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Asia Pacific: A week unlike any other

News and Press Release
Originally published
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Jason Smith, IFRC, in Kuala Lumpur

One month ago, during a single week in late September, the Asia Pacific region was rocked by four emergencies that disrupted the lives of nearly nine million people across the Philippines, Viet Nam, Samoa and Indonesia. Tens of thousands of Red Cross volunteers provided early warning, rescued those who were stranded, tended to the wounded, provided safe shelter and offered comfort and support during what were extremely challenging days. Their work is far from done.

With recovery from the devastating consequences of these disasters a long way off, Red Cross Societies in each of these nations continue to provide essential humanitarian services. Four appeals launched by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) for emergency assistance currently seek more than 43 million Swiss francs (42 million USD/28.4 million €) to provide a wide range of support to affected populations.

"As people across Asia and Pacific felt the impact of these emergencies, Red Cross volunteers and National Societies were at the centre of life-saving responses at the community level. The work they did was extraordinary," said Alistair Henley, Director of the IFRC in Asia Pacific. "In the days, weeks and months ahead, the need for international support will continue as survivors continue to turn to their Red Cross for vital help. Together, we have made a good start, but those affected by these emergencies still need assistance."

Four Disasters Four Countries

In the Philippines, where 200,000 remain homeless and living in emergency shelters following Typhoons Ketsana and Parma, 16.3 million Swiss francs (16 million USD/10.8 million €) will ensure that some 550,000 people receive relief supplies, and have access to clean water, health and medical support.

In Viet Nam, also impacted by heavy rains from Typhoon Ketsana, an emergency appeal for 5.6 million Swiss francs (5.5 million USD/3.7 million €) will support assistance for 270,000 affected individuals in the form of badly-needed rice, livelihoods support, relief items, and water and sanitation services.

In Samoa, where the 29 September earthquake caused a tsunami that took the lives of 143 people, the IFRC will provide support to 5,000 of the nation's most vulnerable people. The appeal for nearly 2.5 million Swiss francs (2.4 million USD/1.63 million €) aims to provide shelter, psychosocial support, emergency relief goods, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene promotion programmes.

In Indonesia, the largest of the IFRC's current emergency appeals seeks more than 19 million Swiss francs (18.6 million USD/12.7 million €) in international assistance to help meet the vital needs of as many as 100,000 people whose lives were devastated by two major earthquakes on 30 September and 1 October. The focus of the emergency operation in the Padang area will be on providing emergency shelter, distributing essential relief supplies, and providing health care.

Building for the future

Far from focusing only on emergency, short-term needs, each of these operations recognizes the necessity to strengthen community resilience. Consequently, each one includes programmes to reduce the risks linked to future disasters and to build the capacities of affected Red Cross Societies to cope with emergencies. For example, in Viet Nam, children in affected communities will be trained in how to prepare their homes and families for disasters. They will then be expected to pass on that information to their parents, siblings and other community members. Children who must cross streams or areas susceptible to flooding on their way to school will receive school bags that double as life-vests.

"This is the silver lining to major disasters," said Henley. "In the face of tragedy, people and organizations around the world come together to help build safer communities and to ensure that future emergencies have less devastating impacts." Hopefully, should the region be hit once again by so many disasters in such a short time, the Red Cross Societies will have more resources to cope with crisis and affected communities will be better prepared to face and overcome their impact.

In addition to these emergencies, the IFRC has allocated financial support from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to Red Cross responses to a triple health threat of cholera, influenza and dysentery in Papua New Guinea, to flooding and landslides in Nepal and to significant flooding in India.