Athens earthquake Appeal No. 22/99

Originally published


The impact of the earthquake which reduced to rubble heavily populated areas of the Greek capital, Athens, earlier this month has turned out to be far worse than first feared. Tens of thousands of people will remain homeless for weeks, if not months, to come, while the economic effects of the disaster have resulted in wide-spread unemployment. Charged with implementation of all relief activities, the Hellenic Red Cross is seeking assistance from sister Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to ensure it can meet the day-to-day needs of a 50,000 beneficiary caseload, many of whom are traumatised and fear another earthquake.

Essentially, the three-month programme is intended to cover basic shelter and relief activities for those who have lost everything in the quake and are without alternative means of support. During this period the authorities will carry out structural surveys on affected buildings to determine which ones will need demolishing and which can be repaired. These surveys are expected to be completed by November in time for the onset of winter. Replenishment of Hellenic Red Cross emergency stocks and enhancement of the Society's disaster preparedness capacity are activities included in the plan of action.

The Disaster

A strong earthquake struck the Greek capital Athens at 14h56 local time on Tuesday, 7 September, measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale, lasting ten seconds and bringing death, injury and destruction in its wake. The tremor was felt as far away as Corinth, 100 km south of the city and aftershocks are still being felt in Athens. The major impact of the earthquake was in the north western municipalities of Athens.

According to the latest official figures, 138 people are dead, 85 individuals were rescued, 30,000 have been left unemployed and 13,000 families are officially listed as vulnerable. The total number of people affected is estimated at 100,000.

The official estimate for people left homeless is put at 70,000. The effects on infrastructure have been widespread: 7,746 buildings heavily damaged (under demolition), 29,931 partly damaged (under repair) and 36 collapsed. Several schools and four industrial plants were totally destroyed and hundreds of small businesses damaged.

The areas which have suffered the most extensive destruction are the relatively poorer suburbs of the city including: Menidi, Ano Liosia, Thracomacedones, Philadelfia, Zefiri, Metamorphosi, Petroupoli, N. Ionia, Moschato, Fili, Kamatero, Ilion, Elefsina, N. Halkidona, Peristeri, Ag Anargiri, Haidari and Galatsi. A state of emergency has been declared in the Prefecture of Attica, which lies at the centre of the disaster zone and comprises a substantial immigrant, refugee and gypsy population.

The Response so far

Government Action

The Greek Government is co-ordinating all the activities through the Ministry of the Interior, municipal authorities in the affected areas and the Hellenic Red Cross, which has the prime responsibility for the relief effort. In the immediate aftermath of the quake, the Ministry of Environment and Public Works began organising the inspection of all buildings with any sign of damage, opening dedicated telephone lines for people to call in and request a survey.

Following the initial rapid assessment of structural damage, the authorities are currently undertaking more detailed surveys which will determine the time frame for rehabilitation. It is envisaged that probably several tens of thousands of people will need alternative accommodation over the winter period.

Red Cross/Red Crescent Action

Despite damage to its headquarters seriously affecting its communications capacity, the Hellenic Red Cross moved quickly into action assigning staff and volunteers to the disaster area to undertake search and rescue, first aid, shelter and relief activities. One rescue team which was dispatched to Menidi saved two people. Seven field dispensaries/relief centres were set up in the areas of Liosia, Menidi, N. Ionia, Metamorphosi, Petroupoli, Zefiri, and Thracomacedones. Support teams for these centres comprise rescue/first aid workers, doctors, nurses and social workers, tasked to provide medical care, psychological support, and to distribute relief material and hot meals.

To date, 821 volunteers and 705 paid staff have been deployed across 18 areas; an average of 300 staff are in the field daily. A total of 5,260 tents, 10,000 mattresses, 15,600 blankets and hygiene items for 50,000 people have been distributed. In addition to the relief activities being carried out by the Hellenic Red Cross with Federation support, the National Society is, through its own resources, providing 57,000 people three meals per day, providing medical and psychological support to victims, and tracing services through 13 permanent Red Cross teams covering 18 municipalities.

On the day of the earthquake, the International Federation issued an Alert, followed on 8 September by a preliminary Appeal seeking CHF 750,000, mainly to provide tents, blankets and other relief items. To date, response from the International Federation has been as follows:

  • International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent: 13,000 mattresses and 10,000 blankets, drawn from Red Cross Red Crescent Balkans emergency stocks (with donor agreement) were dispatched by truck from Skopje to Athens
  • German Red Cross: 690 tents, 3,000 bed-linen sets and 2,000 pillows
  • Iranian Red Crescent : 4,000 tents (including 500 donated by the Society-the remainder procured by the International Federation) and 30 rolls of plastic sheeting from emergency stocks were flown from Tehran
  • Finnish Red Cross: 28 tents, three tent-heaters and 67 hospital beds
  • Turkish Red Crescent: 44 tonnes of relief materials (including tinned food, blankets and medical consumables)
  • Yugoslav Red Cross: 269 tents, 98 cartons of bottled water, 6 rolls of plastic roofing and 144 packets of nappies
  • Czech Red Cross: 38 large tents
  • United Arab Emirates Red Crescent: 3,000 blankets and 200 tents
  • Netherlands Red Cross: 7,000 bed linen sets
  • Swedish Red Cross: 1,200 bed linen sets, 2,000 blankets, 78 bales of used baby clothes and 77 cartons of used baby quilts.
  • Cash contributions have been received from the National Societies of Cyprus, Iceland, Japan and Sweden
During the past three weeks, an International Federation liaison officer has been working with the Hellenic Red Cross in co-ordinating the international relief effort, including reporting and monitoring. A Federation telecommunications delegate, who had just completed a mission in Istanbul in the wake of the Turkish earthquake, travelled to Athens to install a satellite telephone in the Hellenic Red Cross headquarters and to assist with other telecommunications needs.

