Six months ago, beginning in the last week of September 2009, four nations across the Asia and Pacific region were devastated by emergencies that affected the lives of nine million people in the Philippines, Viet Nam, Samoa and Indonesia.
From the very first moments of each emergency, Red Cross volunteers provided early warning, rescued those who were stranded, tended to the wounded, provided safe shelter and offered comfort and support twenty-four hours per day. In the months that have followed, hundreds of thousands of people have received vital help in the wake of a major typhoon, an earthquake and a tsunami in the Pacific and the earthquake in West Sumatra.
Four appeals launched by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) sought more than 43 million Swiss francs (42 million US dollars or 28.4 million euro) to help National Red Cross Societies support the affected people.
“Over the course of the past six months, new large scale disasters around the world have captured the public’s attention” said Alistair Henley, Director of the IFRC in Asia Pacific. “As we reach the six month point following these four major emergencies in our region, it is important to remember that our recovery operations are not yet complete and that many people continue to struggle. We have to stay focused on the job at hand.”
Persistence and progress
In the Philippines, where Typhoons Ketsana, Parma and Mirinae left nearly 1,000 dead and damaged or destroyed 300,000 homes, a 16.3 million Swiss francs (16 million US dollars or 10.8 million euro) appeal seeks to help some 550,000 people to recover. Despite significant progress on the part of the Philippine Red Cross through relief distributions to hundreds of thousands of families and health interventions with more than 35,000 families, a funding shortfall has forced the scaling back of shelter programmes.
To date, the IFRC’s appeal for the Philippines is only 53 per cent funded. Unless new contributions are made temporary shelter will only be provided to 1,900 families of the 6,500 initially targeted to receive support through the shelter programme.
In Viet Nam, which was also hit by heavy rains from Typhoon Ketsana, an emergency appeal for 5.6 million Swiss francs (5.5 million US dollar/3.7 million euro) was launched to support 270,000 affected people in the form of badly-needed rice, livelihoods support, relief items, and water and sanitation services. Viet Nam Red Cross (VNRC), supported by the IFRC and a number of National Societies present in Viet Nam successfully established water purification points, distributed food aid to 210,000 affected people, and provided 1,600 shelter kits and 16,600 household kits that include blankets, mosquito nets, water containers and kitchen utensils. The VNRC has also provided 500,000 water purification tablets, seeds, fertilizers, tarpaulins as well as cash grants to nearly 8,600 families.
In Samoa, where the 29 September earthquake caused a tsunami that took the lives of 143 people, the IFRC is providing support to thousands of the nation’s most vulnerable people. The appeal for nearly 2.5 million Swiss francs (2.4 million US dollar/1.6 million euro) has focused on providing emergency relief goods, shelter, psychosocial support, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene promotion programmes. Thus far, the Samoa Red Cross Society has procured, distributed and assisted in the installation of nearly 250 household rain water harvesting tanks each with a 5,000 litre capacity. They have also placed 69 communal water tanks in 12 heavily affected villages.
In Indonesia, the IFRC sought more than 19 million Swiss francs (18.6 million US dollars/12.7 million euro) in international assistance to help the Indonesia Red Cross (PMI) meet the vital needs of as many as 100,000 people whose lives were devastated by two major earthquakes on 30 September and 1 October. Over the past six months, PMI has supported 37,000 beneficiaries with transitional shelter support, water, sanitation, and health and hygiene activities. At the end of March, nearly 800 temporary shelters will have been completed.
Focus on resilience
In addition to supporting emergency, short-term needs, each of these operations has taken important steps to strengthen the ability of communities to prepare for and cope with future disasters. For example, in Samoa, the Samoa Red Cross and the IFRC have engaged in community mapping exercises with villagers to help determine risks and vulnerabilities that will require special attention before the next emergency. Preparedness measures have already had an impact, when Samoa was faced with potential evacuations following the recent earthquake in Chile and its anticipated tsunami.
“We continue to stress that every disaster provides leaders at the community level, nationally and around the world with an opportunity to become better prepared for the future,” said Henley. “The steps we are taking today with National Red Cross Societies in the Philippines, Viet Nam, Samoa and Indonesia will address ongoing humanitarian needs and build resilience at the same time.” What Henley highlights here is a clear indication of the vital role of the Red Cross Red Crescent, as it simultaneously responds to today’s emergencies and prepares for tomorrow’s risks.