Category: News

A new Red Cross as South Sudan gains independence



Following years of civil war and a referendum in January, South Sudan is poised to become an independent country on 9 July. Chief executive Nick Young recently visited the region to assess progress on the setting up of the South Sudan Red Cross – a brand new National Society. He speaks of challenges that lie ahead.

This is the second time I’ve visited South Sudan. The first was six years ago, just after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended 30 years of civil war, and on the day the charismatic leader of the revolt, John Garang, died in an air crash.

At that time, Juba, the capital of South Sudan, was a small place, with a handful of shops, virtually no made up roads and a run down hospital.

Now, with days to go until independence on 9 July, the town is buzzing. Tarmac has been laid, a new airport terminal is almost complete, roads are being frantically swept clean and holes dug for a few streetlights and some trees. There are lots of shops and restaurants and even some hotels.

At the compound of the South Sudan Red Cross, I meet the acting chief executive, Arthur Poole (78), and his deputy John Lobor. They have both worked incredibly hard over many years and have a clear understanding of the historic significance of the birth of a new National Society.

But the challenges are huge. Disputes between the north and south continue to plague the country and thousands of southerners living in the north could be pushed over the border any day. In addition, there are internal conflicts within the South and a very real risk that these will escalate. There are few roads, no industry or organised agriculture, no infrastructure, no health service outside the main towns, no agreed constitution – not much of anything, really.

As for the South Sudan Red Cross, this too faces a tough road ahead. Expectations of what it can do are likely to be extremely high, but there is no constitution, no operating board or senior management team, no money – and no end to the needs.

We have so far invested £20,000 in a small emergency fund to meet day-to-day running costs. We also have agreed to contribute towards the costs of a country representative from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and have given almost £50,000 towards the construction of a South Sudan Red Cross headquarters. We want to do more – but need to ensure a plan is in place to make the fledgling National Society sustainable.

However, there is a real sense of opportunity slipping away. While everyone acknowledges the potential, the independence day clock seems to be ticking off the seconds to a brief hurrah and then a long hard slog towards an uncertain future.

We mustn’t let this happen. The new South Sudan Red Cross deserves a confident march towards the future.

Read about five ways to help the Horn of Africa

Image © Lloyd Sturdy/BRC

Five ways to help the Horn of Africa

Somalian boy milking his cow

Somalian boy milking his cow

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has published a great article about the different factors that have contributed to the severe hunger in east Africa that we launched an appeal for on Monday.

It’s worth reading in full, but I’ve picked out five practical steps from it that will help break the cycle of drought and suffering in the region:

1. Avoid the apathy trap that lingers around slow onset emergencies in the Horn. Recurrent crises have heightened the world’s tolerance of malnutrition and suffering in the region, but when a threshold is crossed, we must still be prepared to respond.

2. While saving lives will always be the first priority, an underlying focus of humanitarian response should be to protect people’s capacity for economic regeneration. This will mean looking for flexible ways to provide assistance that avoid people moving into settlements from which they may never leave.

3. Keep listening to aspirations that people have for their lives. There are big shifts going on in the Horn: from pastoralist to agriculture, from agriculture to urban. Assistance should complement capacities to make these shifts successfully.

A Somalian family sit outside their hut

A Somalian family sit outside their hut

4. Focus on keeping children in schools.  Their future options and resilience will be forever shaped by whether or not they have an education. 

5. Remember that there is always a risk that the humanitarian community will shield governments from healthy accountability by taking over emergency relief. The best protection against cycles of drought becoming humanitarian crises lies with accountable government, and our work must assist, and not undermine, that end.  

Donate to the East Africa Food Crisis Appeal

Images © Feisal Omar / Reuters

Is it time to give up food aid in the Horn of Africa?

A mother carries her malnourished child on her back

© Jose Cendon/IFRC

This year, drought, rising food and fuel prices, and conflict are again driving at least 20 million people into hunger in east Africa. But launching an emergency appeal for food aid may not be the answer.

From 2008-2010, the Red Cross launched four international appeals to respond to hunger in the Horn of Africa.

However, an International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies review, completed last December, highlights how such repeated large-scale appeals and relief operations are not the answer to addressing people’s food needs in the region.

Droughts and hunger

Even though hunger can be predicted well in advance of rising needs, drought-related appeals are slow to get going and often deliver too little, too late.

Droughts have always occurred in east Africa and are predictable, but climate change has made the rains even less reliable. Many families have become more vulnerable and less able to cope with and recover from poor rains.

Child and dead cattle on drought-stricken plain

© Till Meyer/ICRC

Hunger is a chronic and ongoing humanitarian issue in the Horn of Africa and so large-scale relief operations are often less relevant than addressing the long-term challenges of helping communities better cope with cycles of drought and food crises.

