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New angle on urban poverty

Cathryn Prince’s article on Asian cities (Issue 1-1997) and the challenges they pose to Red Cross and Crescent Societies quite rightly highlighted this growing area where we should be active. But she also left many things unsaid.

In doing some preliminary research for the Federation on urban trends, I have been amazed at how organized and active the urban-poor self-help groups are. In cities as diverse as Calcutta, Kuala Lumpur and Karachi, urban squatter groups, shanty town dwellers and even street children organize and defend themselves, provide for their own water and health services, because no one else is going to do it for them. And often they are doing it quicker and more effectively than the municipal alternatives.

They are organized internationally as well as locally. Community-based groups and NGOs focusing on urban poverty and rights are some of the most avid users of the Internet.

The lesson to my mind is that the urban poor will not wait for the Red Cross and Red Crescent to identify with them, to provide services for them. They will take the lead, and we can either be a catalyst in that process, or an occasional outside helping hand.

One thing is for sure, we cannot regard the urban environment of tomorrow as a case of business as usual. We will need new skills, and maybe new attitudes to fulfil our mission.

Peter Walker
Director, Disasters and Refugee Policy
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies


Staying on

We were interested to read your report “A Woman’s Work” (Issue 1, 1997) on the plight of women in Afghanistan. The report tackled many of the issues that we are currently grappling with as the Taliban asserts its authority over Afghanistan and in particular Kabul.
We would, however, like to point out an error in the text. CARE did not withdraw from Kabul following the Taliban takeover. We remain there as before – although the security situation forced us to suspend some of our programmes for a few weeks.

Will Day
Chief Executive
CARE International UK

Note: On May 24, soon after the above letter was written, five female CARE staff members were attacked by religious police in Kabul. CARE immediately suspended activities until it had received a written apology from a senior Taliban official and it had gained assurances for the safety of all CARE staff members, in particular women.

A burden shared

I read with great interest your article entitled “Bearing Bad News” in Issue 1-1997 and would like to make two observations.

Firstly, I appreciate the distressing task delegates have to undertake to deliver news of death. Here in the International Welfare Department of the British Red Cross we, like many other National Society staff around the world, have to pass on this responsibility to our volunteers in our local branches. As a result of the increase in this work we piloted a one-day training course called “Breaking Bad News” using an “expert” who had previous experience in disasters. From this, it was felt that there is never a “good way” of giving this news but that personnel have to be sensitive to other cultures and, above all, that volunteers need support both before and after they have given the news.

Secondly, while I do not wish in any way to underemphasise the importance of the work of the ICRC delegates, I would suggest that more recognition be given to local staff who have to deliver very distressing news in their own language to their own communities. Many of the local staff themselves have lost loved ones and may know personally the families to whom they are delivering the news. I understand from the article, that local staff are given time off. However, I would be interested to learn whether they can avail themselves of the same support and counselling as ICRC delegates?

Pamela Hussain
International Welfare Department
British Red Cross

Editors: When speaking of the distress of “ICRC delegates”, the author of the article was referring to both expatriate and local staff. All benefit from the same support and counselling.


Caught in the crossfire

On 7 May ten volunteers from the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) were killed while assisting the wounded during the fighting in Kenge.

These tragic events demonstrate once again the courage, dedication and commitment of Red Cross and Red Crescent workers who risk — and sometimes lose — their lives to carry out their humanitarian duties in often very dangerous contexts.

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