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Kenya in crisis

Kenya is still reeling from post-election violence at the end of December and beginning of January that has left more than 500 people dead, thousands injured and more than 100,000 displaced. As soon as violence erupted, Kenya Red Cross Society staff began to help by giving first aid, taking the injured to nearby clinics and hospitals, collecting bodies and assessing the needs of the displaced, while standing ready to distribute relief as soon as access is permitted. The ICRC provided the National Society with logistical support and emergency supplies. “The ICRC’s main priority is to work with the Kenya Red Cross to assist families that have been displaced by the events or dare not leave their villages,” said Pierre Krähenbühl, the organization’s director of operations in Geneva. The ICRC is continuing to contribute to the relief efforts of the Kenya Red Cross by providing medical supplies, surgical expertise and help to deliver food and material support to those who have left their homes


Landslides in Indonesia

A one-week, year-end holiday was interrupted on 26 December by deadly landslides in Tawangmangu in Indonesia’s Java province. Indonesian Red Cross Society volunteers with five ambulances struggled over roads blocked by landslides to reach dozens of houses buried under as much as three metres of mud. On unstable and steep land, the team worked alongside rescue teams, police, the army, other volunteers and people from the community at seven landslides to rescue victims as quickly as possible and give first aid. At least 65 people died, with a further 35 people missing. The landslides, which some officials have called the worst in 25 years, came at the start of the two-month rainy season.



Winter floods in Kosovo

The Red Cross of Serbia aimed to help more than 3,500 people affected by severe winter floods in December. The disaster was particularly harsh because of the 50 per cent unemployment rate and low social assistance income. Aid included food, shelter and firewood. Even before the floods, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement was helping local Red Cross units to assist the most vulnerable people. “A large part of the population lives in very difficult conditions,” said Gunther Pratz, head of the International Federation’s Kosovo office. “It has been a priority for the Movement to mobilize resources and volunteers to assist the most vulnerable families during these times, but it is increasingly difficult to find the required resources.”



Floods in Brazil

The International Federation’s Disaster Relief Emergency Fund sent 115,000 Swiss francs (US$ 103,000) to help the Brazilian Red Cross respond to heavy rainfall that affected 50,000 people in the state of São Paulo in January. Needs assessed by the National Society include food, safe water, hygiene kits, cleaning kits and clothes.



Measles deaths plunge in Africa

National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and their volunteers have been significant contributors to a 91 per cent drop in measles deaths in Africa between 2000 and 2006, from an estimated 396,000 to 36,000. As a result, the United Nations goal of cutting measles deaths by 90 per cent has been reached four years early. Between 2001 and 2006, more than 100,000 Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers took part in mass vaccination campaigns that have helped to bring about the spectacular results. The stunning gains achieved in Africa also helped to generate a strong decline in global measles deaths, which fell 68 per cent worldwide from an estimated 757,000 to 242,000 during this period. The progress was announced by the founding partners of the Measles Initiative: the American Red Cross, UNICEF, the United Nations Foundation, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. The International Federation is also a key partner in the initiative, and has been an active contributor since its founding in 2001. From 2000 to 2006, an estimated 478 million children aged 9 months to 14 years received measles vaccination through campaigns in 46 of 47 priority countries severely affected by the disease. Large countries with high numbers of measles deaths, such as India and Pakistan, still need to fully implement the control strategy. Currently, about 74 per cent of measles deaths globally occur in South Asia.



Mongolian migrants overcome red tape

For thousands of internal migrant families driven out of the Mongolian countryside by natural disaster or family circumstances, the first hurdle they face is getting the proper papers to transfer the family’s residency status from their home province. Without papers, getting a job or health and education services is impossible, even if they have been in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, for years. This transforms them into an underclass, effectively relegated to the fringes of the rapidly swelling city. While Tsolmontuya (pictured), 21, cares for her baby, she is reliant on the income of her two younger brothers, aged 17 and 19, who are unregistered and can only find work picking items for recycling out of the city’s rubbish tips and reselling them for between US$ 2 and 3 a day. Now the Chingeltei branch of the Mongolian Red Cross Society is organizing training sessions to help migrant families overcome the red tape. Volunteers also deliver supplies of flour, salt and green tea to impoverished internal migrants under a social care programme.




Hostages released in Colombia

On 10 January, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army (FARC-EP) released Clara Rojas and Consuelo González de Perdomo to a humanitarian mission led by ICRC delegates in the rural region of Guaviare, Colombia. Two helicopters bearing the ICRC emblem took the freed hostages to Santo Domingo, Venezuela. From there, they were flown to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, where they were reunited with their families years after being captured by the armed opposition group. “The use of the Red Cross emblem was significant in that it provided a sign, visible to all actors involved, that the mission was truly neutral and of a humanitarian character. In fact, Clara Rojas said that it was only upon seeing the Red Cross emblem on the helicopters that she was convinced she would finally be freed,” stated Barbara Hintermann, head of the ICRC delegation in Colombia.

On 27 February, four more hostages were handed over to the ICRC by the FARC-EP at the same location. Four Colombian tourists, who had been held by the FARC-EP since 13 January 2008, were released on 5 March in the north-west region. As a neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian organization, the ICRC will continue to try to ensure the release of all remaining hostages. The taking of hostages is prohibited under international humanitarian law.



Red Cross boosts capacity in Philippines

On 22 January, the ICRC and the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) inaugurated new premises for the local PNRC chapter in Jolo, the capital of Sulu province in the southern Philippines’ Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The province is one of the areas worst affected by armed conflict and one of the most impoverished in the country. Representatives of civil society, local government, the armed forces, the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front attended the event.

