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China’s Yushu quake survivors face tough winter

With snow dusting the airport in mid-June — and the mercury swinging between zero degrees Celsius at night and 20 during the day — Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers and staff in Yushu, China are worried that homeless survivors of the 2010 earthquake will face winter without adequate shelter. On the remote, windswept 4,000-metre-high Qinghai plateau, that means that temperatures are likely to plunge to minus 25 degrees Celsius.  

“The construction period is relatively short, because winter comes as early as October, so it will be a huge challenge for people here to complete their houses before then,” says Enkas Chau, leader of a small team from the Red Cross Society of China, Hong Kong special administrative branch.

©Red Cross Society of China, Hong Kong special administrative branch.

From earthquakes to major events

After a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit China’s Sichuan province two years ago, Wang Xin Yu was one of the doctors from a Chinese Red Cross hospital who cared for local villagers near the city of Mianyang.

By contrast, his role at a first-aid post at Shanghai’s Expo 2010, which is expected to draw 70 million visitors and has attracted 189 countries, is far more sedate. Staffed by 165 volunteers and Red Cross doctors in rotating 16-hour shifts, the first-aid posts are one way for the Movement to be involved in one of this year’s major international events.

“Our work here involves minor services, such as providing a bandage or lending out wheelchairs,” says Wang, who normally works in the infectious diseases unit of Shanghai’s Red Cross Huashan Hospital. Sunstroke and blisters are the most common ailment affecting visitors, Expo first-aid workers said.


Kyrgyzstan still tense

Along with the Red Crescent Societies of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, the ICRC continues to offer medical, food, water, sanitation and familytracing services to tens of thousands of refugees in Uzbekistan, as well as to those displaced after violence erupted in Kyrgyszstan in June.

Tensions are still high, with victims suffering from deep psychological scars, reports Pascale Meige Wagner, the ICRC’s head of operations for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. “We fear that tensions will not be resolved soon, and that those currently affected will need further protection and assistance until, hopefully, the situation normalizes,” she said.

©Marko Kokic/ICRC

Relief for IDPs rises

Roughly 4.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in 33 countries benefited from humanitarian assistance provided by the ICRC, in association with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in 2009. That’s 20 per cent more than in 2008.

The ICRC devoted approximately 15 per cent of its operational budget, or 150 million Swiss francs, to address the needs of people driven from their homes due to armed conflict and other violence. “The hardship faced by millions of displaced men, women and children around the world, and by the relatives or communities that often take them in, is extreme and can continue for decades,” said Anne Zeidan, head of the ICRC’s IDP project.

ICRC challenges blockade

In the wake of the confrontation between Israeli forces and activists on a flotilla heading for the Gaza Strip in late May, the ICRC has put the focus on the closure imposed by Israel on Gaza. For the first time, ICRC has called the closure a “collective punishment” that violates Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.

“The closure is having a devastating impact on the 1.5 million people living in Gaza,” said Béatrice Mégevand-Roggo, the ICRC’s head of operations for the Middle East. “That is why we are urging Israel to put an end to this closure and call upon all those who have an influence on the situation, including Hamas, to do their utmost to help Gaza’s civilian population.”

The ICRC also renewed its call to the Palestinian group Hamas to allow family contact with Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been detained by Hamas since 2006.


Agatha makes for rough times in Central America

Mudslides, sink holes, collapsing infrastructure, rivers flooding their banks. The heavy rain accompanying Tropical Storm Agatha resulted in a series of deadly calamities in Central America during a few short weeks over the summer.

“The speed at which the storm formed and touched land complicated the situation considerably,” says Felipe del Cid, disaster management delegate with the IFRC’s Pan American Disaster Response Unit, which is now helping the region to build on preparedness efforts initiated after Hurricane Mitch in order to mitigate future storms.


First transitional shelters

As relief workers and residents scrambled to protect vulnerable encampments from the looming hurricane season this summer, some of the first transitional shelters began to appear in the makeshift camps of Port-au-Prince’s Cité Soleil neighbourhood.

Men from the camp worked alongside Red Cross-trained carpenters and volunteers in constructing the first of 300 transitional shelters — small wood-framed houses with corrugated iron roofs. The project marks the first time that the Red Cross has secured public land for construction of transitional shelters.

Meanwhile, the Haitian government has agreed to allow the construction of another 800 transitional shelters in La Piste, one of the biggest camps housing some 50,000 people in Port-au-Prince. The site has been cleared and IFRC and Canadian Red Cross teams are surveying the plot. The Canadian, Spanish and Dutch Red Cross Societies are also building homes outside the capital in Léogâne, Jacmel and Petit Goave.

Volunteers are preparing for the hurricane season by stepping up disaster preparedness efforts, pre-positioning relief supplies and replacing tarpaulins being used by 80,000 households, as well as helping 50,000 more families in need.


Sanitation situation dire

More resources and solutions are urgently needed to support Haitian authorities to provide improved sanitation services to the 2 million people affected by the 12 January earthquake, according to a report released this summer by the IFRC.

The Red Cross Red Crescent, led by the Haitian National Red Cross Society, has built almost 2,700 latrines in camps across Port-au-Prince, and each day distributes 2.4 million litres of clean water — enough for 280,000 people. However, at least half of the directly affected population are yet to see any improvement in their sanitation and water situation




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