Category: Resilience

The China earthquake: three years on

Destruction after the earthquake

© Helen Hawkings/ BRC

Tomorrow marks three years since an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale devastated the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, Shaanxi, Chongqing, Yunnan, Shanxi, Guizhou and Hubei.

The earthquake was China’s worst since 1976. The official death toll stands at over 87,400, but may be higher. Around 374,000 people were injured, some 5,500 children were orphaned and 15 million people were displaced.

As an emergency response and recovery organisation, it might seem strange that three years after the earthquake struck we are still working in China. The fact is however that some humanitarian disasters take far longer than a few weeks, or even a few months, to recover from.

After the China earthquake five million houses needed to be built, an undertaking comparable to rebuilding the whole of London. Mammoth as this task was, constructing homes is only the beginning of the recovery process. People must also be given the skills and means to rebuild their lives and become self-sufficient.

The Chinese Red Cross livelihoods programme – supported by the British Red Cross – enables people to do just that. The programme helps many survivors to retrain, when disability or relocation has left them unable to continue their old work. In some cases, the Red Cross helps survivors recover the livelihoods they had before the earthquake.

Zhang Xingyou outside his farm

© Rob Few/ IFRC

One person who has benefitted from the livelihoods programme is Mr Zhang Xingyou. When the earthquake struck, Zhang was the proud owner of a prospering pig farm. Moments later, his business had been destroyed. He recalls: “There was nowhere for us to sleep or stay and no place for the pigs, so I had to sell all of them.”

He continues: “Right after the earthquake, all I could see was dead bodies and destroyed houses and roads. From the bottom of my heart I didn’t think I could do anything to change things by myself.”

But then, a Red Cross training programme helped Zhang learn about marketing, managing a business and predicting market prices. He says: “Before I attended the class, I did not raise any pigs because I had lost all confidence, but now I have more than 100 pigs and I still want to scale up.”

The Red Cross training not only gave Zhang the skills and motivation to rebuild his business, it inspired him to share what he has learnt with other farmers in the area. As of March 2011, 4,876 people had taken part in the Red Cross livelihoods programme in China but, if Mr Zhang’s generosity is anything to go by, this new knowledge may help many others too.

Read more survivors’ stories

Read more about how the Red Cross is helping

Watch a video about the Red Cross’ work in China

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


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

Pakistan six months on: water, water, everywhere…



Penny Sims, Red Cross communications delegate, reports back from Pakistan:

Six months after the floods, most people would believe the water should have drained away by now. After all, six months is a long time. Surely it’s over now?

As we drive further south through Sindh province, it becomes increasingly clear this is not the case. Once out of the cities, the only areas that really escaped the floods, we see the situation created by the flood waters – smashed walls of buildings, piles of rubble.

Flooded-field in Pakistan

And then mile upon mile of water. In some places, the water stretches out as far as the eye can see, right out to the horizon. There are occasional landmarks – the odd tree or building. The raised field boundaries and reflected sky create a strange image, as if we are looking at a patchwork of endless fields made of glass.

We pull over at the side of the road to take in the scene. The tops of submerged crops peek out from the water’s edge. Compared to some of the dry fields further north, which were a hive of activity as farmers load huge, colourful trucks with their harvest, this area is eerily still and silent.

A young boy runs along a field edge towards us. He has something he wants to tell me. My Urdu isn’t up to much, but the boy is mute, and tells the story of what happened here through actions, miming the huge walls of water that swept through, leaving the whole area under water. His arms are held high as he shows the height, and the force. Then he looks at me, arms spread wide, as he shows the desolation of this neighbourhood. We nod and gesticulate to show him we understand what he is telling us, and he runs back to his father, his story told.

Woman-in burkha carrying an-aid-box

As we travel further into the villages, there are moments of tragic beauty. Where the water laps at the village perimeters, it’s easy to be fooled momentarily, as you take in what looks like a tranquil lake. But of course there was no lake here before – this is dirty, stagnant flood water, covering what used to be a field. It’s a dangerous breeding  ground for disease, but when clean water could be up to 5 km away, of course people are using this to bathe in, as well as washing their clothes and cooking pots.

