Romanian Red Cross - looking to both the past and the future

تم النشر: 6 مارس 2002 0:00 CET

Cristina Balteanu, Romanian Red Cross, Bucharest

It's been 25 years since a devastating earthquake turned the southern part of Romania upside down in more ways than one. March 4, 1977, was an ordinary spring day in Bucharest. A joint delegation of ICRC and the League of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (predecessor to the International Federation) had just left the city after having fixed the last remaining details in the organisation of the 23rd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent to be held in the Romanian capital. Several hours later, misfortune struck.

"It must have been around 22h00. It took a bit more than 30 seconds for the earthquake measuring 7.4 on the Richter Scale to destroy large parts of Bucharest," recalls Professor Nicolae Nicoara, President of the Romanian Red Cross. "We counted 1,500 dead, 11,000 wounded and had to assist more than 35,000 homeless families."

Trained and equipped, the best intervention teams in Bucharest provided first aid, evacuated and transported the wounded to hospitals and helped the military search for victims under the ruins, especially in the central part of the town, the worst hit by the earthquake. Day by day other Red Cross volunteers brought food and tea to those who, despite the cold, continued the search for victims still buried alive. They also assisted in the organising shelter for the homeless in schools and hostels, as well as in the distribution of relief items sent from around the country and abroad.

At the Romanian Red Cross headquarters in Bucharest, staff found the building on 298, Biserica Amzei street had been badly damaged and telephone lines out of order. Braving their fear of aftershocks, they worked for a month in an unstable building without any heat, wearing gloves and winter coats and only candle light to go by.
Although these were the days of the Cold War, humanity won through the iron curtain with aid coming from western countries. Relief items flooded in from sister Red Cross Societies in Bulgaria, France, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Hungary and even from other remote parts of the world.

It didn't stop Romanian Red Cross branches from organizing fundraising activities, collecting goods for those in need and helping to clean and furnish the apartments provided by authorities to the homeless. For orphans, the Romanian Red Cross organized spring holidays camps and collected requests for adoption by Romanian citizens.

The experiences of this earthquake were not forgotten. Knowing how important it is to receive aid in moments of such profound crisis and distress, the Romanian Red Cross, as part of the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, responded in its turn to the needs of sister Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies facing similar traumatic situations in the past decade.

"The aid we have sent to the Red Cross in Japan, after the Kobe earthquake and to the Turkish Red Crescent after the 1999 catastrophic earthquakes is a proof of the solidarity which unites Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the face of disaster," says Professor Nicoara.

Romania is itself a disaster prone country. Every century, it is hit by powerful earthquakes at least once or twice. Earthquakes of moderate magnitude causing limited damage occurred regularly during the 1990s. Some have been registered in Banat, an area previously unaffected by tremors. Psychological support for earthquake victims is now a service the Romanian Red Cross provides to affected communities. Learning from the past, it has implemented plans to be better able to prepare and respond to disasters and their aftermath. There are now 7 warehouses across the country with stockpiles of tents, field kitchens, water purification units, clothes, footwear and basic foodstuff. In addition, the Romanian Red Cross has a disaster fund for the purchase of basic foodstuffs and medicines.