Other Agencies' Action

The Greek government is in touch with the European Union with regard to immediate and longer term assistance in alleviating the effects of the quake. Several Diplomatic Missions (including the Canadian, United States and Chinese) have been in direct contact with the Hellenic Red Cross and are in the process of contributing to the operation.


Since the onset of the emergency the International Federation has been in close contact with the Hellenic Red Cross and its liaison officer has been working closely with the National Society to co-ordinate all international Red Cross/Red Crescent assistance. The Ministry of Interior is co-ordinating relief, from national to local level and the Hellenic Red Cross is in close contact with the Ministry and municipal authorities in order to ensure that its relief operation is co-ordinated with national and local efforts.

The Intended Operation

Assessment of Needs

Through its rapid inspection of damaged buildings, the Greek government has identified 13,000 families as vulnerable and in need of shelter and relief assistance. The Hellenic Red Cross, responsible for all relief distributions, is undertaking a continuous needs assessment with support from the Federation liaison officer.

Immediate Needs

With large numbers of people still sleeping in the open because their houses are damaged, the key needs remain shelter (tents and plastic sheeting), relief items (including blankets, mattresses, bed-linen sets and pillows), hygiene and baby parcels.

Anticipated Later Needs

At this stage, the intended operation focuses solely on support for the Hellenic Red Cross programme to provide for the immediate needs of vulnerable families. The Hellenic Red Cross will continue its psychological support programme to traumatised victims of the earthquake for months to come.

Red Cross/Red Crescent Objectives

  • to provide for the immediate shelter and relief needs of 50,000 vulnerable people, most seriously affected by the earthquake;
  • to replenish Hellenic Red Cross disaster preparedness stocks and to enhance and improve still further, the Society's capacity to respond to disaster situations.
National Society/Federation Plan of Action

International Federation assistance in support of the Hellenic Red Cross is intended to help the society complete the distribution of emergency relief items (including tents, blankets, mattresses, bed-linen sets, pillows, hygiene and baby parcels) to 50,000 beneficiaries in the disaster affected areas. The replenishment of Hellenic Red Cross emergency stocks, and initiatives to improve the Society's capacity to respond to future disasters are also planned activities.

Capacity of the National Society

The Hellenic Red Cross has 115 local branches and committees, 500 paid staff, 7,500 members and 30,000 volunteers active in four key areas: first aid, nursing, social welfare and youth. The Society owns two central warehouses in Athens, each with a capacity of over 10,000 square metres. In the current emergency, the Society's long experience of responding to earthquakes once again has proved invaluable, as demonstrated by its quick reaction in the wake of the disaster, including search and rescue and the distribution of relief items and hot meals - and the role assigned by the Greek government, to implement all relief activities.

Present Capacity of the Federation in Greece

The International Federation assigned a liaison officer to work with the Hellenic Red Cross and, through the officer, have maintained close contact with the Society's international department and leadership. Following the completion of the Liaison officer's mission at the end of September, the International Federation will provide specific technical assistance to Hellenic Red Cross through short term missions as and when needed.

Monitoring and Reporting

The Federation's liaison officer is supporting the Hellenic Red Cross in ensuring standard Red Cross/Red Crescent requirements with regard to monitoring and reporting are met.

Budget summary

Annex 1 for details, click here.

Outstanding needs

The following relief items are still urgently needed: 779 tents, 9,536 mattresses, 3,400 blankets, 7,800 bed-linen sets, 20,000 pillows, 5,000 hygiene and 1,000 baby parcels. These items are all to be purchased outside Greece. The Hellenic Red Cross would also welcome bilateral donations of folding beds and canned food (not included in this Appeal). Although the Society is able to meet all its operating costs (including transport, distribution, warehousing and personnel), cash is still needed to cover the purchase of some relief items.


Although this second major earthquake in recent weeks in southern Europe rapidly dropped out of international headlines, the needs of those left destitute by the disaster remain very real. Tasked by the Greek government to implement all relief activities, the Hellenic Red Cross seeks assistance from its sister Red Cross/Red Crescent societies and other humanitarian actors. Donors are asked to respond accordingly and maintain the robust approach to meeting the needs of the vulnerable, so amply demonstrated this year by the International Federation's membership and supporters.

For further information please contact the following at the International Federation, Geneva: Penny Elghady, Desk Officer for Central and Southern Europe; tel + 41 22 730 4319; email: elghady@

George Weber
Secretary General

Margareta Wahlström
Under Secretary General,
Disaster Response & Operations Coordination