Category: News

Ivory Coast crisis: fragile situation for refugees

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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.

Woman-washing-clothes-in-a-bucket

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.

Red-Cross-tracing-volunteer

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?

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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 Trust.org – AlertNet

Sierra Leone: Red Cross and Land Rover helping young people build a brighter future

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Two decades ago, a civil war began in Sierra Leone that lasted 11 years. Nine years later, the emotional and physical scars are still evident, particularly for the children who were forced to fight, and their struggle now is to find hope in the aftermath of the conflict.

In the video, you can hear 18-year-old Kalie Kamara’s story. I met Kalie last year and he told me how when he was just four years old his village was attacked and he witnessed his grandfather being killed by a child soldier.

Kalie, like many children, was then abducted from his village and given little choice but to join the fighting. Often the children were given drugs, such as cocaine, to dull their senses and give them courage to fight.

Out of the 45,000 fighters who took part in the civil war, around 17,000 were ‘child soldiers’. They killed and maimed civilians, cleared mines, and constantly faced injury and death.

When the war finished and they tried to return to their communities, many of the young people were rejected. Their childhoods had been stolen and they were left with no family, no education, and no prospects.

Since 2001, the Sierra Leone Red Cross has been delivering a life-changing child advocacy and rehabilitation (CAR) programme which helps some of the country’s most traumatised young people recover and reintegrate back into society.

The programme also helps other children, who were not part of the fighting forces, but who suffered violence and witnessed horrific events – including the murder of their parents and families, the mutilation of their friends and maiming of community leaders.

The CAR programme, which is supported by the British Red Cross and Land Rover, provides young people with counselling, basic education and vocational training, as well ensuring they are accepted and reintegrated within their community.

Thanks to Land Rover’s support the Sierra Leone Red Cross is able to run five CAR centres across the country, helping 12,600 young people per year.

Kalie told me how the programme has helped turn his life around. He said: “After the soldiers were disarmed, I was living an awful life. I was drinking, doing drugs and stealing. I was miserable.

“Then my friend convinced me to register at the Red Cross centre. I’ve changed a lot in the last year and the staff here have really helped me.

“I chose to learn construction and I spend my free time helping my neighbours repair their houses. I now respect myself and I want to become a responsible man. I went to my village and constructed a two-room house and I feel very proud of this.

“I graduate from the Red Cross centre soon and I already found a contractor who will take me on as an apprentice. My dream is that I will be somebody in the future, somebody respected in the community.”

Land Rover and the Red Cross have released this short film to show how young people in Sierra Leone are rebuilding their lives and creating a more hopeful future. If the film inspires you, you can support the Red Cross by donating through our website.

Land Rover has been supporting the Sierra Leone Red Cross since 2008 when it donated eight 4×4 vehicles to help reach remote and vulnerable communities.

It is also continuing to provide vital funding for the Sierra Leone Red Cross to help 85,000 vulnerable people over the next three years.

Find out more about how we’re helping to build peace in Sierra Leone

World TB Day: combating stigma in Kyrgyzstan

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Today is World TB Day and it is a disease that definitely warrants its own day, considering one third of the world’s population is infected with TB bacilli, the microbes that cause tuberculosis.*

Although the world is on track to achieve one of the Millennium Development Goals for 2015 which aims to reverse the global rates of people becoming infected with TB, it appears the UK is lagging behind.

Last November, the BBC reported that the number of tuberculosis cases in the UK topped 9,000 in 2009, the highest for nearly 30 years.

However, the vast majority of deaths from TB are in the developing world and tuberculosis is known as a disease of poverty. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), TB killed 1.7 million people in 2009.

Although more than two billion people are infected with TB bacilli, only one in every ten of those will become sick with active TB in their lifetime. People living with HIV and who have a weakened immune system are at a much greater risk.

The British Red Cross helps combat HIV and TB in countries such as Liberia, Lesotho and Kazakhstan through programmes that raise awareness about prevention, treatment, care and support and help to reduce stigma and discrimination.

Last month, I was in Kyrgyzstan where I met Svetlana Sooronova, a Kyrgyz Red Crescent nurse who works on the organisation’s TB programme.