Food insecurity

Mary Atkinson, British Red Cross economic security adviser, says: “We have tended to respond by launching appeals in the wake of severe drought and when numbers of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition are already at their peak.

“In countries such as Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda, many people live in poverty and face a daily struggle to get enough food to eat and so hunger is an ongoing issue that is exacerbated by drought and higher food prices.

“Most people living in hunger, even farmers, rely on purchasing most of their food. Food is usually available in the market but they cannot afford it, particularly now that food prices are so high. If they had more reliable sources of income, they often wouldn’t need to rely on food aid.”

Protecting livelihoods

Djibouti-woman weaving basket

© Djibouti Red Cross

One of the key lessons from the Red Cross review is the importance of protecting people’s livelihoods, so that families can still afford to feed themselves in times of drought when food is scarce.

Distributing food aid, that is often purchased from abroad, is not usually the best option. Not only does this destabilise local markets, but is also costly and takes time to purchase and distribute.

Repeated distributions of food aid every year do not help families get out of poverty – instead they lock them into dependency. Cash is increasingly used as an alternative to food aid as it is easier and quicker to distribute and allows people to buy what they really need while supporting local markets.

Building resilience

Karen Peachey, British Red Cross east Africa representative, says: “Although the review rightly puts a spotlight on how to improve less effective ways of working, it also recognises there have been successes with timely distributions of seeds and livestock to protect fragile livelihoods.

“There have also been longer-term investments. The Djibouti Red Crescent, with support from the British Red Cross, set up an innovative programme providing small cash loans to help vulnerable families build up small businesses and their resilience to future crises.”

Engaging donors

Malnourished boy sits on the ground in Ethiopia

© Jose Cendon/IFRC

For the most part, repeated large-scale emergency appeals have failed to generate significant funds and in the current global financial situation it’s unlikely this will change any time soon.

Karen says: “Food is a highly emotive subject and when we hear about people going hungry and see pictures of children with distended bellies, there is an instinctive reaction to want to help. But what we really need is to get people interested in supporting our ongoing work to make communities less vulnerable in times of drought and so prevent hunger.

“Distributing food remains an important option in extreme circumstances, but we should aim to invest more in supporting communities even when the rainfall is good. This will provide opportunities to engage in long-term solutions and that is really exciting.”

Find out more about the Red Cross’ programme in Djibouti

International Missing Children’s Day: finding hope

Guei holding child

Guei holding child

Even if you don’t have children of your own it’s not hard to imagine the anguish of a parent whose child has gone missing. Unfortunately this is the heartache hundreds of thousands of people face in the UK and around the world every year.

International Missing Children’s Day, 25 May, is about standing in solidarity and hope with the families of missing children as the search to find them goes on.

Today, Stephen Fry,  Victoria Beckham and Lorraine Kelly are supporting Missing People’s the Big Tweet in an effort to find missing children by retweeting appeals. The charity will be tweeting an appeal for a different missing child every 30 minutes for 24 hours on its official Twitter account.

For more than 100 years, the Red Cross has also been helping people find loved ones they have been separated from because of conflict or disaster. It works through a global network to put families back in touch – wherever they are.

Recently, I visited Liberia where around 180,000 people have sought refuge after fleeing violence in the Ivory Coast. I heard many stories about how when fighting engulfed people’s villages people were running for their lives and amidst the chaos and fear many were separated from their families.

Life as a refugee is tough at the best of times, but it must be so much worse when you are alone without your family.

I met Guei, 24, when she had literally just arrived in Liberia after a two-week gruelling journey through the equatorial jungle. She was pretty shell-shocked when she told me what had happened. Guei’s village had been attacked and as everyone scattered she was separated from her family but as she fled she found a toddler lost in the turmoil.

A Red Cross volunteer came and greeted Guei and explained about the Red Cross tracing programme and they registered the child.

Red Cross tracing volunteer registering a child

Red Cross tracing volunteer registering a child

Volunteers are now trying to find the child’s family.

For those with missing children, today will be tough, but probably no tougher than any other day they spend waiting for news of their child.

So today is also an opportunity to keep hope alive for those still waiting, by celebrating the many children that have been found.

When Almaz Berhanu Yesbasa fled her home in Ethiopia in fear of her life, leaving behind her husband and four daughters, she didn’t know if she’d ever see them again.

Almaz said: “At first I was worried about giving information about my family, but the Red Cross was very helpful. They explained they only share the details with other Red Cross people and no one else. But I still never thought I would get to meet my daughters again.”