The ground underneath is so saturated, it is taking months and months for the water to drain away. Natural drainage has been totally overwhelmed. Where the water has gone, it has left behind a hard, sun-baked layer of earth. But this can be deceptive – stray away from the path and you can soon find that layer cracks, as you sink up to the top of your boots in gooey grey mud.

Find out what the Red Cross is doing to help people recovery from the floods

Image 1 © IFRC

Image 2 and 3 © Olivier Mathys/IFRC

Haiti one year on: a long journey to a healthy recovery


This is the fourth post in a week-long series about different aspects of the Red Cross’ work in Haiti.

Seeing a distraught baby wrapped head to toe in bandages and being comforted by a Red Cross doctor is something I will never forget.

I’ve worked in the aftermath of several disasters, but I’d never seen anything like the scenes of utter destruction that I found in Port-au-Prince, even though I didn’t visit till three months after the earthquake.

I went to Haiti to make a short video showing the impact of the quake and to give survivors a chance to tell their stories.

Haiti- Red Cross hospital

Although I got the opportunity to see aid being distributed, from food and household goods to tents and tarpaulins, as well as seeing vital water and sanitation facilities being built, it was visiting the Red Cross field hospital and clinics that had the biggest impact on me.

So many of the city’s health facilities and staff were affected by the quake and I can’t imagine how frightening it must have been for those with injuries needing urgent treatment in the first few days.

In the aftermath of the quake, Red Cross healthcare clinics were seeing an estimated 600 patients a day – about 2,800 a week. One year on, the Red Cross continues to provide vital primary and secondary healthcare services to the affected population and more than 216,900 people have been treated.

For all stakeholders – the affected population, the Haitian government, the UN, aid agencies – the sheer scale of needs and responding in this urban context remains a challenge. Normally after a major disaster you would expect to be able to draw on resources from the capital city.

But this is not the case and in addition it’s not only those in the capital who need help, as the earthquake also increased the burden of healthcare in many rural communities which people fled to when they lost their homes and livelihoods.

And this last year in Haiti the hits have not stopped coming with the hurricane season and flooding and then the cholera outbreak all exacerbating the situation.

Following a request from the Haitian government, the Red Cross set up cholera treatment centres, as well as an observation centre in La Piste camp in Port-au-Prince, home to 50,000 people.

Thousands of Red Cross hygiene promotion volunteers trained in cholera preparedness and prevention are going door-to-door across camps to make sure people know how to keep themselves and their families safe. And we’ve reached more than 2.5 million people by sending SMS messages about how they could limit their chances of becoming sick.

Health education is crucial to help people maintain their own health and the Red Cross uses its weekly radio programme, radio adverts, and sound trucks to spread cholera prevention and other health messages. We’ve also used innovative tactics, such as clowns, drama and music to get the message across.

We’ve basically integrated cholera treatment and prevention into every single area that we work in, an indication of the severity of the problem. But encouragingly, a doctor in La Piste thinks the hygiene promotion is really working as the admissions for treatment seem to be slowing down.

As the Haitian Ministry of Health strives to build basic health services and address ongoing and future challenges it is supported by the World Health Organisation and many national and international aid organisations including the Red Cross.

However, the challenge is not just about the struggle to cope with new vulnerable groups, such as more people with disabilities, there is also a huge psychological and social impact within the population resulting from loss of loved ones as well as the dislocation and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people who lost their homes, moved to new areas and lost contact with family members.

More than 100 Haitian Red Cross volunteers have been trained in basic

Haiti-children doing art

psychosocial support for children and adults.

At the field hospital, I got to see this work in action with children getting to sing, dance, paint and express their feelings and emotions in a safe environment. Seeing the resilience of these children and their smiling faces was the best thing I saw during my trip.

But the image of the baby being comforted by the doctor remains strong for me. I know that child, like thousands of others, faces a long, long road to recovery and, twelve months on, it is just the beginning of that journey.

Find out more about how we’re helping people recover

Images © Sarah Oughton/BRC

Haiti one year on: helping people get back to work


This is the third post in a week-long series about different aspects of the Red Cross’ work in Haiti. It was written by Mandy George, our communications delegate in Haiti.