TB is a contagious and airborne, yet curable disease, which along with lack of understanding about prevention and treatment, contributes to the huge stigma associated with the disease.

As well as visiting people with TB regularly to encourage them to keep up their treatment till they are cured, the Kyrgyz Red Crescent is also addressing the issue of stigma and discrimination. It does this by raising awareness and understanding of the disease through classes in schools, leaflet distribution, campaigns and radio announcements in markets and work places.

Tatiana-&-husband sitting in their home

Svetlana took me to meet Tatiana, 65, and her husband who both have TB and are visited regularly by Red Crescent nurses.

It was snowing and freezing cold when we arrived at Tatiana’s home in an impoverished neighbourhood on the fringes of Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek. Inside the small house it was not much warmer and they certainly didn’t have central heating.

Tatiana told me: “Last summer, both me and my husband contracted TB and couldn’t get out of bed. We caught it from our older son, who already had it when he came back to live with us after being in prison. Our younger son was also in prison. He died of TB before he was released.

“Since starting the TB treatment we’re beginning to feel better and can get out of bed. We’d like to be able to improve our living conditions but it’s difficult as we don’t have any money, and we need it for things like soap, to keep clean.

“But the support I get from the Red Crescent means a lot to me and my family. We don’t have regular work and after we’ve paid our bills we have so little money, so the food parcel the nurse brings makes a big difference.”

The British Red Cross has a longstanding partnership with Astra Zeneca whose support to this TB programme, since 2002, contributes to the vital work being carried out by the Kyrgyz Red Crescent staff and volunteers.

Read more stories from people living with TB in Kyrgyzstan

*World Health Organisation

Image © Sarah Oughton/BRC

Libya: crisis deepens and thousands continue to flee

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It may be slipping down the news agenda but the conflict in Libya continues to escalate and the Red Cross is deeply concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation

Thousands of people continue to flee the civil war every day with a total of 287,000 having now escaped into neighbouring countries, including 154,000 who have crossed into Tunisia. 

Melanie's office at the airport

Melanie's office at the airport

I’ve just been speaking to Melanie McNeil, a British Red Cross logistics delegate currently based at the Tunisia and Libya border. This is what she said: 

“It’s hard to get a concrete idea of what is happening on the Libyan side of the border because there’s very little information available. The number of people crossing the border has dropped since the first few days of the crisis, but we’re starting to see these rise again. 

The people crossing over are being sheltered in the border area in transit camps and those that are being repatriated by their home countries are being sent to the airport at Djerba as soon as possible – the idea is that they will only be on the border for a couple of days and to keep people moving through and free up space as more people arrive. 

In terms of planning the emergency response operation we’re working on different scenarios with regards to the number of people continuing to arrive – we’re definitely looking at the need to scale up quickly and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is working with the Tunisian Red Crescent to establish a new camp as quickly as possible, which will provide shelter for up to 10,000 people. 

Setting up the camp, which is about 6km from the border on the Tunisian side is pretty challenging as it’s basically in a desert area. It’s been very windy, creating a sand storm and making it very difficult to put up these massive tents.

Antonov plane with emergency relief cargo

Antonov plane with emergency relief cargo

I arrived on 5 March and spent my first 24 hrs on the tarmac in the airport offloading planes, which contain donations from the Red Cross,  such as blankets, tents, kitchen sets, jerry cans and  latrines. Ten days ago there were few logistics workers here and over the first week we’ve had nine planes arrive and there’s been real pressure to off load the goods and store them quickly and securely before they are distributed. Djerba airport is mainly commercial and is struggling to cope with the loads of cargo arriving. 

My colleague, Mike Barcroft, is the air ops and customs clearance delegate. He spends all his days at the airport getting the goods through and dispatched to our warehouse. 

I’ve moved my ‘office’ from the airport tarmac to a hotel between the border and the airport, and I’ll be moving again soon to the camp when it’s properly set up. 

My job is to make sure we have all the right documents for clearing the goods and then to track and keep records of all the goods as they come in and are then dispatched to the people in the camps. 

