and disasters. Organizers hope to enter the Guinness World Records book with the largest number of people demonstrating the first-aid technique of applying bandages. “We want this event to be marked by Guinness World Records to draw more attention to the importance of first aid in today’s world,” said David Kovacs, head of the Hungarian Red Cross youth programme. “We all know that life is full of risks, incidents and disasters and in this environment first aid matters a lot.” A one-day workshop on psychosocial support in disasters preceded the competition.


War in Georgia

As a result of the dramatic escalation in hostilities in and around Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia, bordering on the Russian Federation, the humanitarian situation deteriorated rapidly at the beginning of August. The fighting, involving Georgian, South Ossetian and Russian troops, led to many civilians being killed or injured and having to flee their homes. The crisis looked set also to affect Abkhazia, another breakaway republic in Georgia.

The ICRC immediately responded by providing humanitarian assistance, with the support of various National Societies. Its first priority was to provide medical help to people caught up in the fighting and to have access to anyone captured or arrested in connection with the conflict. A primary concern for the ICRC was gaining safe access to people in all affected areas, including South Ossetia, where ongoing insecurity hampered initial efforts to evaluate needs and provide assistance. Another top priority for the ICRC was to deliver relief to people displaced or isolated by the conflict, including residents in South Ossetia’s main town, Tskhinvali, as well as people who fled South Ossetia. In North Ossetia (part of the Russian Federation), the ICRC worked with the Russian Red Cross Society and local authorities to provide emergency aid for displaced families.

A return to calm of the situation in Georgia seemed probable, however, after Georgia and Russia agreed in principle to a peace plan on 13 August.



Emblem misused in Colombia

The ICRC expressed serious concern over what appears to have been a deliberate misuse of the red cross emblem during the operation to free 15 hostages — including Mrs Ingrid Betancourt — that was carried out on 2 July in Colombia. Video footage aired in early August on Colombian television reveals that a member of the army team involved was wearing a tabard marked with the red cross emblem before the operation had even begun, suggesting intentional misuse. “If authenticated, these images would clearly establish an improper use of the red cross emblem, which we deplore,” said the ICRC’s deputy director of operations, Dominik Stillhart. The use of the red cross, red crescent and red crystal emblems is governed by the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols. These emblems may not be used by bodies or persons not entitled to do so under international humanitarian law. “We are in contact with the Colombian authorities to ask for further clarifications as to exactly what happened,” said Stillhart




Action on HIV

A delegation of Red Cross Red Crescent leaders living with HIV will participate in Living 2008 Positive Leadership Summit, an international meeting that will take place immediately before the XVII International AIDS Conference, being held in Mexico City in August. The Red Cross Red Crescent will also hold a meeting of its Global Alliance on HIV Forum in Mexico. The theme of the International AIDS Conference, which is the first to be held in Latin America, is universal action.


Volunteers’net worth

On World Malaria Day, 25 April, the International Federation announced the results of a new study showing the critical role of community-based volunteers in malaria programmes. The study in Sierra Leone by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a 23 per cent increase in the use of long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets following a single visit by a local volunteer to hang the nets and promote their use. International Federation President Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro said, “This survey clearly shows how Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies involved in the fight against malaria can make a difference and achieve lasting results.” In 2007, Red Cross Red Crescent Societies helped distribute 2.5 million mosquito nets, including 1.8 million in Mali and 490,000 in Madagascar. This year the aim is to deliver 1.5 million nets to protect 2.2 million children.


Anti-immigrant violence in
South Africa

Some 150 staff and volunteers of the South African Red Cross Society in more than 30 sites responded to violent attacks on immigrants in May by providing relief items, setting up temporary shelters and, with the ICRC, tracing missing family members. Up to 100,000 people were affected by the attacks, which killed 50 people. “The Red Cross has been tirelessly distributing food, hygiene articles and clothing to the victims of this violence,” explained David Stephens, acting secretary general of the South African Red Cross. “Many of them are in total distress, so in addition to first-aid services, we also provide psychosocial support. We are referring the sick and wounded to clinics and hospitals. We will remain active, in close cooperation with other stakeholders, as long as we are needed.” The International Federation released US$ 290,000 from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund and the South African Red Cross launched a fundraising appeal.


Chile’s Chaitén volcano

Early on 2 May, a red alert was issued in southern Chile due to the eruption of the Chaitén volcano. About 8,000 people living within a 50-kilometre radius were evacuated and the Chilean Red Cross provided hygiene kits and psychosocial support. The International Federation allocated US$ 72,000 from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to help the National Society deliver emergency assistance to 5,000 people. Ashes reached Andean communities in Chile and Argentina, forcing schools to close. Because the long-dormant volcano was not monitored until its recent awakening, authorities could not predict how long the emergency would last and if residents would need to relocate permanently.


Iceland shakes

Icelandic Red Cross teams swung into action after an earthquake measuring up to 6.7 on the Richter scale shook Iceland on 29 May. Some 30 people were treated for minor injuries. More than 100 volunteers opened and ran seven emergency shelters in major towns to house and feed people who had fled their homes. “People are confused and traumatized, especially the children and youngsters. Many parents expressed their concern over how they could help their children overcome their fear,” said Johann Thoroddsen, team leader of the Icelandic Red Cross psychological support team, which travelled to the worst-affected towns. “At the same time, people are endlessly grateful for the fact that there were no major injuries and no casualties. We hear lots of stories of narrow escapes and magical incidents.”



Leadership change

In May, the International Federation announced the appointment of Bekele Geleta as its new secretary general. In July, he will replace the current secretary general, Markku Niskala, who is retiring after a long and successful Red Cross Red Crescent career. Geleta was born in Ethiopia, studied in the United Kingdom and has held senior positions both within and outside the Movement, including secretary general of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society, head of the International Federation’s Africa department, deputy head of the International Federation’s delegation to the United Nations in New York and head of the International Federation’s regional delegation in Bangkok, Thailand.



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