Towards an enduring humanitarian legacy in the Maldives
As the Red Cross Red Crescent tsunami recovery programme begins to enter its final stages in the Maldives, focus is beginning to shift towards the long-term humanitarian legacy of this massive effort, writes Devendra Tak.
In July, the Australian and German Red Cross' brought to a close their tsunami recovery operations. Both Red Cross Societies had been in the Maldives since early 2005.
Whilst other Red Cross Societies remain in the country at the moment, it is expected that by the end of 2007 many of their reconstruction projects will have been completed, with most expatriate staff returning to their own homes.
However, this will by no means signal the end of the Red Cross Red Crescent presence in the Maldives. As houses, hospitals and schools are being built, the formation of the Maldivian Red Crescent also continues in earnest. This new entity will draw upon local resources - volunteers and expertise - to support communities as they face future challenges.
According to Jerry Talbot, the head of the International Federation's delegation in the Maldives, local staff and volunteers are always best placed to assist communities to become better prepared for and to respond to natural disasters.
"Communities here are often quite isolated from each other," he explained. "It can take hours or days to reach an outlying atoll from Male. In the wake of a disaster, such a delay can have terrible repercussions.
"But beyond this, because they come from the communities themselves, local volunteers are perfectly placed to know what their community's vulnerabilities are, what strengths can be exploited and where effort should be focused.
"This is the unique strength of the Red Cross and Red Crescent."
A committee called the Interim Planning Group, comprising nominated volunteers representing the atolls and Male' municipality, the Maldives Government and the Red Cross organisations, is working on the formal creation of the Maldivian Red Crescent.
The elections for Male's representatives are scheduled to take place later this year. Following this, hopefully by the end of the year, a general assembly will be convened to establish the organization's legal base. Whilst the ultimate creation of the Red Crescent may still be a while off, these are important steps.