By Giovanni Zambello and Lasse Norgaard in Budapest
For the first time ever the collected funds from the Spanish Red Cross ‘Día de la Banderita - Flag Day - will flow into the national appeal ‘Ahora + que nunca’, with which the Spanish Red Cross intends to expand its social care activities and assist over 300,000 people who are living in conditions of extreme vulnerability. In 2011 Spanish Red Cross attended 2 million people through its social programs.
A few years ago it was hard to imagine: traditionally strong western National Societies organising soup kitchens for hundreds of thousands of citizens and distributing blankets to new groups of homeless people in their 50s or 60s.
“More such initiatives might follow in the coming months or years as we witness the financial crisis planting its roots, from communities and household to state levels,” said Anitta Underlin, Director of the IFRC Europe Zone.
Now, with the Spanish Red Cross having decided to use to collected funds from Wednesdays campaign to help its own nationals, the reality of relief work seems to be turning a page.
“More and more citizens in Europe simply do not have enough money to take care of themselves and their families. We have had vulnerable populations before ,but now we talk about new vulnerabilities and new poverties.” Underlin said.
“The crisis affects the entire continent and basically all National Societies are experiencing more requests for assistance from poor people. There are countries in Europe where a quarter of the young people do not have any prospect of work, and others which have been deeply affected by the reduction of overseas remittances, as these constitute a large proportion of their income. Middle-class citizens lose their jobs and have to sell their houses and belongings in order to make a living, or to qualify for social benefits.”
In Spain, 82 per cent of the people supported by the Red Cross are living below the poverty line, and half of the unemployed people currently assisted have been out of the job market for more than two years.
Such figures show the emerging face of a new economic scenario: over the last few years, the impact of the socio-economic crisis has brought people who previously enjoyed middle-class living standards into the group of those who are receiving humanitarian assistance. Rising unemployment rates and social inequalities have urged many Red Cross Red Crescent societies to re-focus humanitarian priorities and advocate for higher general awareness about increased vulnerabilities among new groups, and the risks of social fracture which these entail.
“People who before were formerly enjoying a normal standard of living, are in serious need and are knocking at the door of the Red Cross for help right now,” says José Javier Sánchez Espinosa, spokesperson for social inclusion of the Spanish Red Cross. “We will dedicate the funds collected through the ‘Ahora + que nunca’ appeal for delivering food, school material, support in job seeking, psychological support and many other activities in order to support people affected by the socioeconomic crisis,” says Sánchez Espinosa.
The prolonged financial crisis presents not only one of the biggest challenges for governments and agencies but also a dilemma, as available funds shrink while needs are growing. “A number of National Societies have already raised their concern of how to face the coming winter and the requests for assistance that will come with it, particularly given the experience of the cold snap which hit Europe last year,” Anitta Underlin says.