I work closely with the relief teams as they’re the people out in the camps assessing what people need and then they put their requisitions through to me. So I have to make sure that we have enough stock available to meet the needs.So far we’ve distributed around 5,000 kits to a camp being run by a number of international organisations, including UNHCR  and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The kits contain toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, soap, blankets and sleeping mats.

The Tunisian Red Crescent staff and volunteers have been there since day one – many of them haven’t had a break since they arrived, and they are living and working in the transit camp, distributing relief items. The flow of aid seems to be working well, and the Tunisian people have been extraordinarily generous – giving up their time to help the relief effort, as well as donating clothes and food in huge quantities.

Red Crescent worker unloading from Antonov plane
Red Crescent worker unloading from Antonov plane

 The temperatures here are high and the conditions are pretty harsh. A lot of people arriving have had to walk long distances. They arrive hot, hungry and exhausted – many are in quite a state and desperate for a shower and food. 

Everyone here is working together to do what we can to meet people’s needs and it’s looking more and more likely that the needs are only going to increase over the coming weeks.” 

Thanks to the generosity of donors our Libya & Region Appeal has now raised £244,000. However, more funds are needed to help thousands of people in a desperate situation.

Increasing sanitation needs at Tunisia and Libya border

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Gwen Wilson, British Red Cross hygiene promoter delegate, has been in Tunisia for a week and is there to help in the camps serving thousands of people fleeing civil war in Libya. Here, she reports back on what she is seeing and how the situation is evolving:

Although new arrivals across the border had decreased substantially a couple of days before I arrived (down from 10,000 to 2,000 a day), they have increased again – last Wednesday 6,500 arrived and a couple of people had gunshot wounds.

I’m currently working at a camp for 17,000 people, which was set up by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) – where they are building 300 latrines.

Refugee from Libya getting water from a puddle

Refugee from Libya getting water from a puddle

The sanitation situation in the camp is difficult, there are limited water supplies, especially for latrines so it’s not possible to organise cleaning of latrines at the moment.

I’m focusing on hygiene promotion and I’m looking at the issue of hand washing facilities, which are lacking. One thing I asked our technical team back in the UK to advise me on is to find out if sand is as effective as ash as a substitute for soap – as sand is one thing we are not in short supply of out here!

Our health adviser gave this response: “Hand washing with soap decreases the risk of diarrhoeal diseases and is critical in hand washing as the best cleaning agent. A few reviews have demonstrated that some substitutes (sand, ash, mud) are as equally effective as soap in removing faecal coliforms from hands when used properly. However, some of these substitutes can be too harsh on the skin and can damage the outer surface of the skin and lead to skin problems. Whichever method is used, appropriate hand washing techniques should be taught/used and the skin properly dried. In the short term, sand can be used as an alternative but it should always be used in combination with water and not alone.”

At the moment the camps are being used mostly as a transit place for those fleeing Libya – as the majority are not actually Libyan refugees but migrant workers escaping the escalating violence. As yet, the reason why there are not more Libyans fleeing the country remains unclear.

Many of the migrants arrive at the camp utterly exhausted after gruelling journeys, but they only stay for a few days until they can organise to get back to their home countries. However, for some like those from Somalia and Eritrea the camp may not be merely a transit place, and they may end up staying longer.

Within the UNHCR camp, they are thinking of making a separate area for those people so they become more of a community and can cook for themselves and get on more with daily life.

Food in the camp is becoming an issue – many local Tunisians have been providing food, but that is understandably drying up and not sustainable – they could not continue to provide food for thousands of people. When I arrived I saw people queuing for 5/6 hours for meals. There’s not much food at all available to buy near the camp, and addressing the issue of food is clearly an urgent priority.

Apart from the transit camps there are also thousands of people waiting for flights at the airport. It has become a sort of camp and there are very limited toilet and washing facilities and some people are there for days so I will also be doing some hygiene promotion work there.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, working with the Tunisian Red Crescent, is also in the process of constructing a camp for up to 10,000 people. It should be ready soon and so this is another place where I will also be involved in looking at the hygiene and sanitation situation.

There is a lot of work to be done out here but we are all working together – people from different nationalities and different organisations – to do as much as we can for the thousands of people fleeing from a desperate situation.

