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From Eritrea to Ethiopia

On 26 November 2004, 200 Ethiopian civilians were repatriated from Eritrea under the auspices of the ICRC. The group crossed the border at the Mereb River bridge, between the towns of Adi Quala in Eritrea and Rama in Ethiopia. Among those repatriated were eight children and three people returning to their families in Ethiopia. Acting in its capacity as a neutral and independent intermediary, the ICRC carried out this operation with the cooperation of the authorities. ICRC delegates based in Eritrea and an ambulance team from the Red Cross Society of Eritrea accompanied the Ethiopian civilians on the first leg of their journey, from the Eritrean capital Asmara to the border, providing them with food and water and helping to transport their luggage. At the Mereb River crossing point, the group was met by ICRC delegates based in Ethiopia before being placed in the care of the Ethiopian authorities. The ICRC has been helping people affected by the recent armed conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea to return to their respective countries since June 2000.


Visits in Paraguay

From 6 to 20 December, a team of ICRC delegates visited all farmers held in prisons and police stations in connection with the worsening land crisis in Paraguay. During the visits, the delegates talked privately with 621 farmers, most of whom had been arrested by the police and military forces during their eviction from land they were occupying. The detained farmers received emergency relief consisting of hygiene items, cleaning products, kitchen utensils and basic medical care. The ICRC also set up a mobile phone centre to facilitate contact between the farmers and their families. The Paraguayan Red Cross headquarters and its branch offices in the areas visited provided logistical support for these activities, which took place in accordance with an agreement signed between the Paraguayan government and the ICRC in 2001.


Red Cross goes green

It’s nearly lunchtime and Nguyen Xuan Tuan, 32, has finished his morning’s work in his shrimp ponds. He walks home along a dyke that protects his ponds from Viet Nam’s long eastern coastline. At home, he washes in warm water which is pumped through a fireplace to heat it. His house stands at a crossroads, a place where a sea dyke intersects with an embankment around a pond. Both Tuan’s home and his livelihood depend on the Giao Lac commune’s forest of mangrove trees that hide the nearby sea.

For the past ten years the Viet Nam Red Cross, with the support of the Danish and Japanese Red Cross, has planted 20,000 hectares of mangroves in eight provinces along a 110-kilometre stretch of coastline to act as a buffer against the storms and waves that thrash the dykes protecting the low-lying coastal villages. The mangroves reduce the water velocity, wave strength and wind energy.

Every year about 3 million Vietnamese are affected by disasters including typhoons, resulting in up to 1,000 deaths. And the number and intensity of storms is predicted to increase with global warming. Reforesting the coastline is one way to fight back. Commune chairman Dinh Nguyen Dau says the mangroves have an added bonus. “This project is very useful, especially for poor farmers, because it’s created jobs for them. People take young crabs and shrimps that grow among the roots of the mangroves. They can replenish their aquaculture from the trees.”

Further inland, a different sort of greenery is sprouting along river dykes. So far 35 kilometres of inland-river dykes have been planted with bamboo. The trees don’t stop the Red River flooding, bringing much needed water and nutrients to farms. But the two-metre deep roots of the bamboo protect the dykes from collapsing, which would ruin roads along the top of the dykes and flood villages and farms.





Help for Mongolia’s urban poor

The Mongolian Red Cross, supported by the International Federation and the British, German and Netherlands Red Cross Societies, has been expanding its services in urban areas, helped by its volunteer network. Targeting isolated vulnerable people as well as the migrants, its homecare projects and social centres are improving lives and breaking down isolation.

Finding the way through often labyrinthine Mongolian bureaucracy to state assistance is also critical. The Red Cross helps people reach it, sometimes linking to medical services or providing legal advice to ensure they acquire entitlements.

For former herders a major obstacle is simply getting registered. They do not bring the necessary documents. But unless they are registered they cannot get state health or social care, or education for their children.

The number this leaves in social limbo is horrific. Of the 7,000 families in the flood-prone areas of Ulaanbaatar’s Bayangol district, 3,000 are without state services, reason for the Red Cross to expand its operations this year, with British and German backing.



Emergency aid in Côte d’Ivoire

The ICRC has completed distributing emergency aid to several hundred displaced people sheltering east of Bouaké. After fighting resumed in the north-central part of the country in November 2004, thousands of people, including many women and children, fled to the towns of M’Bahiakro and Priko, south of the “confidence zone”. Though local inhabitants took some of them in, many others were reduced to living in makeshift shelters. On 15 and 16 December, the ICRC carried out an emergency operation to provide 1,153 particularly vulnerable and destitute people with basic supplies such as buckets, clothing, mats, soap and kitchen utensils.





The Kobe Conference

In January 2005, hundreds of representatives attended the 2nd World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan. Participants included representatives from United Nations agencies, governments, international and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as a delegation from the International Federation.

The International Federation’s delegation advocated for more resources to build community resilience and preparedness, stressing the importance of supporting community-based actions to reduce risks and withstand natural disasters.

Tadateru Konoe, vice-president of the Japanese Red Cross, headed the International Federation delegation. In his speech at the closing ceremony, he reminded participants of the challenges ahead. “Our task now is to work with partners to find ways to transform the encouraging statements made by governments in the plenary sessions into the concrete action which has been demanded but not yet framed.”

Mr Konoe underlined the need to set up targets and indicators, in line with the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, to reduce disaster trends that bring human suffering, material damage and loss of lives and livelihoods. Decades of development can be destroyed by a disaster in minutes, he noted, pointing to the need to address the causes for such destruction and finding ways of minimizing it. The International Federation, he said, will continue advocating for political commitments and actions when the next stages of decision making take place.

“The conference may be over but the work will continue; 2005 must be remembered not only for the aftermath of one of the most catastrophic events in history, but also as a watershed in disaster reduction, as it did in Japan ten years ago,” Mr Konoe said.

During the five-day conference, the Red Cross Red Crescent delegation participated actively in workshops, exhibitions and other activities to ensure that the perspective of vulnerable communities was considered in the final outcomes. The International Federation participants also lobbied actively for strengthened legal frameworks to facilitate international disaster response and for greater preparedness for climate change.



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