Fortunately, Almaz was wrong.

Read Almaz’s story and find out how the Red Cross helped her find her daughters.

Images © Sarah Oughton/BRC

Hawa’s story: caring for Ivorian children in a refugee camp


When Hawa Gbah, 32, fled conflict in the Ivory Coast she escaped with her one-year-old son but she doesn’t know what happened to her husband and three older children.

Hawa with her son and Vanessa

© Sarah Oughton/BRC

After a gruelling journey through the bush, Hawa arrived in Liberia and is now living in a camp outside Zorgowee town, Nimba county. Bouncing her young son on her knee, she told me: “When the fighting began I was at home with my youngest son, but my three older children were out with my husband.

“I was looking for them as I made my way to Liberia. Although I didn’t find them, I found four other children on the journey who I know from my village. One of them, Vanessa, is friends with my children and I brought them all with me and am now looking after them in this camp.”

Struggle for food

“I feel bad because my husband is not here and I miss him and my other children,” Hawa said. “Now I’m the breadwinner and I have five children to look after but there’s no work here for me and life is very difficult.

“I used to run a restaurant back home, but now I can’t work and I’m sitting doing nothing and I’ve no income.

“I am Liberian but I married an Ivorian and I live in the Ivory Coast. But I don’t feel that it’s safe for me to just go back to the Ivory Coast. I want to be able to start some small business here until the situation improves and I can go back.”

Red Cross support

“My brother-in-law is also here in the camp and the Red Cross has provided us with free phone calls,” Hawa said. “We have both tried calling my husband but cannot get through to him. I think he is still in the Ivory Coast but I don’t know where.”

Red Cross volunteers-in-refugee-camp

© Sarah Oughton/BRC

As well as providing refugees with free phone calls, Red Cross volunteers visit the camp regularly going from tent to tent and talking to people.

For tens of thousands of displaced people in the west of the Ivory Coast and refugees in neighbouring Liberia, there is still concern about the danger of returning home. The Red Cross is distributing food and other supplies, providing drinking water and supporting medical facilities.

Read 12-year-old Vanessa’s story about fleeing fighting in the Ivory Coast and losing contact with her family

Donate to our Ivory Coast Crisis Appeal

Look at photos from Liberia

Ivory Coast crisis: race against rains to provide food for refugees



David Peppiatt, our international director, reports back from Liberia where tens of thousands of refugees have fled from fighting in the Ivory Coast:

After five days visiting Ivorian refugees and their host communities in Liberia last week, it is clear to me that the humanitarian crisis is far from over.

As the planting season approaches, there’s an urgent need to provide seeds and tools so families can begin to feed themselves. It will also be a race against time with the rains coming next month.

One volunteer told me how the Liberian Red Cross is working where no one else is. As we embarked on a journey along incredibly challenging roads that wind through the equatorial jungle, bumping you this way and that, I soon found out exactly what he meant.

4x4 on muddy potholed road

We travelled for 11 hours that day and crossed 25 bridges to spend one hour with a community. Many bridges had fragile logs that you felt may give way under a truck and we had to get out, inspect the bridge and let the car cross – and this is before the rains. So we need to preposition key supplies, such as seeds and tools, and water and sanitation equipment as soon as possible, before the roads deteriorate and it becomes very difficult to reach these remote areas.

One of the great strengths of the Red Cross is its network of volunteers across all countries. I saw the value of this when I met a number of Ivorian Red Cross volunteers who have been embraced by the Liberian Red Cross.


Since becoming refugees in Liberia, they are now proudly wearing a Liberian Red Cross bib and working on the water and sanitation and other Red Cross activities, such as helping to restore family links between refugees who’ve been separated from their loved ones, particularly children.

One man still had his Ivorian Red Cross cap which he showed me, telling me: “Je suis avec la Croix Rouge De Cote D’Ivoire.” Having these volunteers help is a great benefit to the operation as they are able to easily communicate with and understand the needs of their fellow refugees.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, we urgently need your help to address the needs of thousands of families who are struggling to survive.

Please visit our website and make a donation today.

Images © Sarah Oughton/BRC

Ivory Coast crisis: fragile situation for refugees


David-PeppiattDavid Peppiatt, our international director, reports back from Liberia where tens of thousands of refugees have fled from fighting in the Ivory Coast:

Last week I spent five days visiting some of the most remote communities along the Liberian border with the Ivory Coast, where the complexity of the situation, with its ethnic divisions and history of violence, became increasingly evident.

Given the political events in Abidjan, with Gbagbo arrested, I wondered if it would lead to people wanting to return. But most people we spoke to are too frightened and it’s not surprising given what they’ve experienced.

