To kill the killer
Close to 30 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines
have been destroyed by the Ottawa Convention's first deadline.
In all, 44 states parties will have completely destroyed their
stocks on time for the 1 March 2003 deadline.
This date marks the fourth anniversary of the Ottawa Convention
prohibiting anti-personnel mines. To date, 131 states parties
have ratified or acceded to the Convention, committing themselves
to the total elimination of anti-personnel mines. These weapons
kill and maim indiscriminately, and most of their victims
By March, 45 states parties had complied with their obligation
to completely destroy their stockpiles of landmines and with
one exception all states met the deadline.
Even more importantly, the Convention has had a demonstrable
effect on the ground over the same period. The number of new
landmine victims has decreased significantly by as
much as 60 to 70 per cent in some areas where the ICRC is
The fourth anniversary of the Ottawa Convention is also an
opportunity for the ICRC to remind states of the remaining
challenges. Additional resources will be needed to ensure
that other states parties meet their deadlines for stockpile
destruction, to clear most mine-affected areas by 2009 and
to give mine victims access to medical care and rehabilitation.
The drive for universal adherence to the Convention must also
continue, because only full implementation of the Convention
will eliminate the threat that anti-personnel mines pose to
innocent civilians all over the world.
The ICRC in mourning
Munguía, an ICRC water and habitat engineer, was
killed on 27 March in Uruzgan province, southern Afghanistan.
Ricardo, who was travelling together with Afghan colleagues
on an assignment to improve the water supply in the town of
Tirin Kot, was shot by a group of unidentified assailants
who stopped the vehicles in which the ICRC staff were travelling.
Ricardo Munguía, who was 39, joined the ICRC in 1999
and had worked for the organization in Colombia, the Republic
of the Congo and Angola.
On 8 April in Iraq another ICRC delegate was killed. Vatche
Arslanian, logistics coordinator, was caught in crossfire
while accompanying an Iraqi colleague home. He was part of
the core ICRC team which had accepted to stay in Baghdad during
the war in order to provide life-saving assistance to the
victims of the conflict.
Watch out for landmines
poster exhibition, Children against mines, opened in the
capital of Chechnya, Grozny, on 2 April. On display are 80
posters designed by more than 1,000 schoolchildren from Grozny,
Gudermes, Shali and Urus-Martan who took part in a competition
organized by the ICRC in cooperation with the Republican Youth
Centre and the local branch of the Chechen Ministry of Culture.
The competition was part of a mine-awareness programme that
has been carried out by the ICRC in the northern Caucasus
since 2000. As part of the programme, puppet shows and comic
books have been produced, as well as an animated film using
a popular local character named Cheerdig. At present, ICRC
mine-awareness activities in the region are targeting children
in the Chechen republic and mine-infested communities in neighbouring
Dagestan, where a new puppet show was put on last month.
Silent victims of school fires
"It was a silent disaster," says Muminat
Nurmagomedova, a nurse with the Dagestan branch of the Russian
Red Cross (RRC). "The neighbours did not immediately
realize what had happened because there were no actual cries
More than 160 residents of a boarding school for deaf children
in the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala, were sleeping when
a fire broke out at two o'clock in the morning; 28 of them
died in the blaze.
In all, 113, aged 10 to 17, were taken to hospital with severe
burns, traumas and asphyxia. Reports suggested the fire started
after electricity power lines were brought down by hurricane-force
winds. The school's main building was completely destroyed.
The Russian Red Cross immediately called for help to assist
the hospitalized children and their families. Youth volunteers
from the RRC Dagestan branch gave blood for the affected children
and RRC staff and volunteers in Moscow donated some 7,000
roubles (over US$ 200) that will be used to buy anti-bedsore
mattresses and bandage material for the affected children.
Water for drought-hit Paraguayan Chaco region
you arrive in the Paraguayan Chaco region, after an eight-hour
journey west from the capital Asuncion, the signs of widespread
drought are everywhere. A resident of Campo Loa, Artemio Mejara,
said the Paraguayan Chaco is experiencing its worst drought
in a decade. "Conditions are desperate, many of us are
so weak we can barely walk," the old man said. The disaster
is having inevitable economic consequences Atemio's
only son recently lost his job as a farmer.