But my last word has to go to the Tunisian Red Crescent volunteers who are doing an excellent job under very challenging circumstances and I’m so impressed by their commitment.

Find out more about the Libya crisis

Donate to our Libya & Region Appeal

Red Cross responds to New Zealand earthquake

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Update 23/02/11: We are now accepting donations for New Zealand. Please visit our New Zealand earthquake appeal page – all donations will go to the New Zealand Red Cross.

This morning, we have woken up to the devastating news that Christchurch in New Zealand was hit by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake last night, killing at least 65 people.

There is widespread damage to the city, including collapsed buildings in the centre and damage to roads and bridges. Electricity supplies have been cut to about half of the area and Christchurch airport is closed. The mayor of Christchurch, Bob Parker, has declared a state of emergency and aid is being co-ordinated by the National Crisis Management Centre.

The New Zealand Red Cross responded immediately, providing first aid assistance and distributing blankets to the displaced families. Response teams from the Christchurch and Timaru branches are on the ground working now, and teams from Nelson and Blenheim are on their way. Four more teams are due to arrive in the morning, along with 1800 blankets, 2000 water containers and 200 tents.

The Red Cross is working with the civil defence, New Zealand police, and local councils and agencies to assess the needs and determine how the Red Cross can best assist.  One evacuation centre has been opened for around 2,000 people and more temporary accommodation is likely to be needed.

The Red Cross has also started helping people reach their loved ones through the restoring family links service. A telecommunications team is being deployed to Christchurch and will be operational tomorrow morning.

The earthquake struck at 12:51pm in New Zealand (1:51am UK time) and it is now nighttime there so we will have to wait until their morning to know more. The New Zealand Red Cross will provide more information on whether an appeal will be launched and how donations will be accepted and the British Red Cross is prepared to support them with whatever help they ask for.

Read more about the earthquake on the BBC

Image credit:  Logan McMillan/AFP/Getty Images

Haiti: waiting for Hurricane Tomas to hit

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Mandy-with-kids in Haiti

Mandy George is one of our delegates currently based in Haiti and she has just sent this report:

There is an air of anticipation over Port-au-Prince this morning. Hurricane Tomas is just to the South West of us, currently hitting the Haitian coastline and is predicted to move north and have the worst impact on Port-au-Prince this afternoon. It’s already pouring with rain and the wind is picking up. The rain is so heavy it sounds like hail thumping the roof where the British Red Cross team is sheltering.

It’s just a waiting game now. Red Cross preparedness teams have done all they can over the past two days,  furiously taking advantage of the last few hours of calm yesterday to help people prepare for the storm: lining canals with sandbags to stop flooding, clearing drains, securing tents with ropes, blasting advice from sound trucks going around the camps, emergency first aid training for dealing with the most common injuries.

We all have to been back at our apartments in ‘hibernation’ since 2pm yesterday… waiting until we can get back out there to assess the damage and help people recover from the storm. Even if we only get heavy rain in Port-au-Prince, there are still going to be a lot of people that need our assistance. We have Red Cross response teams ready to go as soon as the weather eases up, and we have enough emergency stock in country for up to 17,000 families.

I have lots of food and water and am fortunate enough to have a solid building to shelter in. But for the people in the camps – I dread to think what they are going to go through. At least we will be here to respond afterwards…

It is a strange feeling to know that a disaster is coming, in stark contrast to the earthquake that had no prior warning. It is also interesting to compare public attitude towards a disaster here in Haiti to the UK or the US. Back at home people would be madly preparing, emptying store shelves of food and water and the media would be whipping the public into even more of a frenzy.

From conversations with residents of La Piste camp yesterday, many of them do not necessarily realise the potential severity of this storm, despite being used to hurricanes. Maybe it’s just that they have already been through so much, maybe it is lack of information. That is why we have drastically stepped up our preparedness information campaign over the last 48 hours, along with practical disaster risk reduction activities. At least for this disaster we have been able to do something to prepare.

As for me, I’m trying to decide what is more scary: the ground shaking on a regular basis or the anticipation of major winds and rain as I tape up my windows with masking tape. And as for the cholera epidemic…

More about the cholera epidemic