Insurance: something we take for granted. Last week my parents’ house flooded because of a burst pipe in the cold winter weather. Lots of damage, but it will be more or less covered by the insurance.

Not so in Haiti. Yesterday I was talking to our British Red Cross driver, Kermens. He used to own an internet café, but three years ago terrible flooding washed everything away. “The water rose so high that trucks were sitting on roof tops,” he told me. “I lost everything – my business, my car, all the expensive equipment I had saved for years to buy – gone. I was back to square one.”

Imagine this scenario multiplied by hundreds of thousands of livelihoods lost in the devastating earthquake one year ago. People’s jobs and means of survival gone in the blink of an eye. Over a million people in camps, trying to scrape together a living somehow.

For this country to recover in a way that is going to last, people need to be able to get back to work. This is something often overshadowed by the more visible need for rebuilding houses. But if people can go back to work, their ability to rebuild their homes or find somewhere to rent logically follows. And giving people the means to rebuild their own homes as well as their lives is empowering. Aside from that, people have told us that their main priority is to get back to work as soon as possible.

That’s why the British Red Cross is helping people rebuild their own livelihoods, both in Port-au-Prince and in the rural area of Les Cayes.

A smiling girl studies a textbook

British Red Cross/Mandy George

We have given an initial 4,000 families from Automeca camp in Port-au-Prince a cash grant of US$250 (around £160) to spend on what they need the most, or consider the most important. This has given them the chance to pay off debts, send their children to school, and in some cases move out of the camp into rented accommodation. We are also going to support 3,000 families in the nearby area of Delmas 19 with cash grants to develop small businesses, and these families will also receive training in basic business skills.

These are skills that people will have for life, not just for the time that the Red Cross will be working in Haiti. And the economic activity this will generate will help the entire neighbourhood that was completely decimated in the earthquake.

Outside of the capital, the structural damage is not visible, but the economic strain is severe. Remittances from Port-au-Prince to rural areas were high before the disaster. As a result, the earthquake also wiped out many rural livelihoods. On top of this, many families moved to rural areas after the quake – extra mouths to feed for the families hosting them, who were struggling to makes ends meet in the first place.

This is why the British Red Cross is also supporting these host families by paying school fees for up to 4,000 children in Les Cayes, as well as supporting up to 3,000 families with cash grants and employment opportunities.

The year since the earthquake has flown by. Every day, I see the strength of the Haitian people fighting a continuous battle for survival in the destruction, amidst cholera and daily insecurities that we would find unbearable. The people we’ve supported over this past year are in a better place than they were. Many of them are inching their way back to a semblance of normality. But it’s going to take a long time for people’s lives to get back on track, and of course they will never be able to replace the loved ones they have lost. Alongside their struggles, we are here to give them a foot up in their own recovery, as much as we can.

Find out more about our work after the Haiti earthquake

Follow Mandy on Twitter.

Haiti one year on: Water and sanitation


Part of  a week-long series about different aspects of the Red Cross’ work in Haiti.

It’s easy to take clean water, working toilets, a good sewage system and regular waste disposal for granted. Barring the odd breakdown, these things tend to just work in the UK, without the people who use them thinking very much about them.

So it’s easy to forget that, as well as being convenient, this infrastructure plays a vital role in protecting us from diseases like malaria, dengue fever, diarrhoea, dysentery and cholera.

When the earthquake hit Haiti last January, it devastated water and sanitation systems near the epicentre. It left more than 1.5 million people without access to safe drinking water or a toilet, placing them at risk of diseases. Some found host families further away from the epicentre, but many are still living in sprawling camps where, without adequate sanitation, they would be extremely vulnerable to disease.

Generally after a major disaster, talk centres around what needs to be done to restore pre-disaster levels of water and sanitation service. In Haiti’s case, this won’t be enough. Even before the earthquake, the country’s water and sanitation facilities were chronically under-developed.

In 2008, Haiti’s coverage rate for safe sanitation facilities was the 11th worst in the world, according to the World Health Organisation. Fewer than 70 per cent of people living in cities had regular access to safe water.