In Boquerón, the drought has had a particularly negative
impact on the subsistence farmers in the region. Almost 5,000
families in 56 indigenous farming communities have been affected.
Food and water distribution have been a key part of the International
Federation's operation in Boquerón. More than 50 water
collection and storage systems are being built, while trained
hygiene promoters are trying to raise awareness about how
to prevent diarrhoeal diseases.
The situation is not likely to improve. Early forecasts indicate
that this year's harvest will be well below normal. In the
middle of what is usually called 'the rainy season', there
was still no sign of those much-awaited rains.
day, it becomes more urgent for governments to provide
efficient and practical measures to help injecting drug users
lead healthy lives, such as increased access to treatment
and harm reduction programmes. Harsh and even violent policies
to force individuals to change only succeed in turning the
war on drugs into a war on drug users.
That was the message from representatives of the International
Federation and its partners at a symposium on 'Harm reduction:
humanitarian principles in action', which came at the end
of the 14th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug-related
Harm in the Thai city of Chiang Mai.
The International Federation was one of the sponsors of the
conference, which was attended by some 750 people including
medical professionals, scientists, sociologists, therapists,
counsellors and HIV and drug policy activists from all over
"The scientific evidence is clear: harm reduction works.
'Social evil' policies, condemnation, harassment and even
incarceration of drug users do not," said Bernard Gardiner,
head of the International Federation's HIV/AIDS unit.
"What is urgently needed are treatment programmes for
those who want to stop using drugs and effective harm reduction
programmes to stop people from dying. The stigmatization and
discrimination of injecting drug users, particularly those
who are HIV-infected, continues to spread the disease around
the world, also among the groups who consider themselves at
low risk," he added.
Drug-related harm reduction is a new focus of the International
Federation with a limited number of Red Cross and Red Crescent
Societies around the world involved in activities such as
needle and syringe exchange programmes.
Responding to SARS
China and the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong
were the worst hit by the atypical pneumonia called Severe
Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Although the southern Chinese
province of Guangdong, thought to be the origin of the syndrome,
saw the largest outbreak of the disease, cases were reported
elsewhere in the country. The Red Cross Society of China is
continuing to monitor the situation closely and is on standby
to cooperate with its health ministry if requested.
Although the main mode of transmission of SARS is through
body contact and body fluids, investigations in Hong Kong
are concentrating on unconfirmed reports of faecal-oral transmission
In response to the crisis in Hong Kong, the Red Cross ran
a disease prevention campaign targeting particularly vulnerable
people in the community such as the elderly. Red Cross volunteers
are visiting the elderly at home to distribute hygiene kits.
A total of 100,000 kits, which include sterilizing tablets,
standard surgical masks, and SARS prevention guidelines, have
"We have met with a good response from the community,"
says Wilson Wong, Hong Kong Red Cross deputy secretary general.
"We believe our campaign helps reduce anxiety about SARS
among elderly people and helps us in our mission to build
a caring community in Hong Kong."
In addition to the hygiene kits, the Hong Kong Red Cross
have also carried out a disease prevention campaign among
the broader public through the distribution of 300,000 "Heart-to-Heart"
cards. Each card has on one side prevention tips against SARS,
while the other half is open for sympathy messages that can
be forwarded to patients and medical staff by the Red Cross.
Elsewhere, several countries in South-East Asia, Europe and
North America have seen outbreaks, particularly Canada, Viet
Nam and Singapore. In Singapore, the Red Cross put ambulances
on standby at the request of the government to transport suspected
cases to the hospital.
In Canada, the Red Cross delivered medical supplies provided
by health departments to people quarantined in their homes
in Toronto and the region of York, both in Ontario province
which saw the largest number of SARS cases.
"We delivered supplies on a daily basis, in order to
ensure that people affected had the necessary equipment to
prevent the spread of this virus and to alleviate any discomfort
they experienced," said Steven Armstrong, manager of
disaster services for the Canadian Red Cross.
As of June, the virus had been contained in the affected
areas. This does not mean that the threat to public health
from SARS is over. Authorities remain on the alert as long
as the virus is not eradicated.
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