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Displaced in Colombia

Following a new upsurge in armed clashes in the region of Cauca, south-western Colombia, some 1,600 indigenous people had to flee their homes in January 2006 and are currently living in three locations. After assessing the situation, the ICRC and the Colombian Red Cross Society began handing out 14 tonnes of food, 240 mattresses and blankets, sheets, hygiene requisites and cooking utensils.

After returning from a recent visit to the country where he held talks with parties to the conflict, the ICRC’s director of operations, Pierre Kraehenbuehl said in a press conference that one of the most worrying aspects of the violence in Colombia continues to be the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) generated by the conflict, adding that more people had been forced to flee in January 2006 than in the comparative period last year. Official government figures put them at 1.8 million though other estimates are higher.

The ICRC foresees assisting up to 45,000 IDPs with food, shelter and access to medical care during the current year but stands ready to help more if needed.

 



©Boris Heger / ICRC


Coming home

On 18 January one Armenian prisoner of war previously detained in Azerbaijan was repatriated under the auspices of the ICRC. The operation took place on the road between the Azerbaijani town of Gazakh and the Armenian town of Ijevan.

The ICRC, participating as a neutral intermediary and in accordance with its mandate, facilitated the repatriation of the released prisoner at the request of the Azerbaijani and Armenian authorities. ICRC delegates visited the serviceman before the operation to ensure he was returning home of his own free will.

Since the start of its activities in connection with the Nagorny Karabakh conflict in 1992, the ICRC has helped repatriate or transfer 655 people, and will support any similar operation in the future.

 

 

 


Missing in Bosnia and Herzegovina

On 7 January 2006, the ICRC published the seventh edition of the Book of Missing Persons on the Territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of its ongoing efforts to tackle one of the most serious humanitarian issues in the country. The latest edition of the book, first published in 1996, contains the names of 15,275 people still unaccounted for.

The book bears witness to the suffering of thousands of families in Bosnia and Herzegovina who, ten years after the end of the war, are still waiting for news of their missing loved ones.

The book lists the names of the missing in alphabetical order and by place of disappearance. It provides separate lists of people about whom no information has been obtained since they were reported missing by their families and of those whose deaths have been reported to the ICRC but whose remains have yet to be found. It can be consulted by the general public in the offices of the ICRC and of the Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Since 1995 the ICRC has received 21,480 tracing requests. So far, 6,855 cases have been resolved, mainly through the exhumation and identification of remains. The ICRC will pursue its efforts to ascertain the fate of all those still unaccounted for and to support their families, in accordance with its mandate and the Dayton Peace Agreements.

The information contained in the Book of Missing Persons is available on
http://www.familylinks.icrc.org/mis_bos.nsf/bottin

 



©Benoît Schaeffer / ICRC


Red Crescent aids Mecca pilgrims

Hundreds of Saudi Arabian Red Crescent Society (SARCS) staff and volunteers went into action during a stampede on 12 January at the Hajj pilgrimage at Mecca, where 350 people are reported to have died and hundreds were injured. The tragedy occurred at the foot of Jamarat bridge where pilgrims were performing a symbolic stoning ritual during the annual pilgrimage. This year some 2.5 million people are believed to have taken part in the Hajj, which is the world’s largest gathering.

Taking the lead in triage, 120 Saudi Arabian Red Crescent ambulance teams, each consisting of a doctor, nurse and driver, helped recover bodies and evacuate the injured to hospitals. The SARCS also helped people at 20 medical posts at Jamarat bridge with six staff at each post. Activities were carried out in coordination with the Saudi government.

The stampede seems to have been caused by some Hajjis or pilgrims tripping over luggage and being crushed by the crowd. The SARCS advises Hajjis not to bring luggage with them. Before each Hajj, the Saudi Arabian Red Crescent Society and several other National Societies carry out exercises and give pamphlets with advice to pilgrims. Since the tragedy, the SARCS has proposed discussing more cooperation with other National Societies to prevent future problems at the Hajj.

 



©Saudi Arabian Red Crescent Society


Philippine tragedy

Christo Rey High School looks like any other school in the Philippines. But after a deadly landslide that claimed more than 1,000 lives in the province of Southern Leyte on 17 February, the school became a disaster relief operations centre for the Philippine National Red Cross.

Leonida Catalonia, an English teacher and now a Red Cross volunteer, opens up plastic bag after plastic bag with donated clothes and separates them into different piles for men, women and children. She recalls the day:

“Teachers were preparing students for final exams, but after 10:00 students lost concentration as text messages starting to come in telling about a horrible disaster in Guinsaugon village.

“Many children started to cry and worry for families. They wanted to leave immediately. I urged them to wait for more information. Unfortunately, only bad news was in store for us.”

The Philippine National Red Cross set up an operations centre at Christo Rey High School to house 650 people affected by the tragedy and to distribute food and water. Meanwhile, Red Cross disaster specialists searched for survivors. Psychosocial support teams helped people come to terms with the disaster. And the Red Cross received nearly 100 requests to trace missing family members.

On the day of the disaster, the International Federation launched an appeal for US$ 1.6 million — later revised to US$ 2 million.
One of the people at the school is Hilario Pia, 90, a gentle Guinsaugon village resident who bears his age with dignity. “Eight relatives — my wife, my son, my daughter, my grandchildren — are all gone,” he says slowly. “I cannot sleep, my heart hurts so much. I feel so incredibly lonely.”

After the disaster, survivors face a tough question: where can they relocate their village?

“Risk reduction is a must in this area. People should not be exposed to dangers that can be avoided,” says Raul Garganera, head for operations for the Philippine National Red Cross. “Disaster preparedness is essential, since Southern Leyte is a disaster-prone area. And that does not only involve training, but also rescue hardware, like shovels, ropes, rubber boots and a transportation fleet.”


 


©Romulo M. Godin / Philippine National Red Cross


Breaking records in Niger

In December 2005, the International Federation distributed more than 2 million long-lasting, insecticide-treated mosquito nets in Niger during a week-long, nationwide government polio vaccination campaign that is believed to be the largest of its kind ever undertaken.

The nets will cover every child under 5, a total of 3.5 million children. The International Federation estimates that these nets will save the lives of 40,000 children in the first year alone. In Niger, one child in four does not reach her or his fifth birthday and half the deaths among children under 5 are due to malaria.

Amina Adimou, who lives in the far north of Niger, is one of many women who took part in the campaign. After her children were vaccinated against polio, door-to-door campaigners marked one of Amina’s thumbs with indelible ink, indicating she was eligible for a net. She walked to one of the 21,000 distribution points, where Red Cross Society of Niger and other community volunteers gave her a net and showed her how to hang it.

Programmes like this play a crucial role in achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015. The Niger programme follows the successful distribution of nearly 1 million nets during a measles campaign in Togo in 2004. Linking mosquito net distribution to vaccination programmes helps overcome many logistical and organizational challenges.

The Niger mosquito net distribution was funded by US$ 11 million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and US$ 2 million from the Canadian Red Cross Society.

Next steps include conducting research on how effective the distribution was, and training Niger Red Cross volunteers to run an information campaign on hanging and using the nets correctly before the rainy season.

 



©John Haskew / International Federation


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