The water regulatory agencies had no responsibility for sanitation, meaning there were no sewage systems and individual families made their own arrangements for sanitation according to their economic means. There were also few rubbish collections or street cleaning services in Haiti’s cities, including Port-au-Prince.

Health problems were inevitable with such poor sanitation coverage. Haitian children had on average four to six episodes of diarrhoea a year, several times higher than normal for industrialised countries. Watery diarrhoea caused between five and 16 per cent of child deaths in the country.

There were signs that these problems were being addressed before the earthquake – a new water and sanitation regulatory authority, DINEPA, was created in 2009, but its reform programme had only just begun when the quake hit.

People whose access to clean water and good sanitation was already inadequate suddenly found it was even worse – or in many cases non-existent.

Credit: Claudia Janke

Shortly after the earthquake, the Red Cross started trucking 2.4 million litres of water to displaced person camps in Port-au-Prince every day, enough for around 300,000 people. A year on, this is still happening and is around 40 per cent of all water distributed in the capital.

The Red Cross has also built latrines in camps in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Léogâne, Petit-Goâve and Grand-Goâve, used by 265,400 people. The British Red Cross is principally working in two camps in Port-au-Prince – La Piste (50,000 households) and Automeca (4,000 households).

Red Cross volunteers continue to provide extensive hygiene promotion messages to people living in the camps, including messages tailored for children. In the initial stages of the cholera outbreak in November, the Red Cross sent 2 million text messages to Haitians telling them how to take simple hygiene measures to prevent disease.

None of this amounts to a permanent solution to Haiti’s sanitation problems, however. Haiti’s water and sanitation infrastructure needs long-term, sustainable development. DINEPA will work with the Red Cross and other agencies to deliver a three-year water strategy providing this. One of the key goals of this plan needs to be the transferring of municipal services from the Red Cross to the public authorities.

It is likely, however, that the Red Cross will continue to provide safe water to up to 200,000 people in camps, makeshift settlements and the surrounding neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince for at least the next 18 months.

And as people start to move into transitional shelters, it will be important to make sure they have a sustainable water supply. Water supplies in outlying areas, where there are many host families, will also need to be improved or new water sources created (through the drilling of boreholes, for example).

So there’s a huge amount of challenging work ahead. But there’s also a major opportunity. Over the next few years, aid and development agencies, along with the Haitian authorities, can make sure large numbers of Haitians have access to safe and reliable sanitation for the first time.

Pakistan floods: from writer to relief worker


Last week I was writing about our Pakistan Floods Appeal from my desk in London and this week I find myself deployed to help with the distribution of emergency relief in Sindh province – this job is never dull!

A young man in Pakistan carries a box of relief itemsWhen the floods began in the north of the country in July the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies responded quickly, co-ordinating the emergency response with Red Cross National Societies around the world. A number of emergency response units (ERU) were deployed immediately to help with the distribution of food, tarpaulins, blankets and other items as well as to provide medical attention and clean water.

Over the last couple of months as the floods continued south and the disaster has grown (now affecting huge swathes of the country and one in eight people), more emergency response units have been deployed, including the British Red Cross logistics ERU.

Early on, the Finnish and Danish Red Cross set up a warehouse in Mardan, Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa province from which they continue to distribute emergency relief items to people affected in the mountainous north.

Last month, the British Red Cross set up two warehouses in the south of the country – one in Multan, Punjab province and one even further south in Sukkur, Sindh province. After working flat out to get the warehouses up and running the four member team has been reaching up to 14,000 households a week with food parcels and other emergency items. Each household has approximately seven people.

The first team has now returned and a second team is now in place – which is where I come in. I am replacing Kate Thomas – who has been blogging about her role in responding to the floods over the past month on Posterous.

Like Kate, my role will be to keep on top of what emergency relief items we are expecting to be delivered. This means tracking every movement of every aid item from the moment it arrives in the country by sea or air, it’s transport to our warehouse and finally delivery to the people who so desperately need it.

