Romania's human challenge

Published: 4 July 2001 0:00 CET

John Sparrow in Bucharest

Poverty and worsening social conditions, natural disasters and deteriorating public health present the Romanian Red Cross with the greatest challenges in its history, it was said in Bucharest today. The National Society - one of the oldest within the International Federation - celebrated the 125th anniversary of its foundation on July 4. Its president, Prof Nicolae Nicoara, said homage to the past had to be accompanied by recognition of today's reality. "The human suffering is the same," he declared, "but it affects more and more people."

Romania faces recurrent floods and the threat of earthquakes, while drought, forest fires and landslides accompany environmental degradation. Human need is growing as social conditions worsen and the gap between rich and poor widens. A downward spiral in public health is exacerbated by poverty, tuberculosis is rampant, and sexually-transmitted disease, HIV infection, drug use, smoking and alcoholism are increasing. "The threats are ever greater," Prof Nicoara said, appealing for increased support for Romania Red Cross responses.

The country's most recent disaster was flooding this past March, when rapidly melting snow and heavy rain poured down from the Carpathian Mountains, causing rivers to rise to record levels in the north-west. The Romanian Red Cross emerged as the primary partner of government in delivering assistance to 15,000 people seriously affected in 11 inundated districts.

Earthquakes are also recurrent. The most serious in recent years was in 1977 when a tremor measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale left 1,650 people dead and 10,000 injured. Tremors can be frequent and in March this year a quake measuring 5 caused no material damage but panicked the population. Scientists have been forecasting in the media that another major earthquake will occur in the next five years. Disaster preparedness and first aid are priorities of the Romanian Red Cross and it has already trained some 4,000 volunteers for 278 intervention teams which can be called up at any time. Crucially it is also part of the national disaster management structure.
Prof Nicoara underlined the emergence of new and increasing numbers of vulnerable groups. Nowhere in Europe is the human cost of transition from a command to a free-market economy more apparent than in Romania. Unemployment grows and living standards fall. Life expectancy drops as infant mortality rises. The sorry economic and social situation brings more and more calls upon the Red Cross and its services for the poor, sick and elderly, war invalids, orphans, refugees and impoverished multi-children families.

Tuberculosis is one reflection of the social challenge, with the incidence in Romania the highest in the region. The country's case notification rate rose from 66.80 in 1991 to 116.50 in 1999. For 1998, 25,623 cases were reported among the population of 22.5 million, and the figure continues to climb. Romanian Red Cross health education programmes are providing awareness of the causes, symptoms and treatment of tuberculosis, while others fight HIV/AIDS, drug and alcohol abuse, and smoking.

With 47 branches and 1,300 sub-branches, the Red Cross covers the country. It has more than 330,000 members, 108 paid staff, and some 9,000 volunteers. Prof Nicoara commented, "Through 125 years of uninterrupted existence, generations of Red Cross volunteers have handed on a mantle of humanity and selflessness devoted to the alleviation of human suffering. We must not falter now."

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The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world's largest humanitarian organization, with 190 member National Societies . As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, our work is guided by seven fundamental principles; humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. About this site & copyright