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Roots of safety

Viet Nam’s mangroves keep floods at bay

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.

Martin Robinson

Relief Inc.

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.

Clarissa Starey

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 KwaZulu/Natal.

Michael Kleiner

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 on. Literally.

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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