“The chapter’s improved facilities are intended to enhance the response of the PNRC and ICRC to the growing needs of Sulu communities,” said Felipe Donoso, the ICRC’s head of delegation in the Philippines. “These communities are suffering the effects of repeated armed clashes between the armed forces of the Philippines and insurgent groups.”

In its capacity as a neutral and independent organization, and in cooperation with the Jolo chapter, the ICRC provided medical care, food, shelter, essential household items and water and sanitation facilities to more than 48,000 displaced civilians in the province in 2007. The actual number of civilians forced by the armed conflict to flee their homes is probably much higher.

Both the ICRC and PNRC remain committed to providing humanitarian assistance and protection for the victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence.



A true victory

The World Cup for disabled volleyball players ended in early December with the bronze medal going to Cambodia, the host country, whose players were all mine victims. Chim Phan played in the final against Poland on a hi-tech ‘super leg’ specially designed for athletes. The 38-year-old attacker, who has represented his country since 1996, was a versatile player who jumped, blocked, served and dived around the court. Phan is a Cambodian mine victim who regained not only his capability to walk but also economic autonomy and, most of all, the dignity to live his life again. “I never believed it would be possible for me to walk again.” His life changed after attending Kompong Speu Rehabilitation Centre, which is run by ICRC and the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation. He also runs half marathons and works as a carpenter. The true victory for Phan is not just the bronze medal he collected from the World Cup. “Now I can do everything I did before and provide for my family just like everyone else.”



Aftermath of fighting in Chad

In early February, violent clashes between rebel forces and government troops left many people dead, hundreds injured and thousands fleeing the capital, N’Djamena. The fighting affected the security situation throughout the country and restricted humanitarian activities, including those in eastern Chad where more than 400,000 refugees and displaced people depend largely on humanitarian aid for survival.

With the capital now relatively calm, the ICRC and Red Cross of Chad are able to carry out their work more easily. Immediately following the fighting, the Red Cross of Chad evacuated a total of 200 war wounded to various hospitals; they also recovered 145 bodies. A number of opposition members have been detained and the ICRC remains in contact with the Chadian authorities, in order to register people who have been arrested and monitor their treatment and conditions of detention. Currently the ICRC, the Red Cross of Chad and the Cameroon Red Cross Society are working on systems enabling civilians who crossed over into Cameroon, and Chadians in other regions of the country, to locate their relatives and restore or maintain contact with them.




Video links between Bagram detainees and families

The ICRC and the United States have introduced a joint programme to enable individuals held at the US detention facility in Bagram to communicate with their families via video-teleconference calls. Between 600 and 650 people are currently detained there.

Using equipment supplied by the US military authorities, the ICRC has set up a call centre on the premises of its delegation in Kabul. A similar centre has been created at Bagram for the use of detainees. In the first three days since the launch of the programme, which is open to families of people detained at Bagram, over 60 families from around the country have been able to speak for 20 minutes to their loved ones. Each party to the call is able to see the other on a screen.

“How fantastic it is to be able to see and talk to my brother,” said Abdul Mohammad, who came to the delegation. “I don’t know what to say, it’s so difficult to put this feeling into words. It’s a blessing. I will never forget this moment!”

“The system is the first of its kind,” explained Reto Stocker, head of the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan. “It was set up basically to reassure detainees and their families by allowing them to see and speak to one another.”




Floods overwhelm southern Africa

Floods have affected large parts of southern Africa since late 2007. The situation reached crisis point and the International Federation launched a preliminary emergency appeal for 8 million Swiss francs (US$ 7.2 million) to support southern African Red Cross Societies. “The heavy rainfall has caused rivers to swell, particularly the Zambezi River. As a result, widespread flooding has severely affected Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, while Lesotho and Swaziland have been hit by hailstorms and Namibia’s Caprivi region and Malawi have experienced daily rains,” says Françoise Le Goff, head of the International Federation’s southern Africa zone office. The appeal will help more than 150,000 people with emergency shelter, food, clothing, clean water and sanitation. National Societies are also alert to health risks from stagnant water, and will step up health education and disaster awareness campaigns. The appeal will pay special attention to early recovery so people can restore their livelihoods as soon as the waters recede. However, rains might continue for several months, so ongoing food security is a concern.



First World War archives at UNESCO

Archives recording the fate of about 2 million prisoners captured during the First World War have entered UNESCO’s Memory of the World. On 15 November 2007, the occasion was marked by a ceremony at the International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva attended by Pascal Couchepin (left), the current Swiss president, and ICRC president, Jakob Kellenberger.

UNESCO’s aim is to preserve mankind’s documentary heritage. The data in the ICRC archives cover prisoners from 14 countries which detaining authorities sent to the organization. The ICRC set up the International Prisoner-of-War Agency at the outbreak of the conflict to try to restore contact between separated family members. The ICRC also visited many prisoner-of-war camps to check on conditions. “It was the first time in history that this kind of tracing was done,” explains Martin Morger (right) of the ICRC’s archives service.

The volunteers maintained the lists of prisoners provided by both German and Allied authorities in Europe, Africa and Asia. These were bound into 2,413 black volumes covering the period 1914–1923. Individual cards were typed for each name and updated if the prisoner was moved, received medical care or died. UNESCO, which agreed in June 2007 to include the ICRC archives in its register, said that they provided “testimony to the extent of human suffering during the First World War, but also of the pioneering action to protect civilians”.

The ICRC archives join other famous documents such as the Declaration of the Rights of Man from the French Revolution in 1789, the Gutenberg Bible, the original score of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the oldest known printed copy of the Koran.




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