Hundreds of boxes of relief itemsTracking the goods is vital so that the rest of my team can keep the flow of aid smooth. The challenges when dealing with such huge quanities of stock include making sure there’s enough room in the warehouse when it needs to be delivered and stored and enough trucks, time and people to load the aid when it needs be distributed.

It may sound strange that the Red Cross has sent me – as someone who works in communications – to help with the delivery of relief, but it’s not quite as random as it sounds!

I also have a background in the operational side of the Red Cross’ work and I have undergone the training necessary to join our logistics emergency response unit. In 2006, I was deployed to Indonesia after an earthquake in Yogyakarta and in 2007 I worked in the Maldives on the tsunami recovery programme.

So, today, I’m in Islamabad being briefed about the operation and tomorrow I will go to Sukkur. I am here for three weeks and I know it’s going to be busy as already the plans are to ramp up our distributions to double the amount. But after sitting in London writing about the floods for the last couple of months it feels good to be here and to get stuck into the emergency operation.

Although the floodwaters are beginning to recede in most areas, the emergency is far from over. Millions of people have lost everything and desperately need ongoing support with food, clean water and healthcare.

So much land has been damaged and it’s unlikely it will be fit for the next planting season, which is fast approaching.

Although the Pakistan Red Crescent, with support from the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, has already reached more than one million people with emergency food and other aid, this support will be needed for months to come.

If you want to keep up to date with the work we’re doing in Pakistan, I’ll be uploading photos and blogging on our emergencies blog.

Images © Olav Saltbones/IFRC

Six months on: Tesco fundraiser reports on Haiti’s recovery


Angie Channing travelled to Haiti with the British Red Cross. In this guest post, she describes her journey to see how the money so generously donated by the public is being put to use in the country

Today marks the six month anniversary of the Haiti earthquake and I can hardly believe that just a few weeks ago I was there, witnessing both the utter devastation and the inspiring resilience of survivors with my own eyes.

I can still feel the shock I felt when first faced with the crumbling ruins of the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, which was pretty much razed to the ground.

Of course, like everyone else, I’d watched in horror as the extent of the disaster unfolded on the news back in January. But there was a specific moment when I knew I had to do something about it.

I saw a photo of a little boy being rescued from the rubble and it really touched me. I have three children myself and when I thought about how that little boy was going to survive amidst all that destruction I realised I had to start fundraising.

Luckily, because I work for Tesco, which has an emergency response partnership with the British Red Cross, I was able to fundraise at work. I was so proud of the way everyone pitched in and after a week we’d raised £6,500.

But it came as a complete surprise when months later, I received a phone call from the Red Cross inviting me to visit Haiti to mark the six-month anniversary and see for myself how the funds we’d raised were helping people.

Although I was a bit nervous – I’d never been further than Newquay on my own before! – I realised it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

So I hugged my kids goodbye and flew out to Haiti. I tried to prepare myself for what I would see but I don’t think it’s something you can ever really prepare for.

Outside the airport, families lived by the side of the road in shacks made from material and bits of broken buildings. I’d never seen poverty like this before.

I also got to visit some of the makeshift camps, such as La Piste, where around 40,000 people are crammed together living in tents or makeshift homes made of tarpaulin and bits of wood.

During the visit I was shown how the Red Cross has been using funds to improve the dire sanitation situation for those living in the crowded camps.

It felt really good to find out more about the difference the money we’d raised was making. So far, the Red Cross has provided medical treatment for 95,000 people and vaccinated more than 150,000 against measles, diphtheria and rubella. Everyday, it transports 2.4 million litres of clean water to 94 different sites across Port-au-Prince, and has provided 120,000 families – almost 600,000 people – with emergency shelter material.

When I flew home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the things I had seen.

From talking to people I’d found out how the desperate situation weighed on them so heavily. So many people’s livelihoods have been wiped out and all they want is the opportunity to work.

But despite the hard conditions in the camps there was still a real sense of community – I remember the kids playing hopscotch in the dust and when a Red Cross van came around playing music everyone was eager to dance and have fun.

The Haitian people show such courage and strength when many of us would feel like giving up. I am truly in awe.

Angie will be on This Morning talking about her visit to Haiti on Monday 12 July at 11.05