Many refugees fled terrible violence and conflict in recent weeks and months and it’s uncertain when they will feel safe enough to return.

Mother-and-daughter-in-transit camp

One of the issues in this current crisis is that you can’t just meet the needs of the refugee population without addressing the needs and vulnerabilities of the communities who are hosting them. When it comes to accessing food and water, the needs of Liberians along the Ivory Coast border are great and are being exacerbated by the influx of refugees.

Liberia is rated on the UN Human Development Index as 162 out of 169 countries, meaning it has high levels of poverty and one of the worst rates of life expectancy at birth in the world. The hospitality Liberian communities have shown to refugees is therefore even more impressive.

During the Liberian civil war, many Liberians sought refuge in communities in the Ivory Coast and there’s something remarkable about the reciprocation of that care in time of crisis – families are sharing everything, their food, homes and water with their neighbours from across the border.


Almost everyone we spoke to said their main concern was to feed their family and it’s clear there’s a real scarcity of food.

With the influx of refugees, there are now an additional 110,000 people in an area where getting enough food to eat is already a major challenge. Responding to this need has to be a priority for the Red Cross.

It means we’ll have to prepare for the next 6-12 months to support the refugees and the host communities. It’s not a separate issue, as around 90 per cent of refugees are living in host communities. We visited one village in Nimba county of 1,500 that has exploded to 15,000 creating huge pressures on food and water.


When you see such high levels of need in food, health and shelter it can seem overwhelming.

But we need to focus on the key areas in which we have expertise and can make a difference, such as: first aid; water and sanitation; restoring family links; and distributing tools and seeds to help families address their food needs.

But health needs for example, need to be met by another agency and we need to co-ordinate with other agencies.

By the end of the week, it was clear to me that many Ivorian refugees feel very uncertain what the future holds and that the humanitarian crisis is by no means over.

I know we’ve been asking a lot of our supporters recently with so many disasters and so many appeals for money. But it is clear to me that this is a crisis in which your help can make all the difference. Please visit our website and make a donation today.

Images © Sarah Oughton/BRC

Why are we appealing for money for the Ivory Coast crisis now?

Ivory-Coast-refugees-flee to Liberia

Yesterday, we launched an appeal to help thousands of people affected by conflict in the Ivory Coast – many of whom are fleeing for their lives to nearby countries.

Although it’s only hit the headlines more recently, it’s actually a crisis that has been brewing for several months. Presidential elections took place last November and the outcome has been contested ever since.

This morning, I was asked why the British Red Cross has decided to launch an appeal now, when the media is reporting that the crisis will soon be over and as it’s been clear for some time that many civilians need help.

The answer is that the British Red Cross is part of a global network which includes Red Cross or Red Crescent National Societies in 186 countries worldwide and since December, it has been working actively on the crisis through its Red Cross partners on the ground.

Also, even if the conflict ended tomorrow, the humanitarian needs would not be resolved overnight.

More than one million people have fled their homes since the conflict began, including more than 100,000 who are now refugees in nearby countries – many of whom are in villages just across the border in Liberia.

The refugees include civilians on both sides of the political divide, which means whichever political candidate triumphs, there will likely be refugees reluctant to return home immediately.

Although Liberian communities want to support the Ivorians who’ve fled – particularly as many Liberians were taken in by families in the Ivory Coast when they fled violence in their own country in the ‘90s – the huge number of refugees is already having a major impact on community resources.

Food and water supplies are rapidly running out and the sanitation situation is deteriorating, bringing with it increased risk of diarrhoea and cholera. People urgently need international aid to prevent another disaster for the refugees and their host communities and to ensure they remain healthy.

Since the conflict began around four months ago, staff and volunteers from both the Ivorian and the Liberian Red Cross societies have been responding to the situation and stepping up the response as the humanitarian needs increased.

When any country’s Red Cross is responding to a disaster, it can request additional support from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement should they need help.

Since December, in response to requests from the Ivorian and Liberian Red Cross societies, the British Red Cross has donated almost £500,000 from its Disaster Fund to help respond to the escalating crisis and support people fleeing the violence.

However, the conflict has recently worsened and the humanitarian needs have rapidly increased. As a result, last week a request went out within the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement for more funding to support the emergency response operation in the Ivory Coast and in the countries refugees have fled to, like Liberia.

This request led the British Red Cross to launch our own appeal. The money we raise will support the Red Cross National Societies helping the most vulnerable in this disaster.

Whatever happens with the fighting today, tomorrow there will still be families who have lost everything and who urgently need your help.

Please donate to our appeal today.

Image © Reuters/Simon Akam, courtesy – AlertNet