The International Federation is appealing for 1.3 million Swiss francs to assist victims of Hurricane Irene, which hit Cuba on 14 October. Four people are reported dead. The hurricane caused severe flooding along the western coast, leading to the evacuation of 160,000 people, destroying homes and causing considerable damage to electrical generators, industrial centres and agricultural areas. The Cuban Red Cross mobilized 4,162 volunteers to assist with rescue efforts and the evacuation of people in the worst-affected areas, providing first aid and assistance to people in areas difficult to access. They are also assisting with tracing activities, blood collection and clearing debris.
This appeal aims to provide food and water, first aid, health care and bedding for six weeks to 5,000 families who are in shelters, and also basic equipment for Cuban Red Cross volunteers. Hurricane Irene also caused serious flooding in Florida and North Carolina, sending hundreds of North Carolina residents, already severely affected by Hurricane Floyd, into American Red Cross shelters.
Sixty-three-year-old Bajram Shala looks like a normal grandfather, proudly cradling his beautiful new-born grand-daughter, surrounded by family members. This scene gives no clue of Shala's harrowing past, nor of the bleak prospects that lie ahead in his ruined village of Loxha. Shala's troubles began even before the recent tragedy in Kosovo. More than a year ago, on 15 August 1998, he and his family of twelve fled their home when fighting between the Kosovo Liberation Army and Serbian forces drew near to Loxha. The Shalas spent seven months as refugees in Montenegro with a Bosnian Muslim family and then moved to Durres in Albania for three months. They finally came home to Loxha in June of this year, following the deployment of an international security force into Kosovo. On their return they found the whole village in ruins. Today, Shala lives under canvas amidst the rubble.
"I have lost everything,'' he says. "We keep our clothes in the tent, but it is difficult when it rains." A lifelong farmer, he is now out of work. His machinery is gone, his animals are dead and even the apples on the trees are charred. The land itself is probably mined. Only 800 of the original 2,500 inhabitants of Loxha have come back, and are living in tents beside the crumbling walls of their homes. Only 63 houses in the village are repairable but Bajram Shala - relatively speaking - is one of the lucky ones. The roof of his house is damaged and its interior is gutted and charred, but the walls are still standing. "Everyday is difficult, but we manage." Shala says. Helping him is the German Red Cross, which is providing construction material and tools for the 63 repairable houses. Once Shala's house has been rebuilt he will house five homeless families over the winter. "Everyone helped us in Montenegro and Albania, so now we must help others," he remarks.
The 10-person Georgian Red Cross Society rescue team received state awards on 13 October for their participation in the rescue operation in the cities in Turkey affected by the earthquake in mid-August. The rescue team was one of the first to arrive in Turkey immediately after the earthquake. For two weeks they worked near the epicentre of the earthquake, in Izmit and in the cities most severely affected by the disaster. The financial support for the team was provided by the Georgian Government. After their return to Tbilisi, the head of the rescuers, Vakhtang Chikhradze was awarded the Order of Merit and the nine members of the team received the Medals of Merit, by special decree of the President of Georgia. This is the highest reward which the Georgian Red Cross has ever received from the government. The presence of Georgian Red Cross rescue team in Turkey is another proof of the universality of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement. The world-wide network provides means to obtain expert assistance from neighbouring regions in cases of emergency.
The Red Cross for the Next Millennium
The International Federation, with support from the British Red Cross, has provided the Yugoslav Red Cross (YRC) with 73 computer sets, including modems and printers. Additionally, the British Red Cross has earmarked funds for computer literacy training sessions which have begun.
The Yugoslav Red Cross has hired a group of professional trainers to carry out five regional seminars for Red Cross staff or volunteers. A sixth seminar will be held for staff members at the YRC headquarters in Belgrade. After successfully completing the five-day training, each of the 125 participants will receive a certificate. The aim of the project is to strengthen the YRC network so as to respond better to requirements in both logistics and internal and external communications.
"Computers have become a condition sine qua non in management, especially for the Red Cross in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which has for years now been exposed to tremendous challenges - constant emergencies as well as donor requirements," remarked one participant in the training seminar.
West Africa floods
In July, August and September, West Africa experienced exceptionally heavy rainfall, flash floods and tropical storms. The countries which have been most affected are Benin, Burkina-Faso, the Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal. The Red Cross Societies of these countries play a key role in disaster preparedness and response, working side by side with government authorities, NGOs and local communities. .
Flooding has caused widespread displacement of people, loss of crops, destruction of property and has jeopardised livelihoods. Those affected are, in the majority of cases, subsistence farmers and labourers who eke out a living in difficult conditions. Each year, West Africa is prone to devastating floods and 1999 is no exception. The Red Cross is at the forefront of assessing damages and providing assistance to those who are most affected and whose meagre livelihood is in jeopardy. In order to support the region's Red Cross Societies in their relief operations, the International Federation has launched an appeal that seeks 2 million Swiss francs to assist 77,000 beneficiaries for 3 months.
It is now planned to supply flood victims with food, with household goods, tents and blankets to help the most vulnerable as they struggle to rebuild their lives. Health education messages will be disseminated by Red Cross volunteers, since in the period following floods there is a high risk of epidemics, particularly of diarrhoeal diseases and malaria.
Half way through
Half way through the Red Cross/Red Crescent Millennium Year, more than 700 special activities to mark the new millennium have been recorded, including those implemented already or planned for the coming months. The activities vary from community projects and "visibility" events, to marking the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions and peace projects. This week, the Solomon Islands joined the long list of countries, from Norway to Colombia and from the Democratic Republic of Congo to France, implementing Stop Violence projects.
Numerous National Societies use the figure 2000 in one or more activities. Planting 2,000 trees is a favourite, but the creativity goes far beyond that. The United Arab Emirates Red Crescent is sponsoring 2,000 orphans abroad; the Red Cross Societies in Mexico and Greece are collecting 2,000 bags or kilos of rice for relief, and the Russian Red Cross is involving 2,000 volunteers in raising funds for anti-tuberculosis and AIDS programmes. Other community projects include a traffic safety week in Nepal, an anti-tobacco campaign in Qatar, providing school bags for 4,000 children from poor families in Estonia and offering free medical consultations in Armenia, Senegal and Sri Lanka.
"Half way through, we can conclude that the Millennium Year has been a tremendous success thanks to the commitment and creativity of National Societies", says Joanna MacLean, the Federation's Millennium Year Coordinator. "But there are still six months to go, and we will have numerous opportunities to promote our actions and values, and to discuss our role and activities in the new millennium", she adds. Power of humanity publications and merchandise, and a world map displaying all activities, will be exhibited during the Federation's General Assembly in Geneva next week. The full list of activities is also available on the Federation website (www.ifrc.org).
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