Viet Nam’s mangroves keep floods
Farmers in the coastal province of Thai Binh, in central
Viet Nam, cherish the mangrove trees growing along the sea
dykes. In ponds formed between their tangled roots, good crab
fishing can be done. Honey from bees that work the mangrove
flowers is sold for extra income. Most important of all the
mangroves protect the local population from floods.
When Typhoon Frankie ripped across the country last summer,
it left devastation in its wake. Almost 100 people were killed,
tens of thousands made homeless. But thousands of trees planted
on 200 hectares of dykes south of Haiphong withstood the high
winds and torrential rain, kept the dykes intact, and the
people in the countryside safe and sound.
It was three years ago that the Red Cross of Viet Nam, supported
by the Danish Red Cross, helped the farmers plant the first
mangroves, aware that their above-ground roots would break
the force of destructive waves and hold the soil together.
With Frankie they prevented a major disaster, and in a country
where flood prevention is a Red Cross preoccupation, it isn’t
surprising to hear the planting of mangroves is continuing.
Signs of the times
New Zealand Red Cross in the picture
A couple of years ago, the New Zealand Red Cross (NZRC) did
some research into how it was perceived by the New Zealand
public. Most people identified international disaster relief
as the NZRC’s main activity – a far cry from the
full story. So, in a bid to increase awareness of the National
Society’s many other activities, a public education
campaign was developed with the help of Saatchi and Saatchi
advertising. The bold, young look of the advertisements, based
on the work of spray-can artists, was designed to reflect
the contemporary, upbeat attitude of the NZRC. In October
1995, five huge murals were painted with this in mind and,
after being photographed and added to by graphic artists,
they led to some stunning posters. These are just two examples.
Enter the traders
Some British NGOs boycotted it, on the grounds that it is
unseemly to make money on the back of human suffering, but
the cold shoulder wasn’t evident in Geneva’s Palexpo
exhibition centre last October when commerce girded its loins
for WorldAid ‘96.
For the first time, what might be described as Relief Inc.
– the commercial suppliers and interests in today’s
aid industry – rubbed shoulders with aid agencies at
a trade fair and conference on emergency relief. The five-day
event brought together more than 250 commercial companies
and 45 agencies, as well as UNHCR, UNICEF, the World Health
Organization, the World Food Programme, the European Community
Humanitarian Office, and the International Red Cross and Red
Crescent Movement. Some 4,000 visitors were introduced to
new products and equipment covering communications, freight,
shelter, medical supplies and food, and could discover how
agencies mount operations worldwide.
Said WorldAid’s Secretary General, Odd Grann, a Norwegian
with 30 years’ experience of relief work, “It
is time to reflect on how aid is organised and coordinated,
not just for reasons of efficiency but to ensure better service
delivery to the victims, and to save lives.” He foresees
two more WorldAid expos being held in Geneva, in 1998 and
the year 2000.
Recipe for relief
One woman’s fight to help the elderly
In Dondotha, as in many South African villages, the elderly
often wait long hours to collect their pension money at the
local community office. The wait can start as early as 4 a.m.
and go on all day if the money convoy is held up.
Hold-ups are a regular occurrence, in every sense. Dondotha
lies on the north coast of KwaZulu/Natal and between June
1994 and January 1996 over three million rand (nearly 700,000
US dollars) of pension money was stolen in armed robberies
throughout the province.
“I’ve been doing this job for a little more than
three years and have been attacked eight times so far,”
says field manager Marco Furnarello from under his bullet-proof
vest. His convoy of two high-tech pick-up trucks with digital
sensors is one of five that operate throughout the province
every day. “For security reasons we change the times
and destinations at random,” he adds, “only giving
the date for the next distribution. Which is why the pensioners
have to wait sometimes the whole day until we come.”
Matrina Bhengu is an active member of the Dondotha rural
community and lives next to the community office. She witnessed
each month the long queues and was present when three elderly
people died in the summer of 1995 from heat exposure. Not
knowing how best to provide constructive help, she contacted
the South African Red Cross Society in Empangeni, who trained
her in first aid. But this was not enough for Matrina: with
the help of her friends, she went on to set up a local Red
Cross committee, each member paying a fee.
The Dondotha committee decided that Matrina’s idea
of providing meals for the elderly on pension day was a good
one and now, every month, 150 meals are served up to those
waiting in the queue. All are invited to pay one rand, which
does not cover the cost of the food, but at least it leaves
the beneficiaries with a sense of pride and a feeling of participating
in the effort. Matrina’s idea is now receiving attention
from the regional Red Cross office in Durban, where people
believe that her project should benefit all pensioners in
Art of communication
You might say they keep the population posted. For the Kenya
and Mexican Red Cross, 1996 was a year they left their stamp
In Kenya, a set of five Red Cross stamps has been circulating
since the Posts and Telecommunication Corporation chose to
recognise the National Society's work for the most vulnerable
in the community. Besides featuring the emblem, the issue
depicts the Red Cross blood donation programme, the Society's
immunisation campaigns, its assistance to refugees, and Red
Cross youth involvement in working for a cleaner environment.
A Mexican stamp is supporting a national contingency fund
for disaster response. The National Disasters Committee of
the Mexican Red Cross mounts an average of 70 relief operations
annually for victims of disaster in Mexico. Sales of the stamp
will aid its work enormously.
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