Pan African conference highlights Algerian Red Crescent

Published: 13 September 2004 0:00 CET

Saleh Dabbakeh and Hind Boukhroufa in Algiers

Disasters can be an important guiding light in planning long term programmes and activities when you are in the business of saving lives. So, after a string of violent incidents over a decade ago the Algerian Red Crescent had to put in place programmes to deal with the worst psychological effects of the violence on women, children and others.

Then in November 2001, major flooding combined with mudslides at Bab El-Oued near the capital city Algiers, killing hundreds of people and burying houses under tonnes of rubble. In May 2003, a powerful earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale hit the city of Boumerdes, 50 km east of the capital, killing almost 3,000 people, injuring more than 10,000 and causing massive destruction in several other cities and towns.

Two different kinds of disaster: one natural and the other caused by man. But for the Algerian Red Crescent the response was the same: a determination to help those most in need. The long-term result has been that disaster management and psychological support are now its most vibrant activities.

Since its beginnings, the National Society has been seen as a voluntary organisation concerned mainly with assisting people, initially by running charitable projects such as first aid, visiting patients at hospitals, assisting school children, helping pilgrims and feeding the poor during the fasting month of Ramadan.

These activities expanded steadily to include tracing and family reunification, prevention of HIV/AIDS, helping the homeless, summer camps for children and vocational training centres, where underprivileged women learn dress-making, embroidery and computer skills, among other professions.

The response of the Algerian Red Crescent to both the Boumerdes earthquake and the Bab El-Oued floods was impressive. More than 1,000 volunteers, among them 120 trained in first aid, assisted government agencies, especially the Civil Protection in dealing with the crisis in Bab El-Oued. Over 500 trained first aid volunteers responded to the Boumerdes earthquake.

During both disasters, the Red Crescent deployed trained psychologists to help the affected population cope with their trauma. In total, nearly 400 people have been trained as part of the psychological support programme since it was launched four years ago.

Keeping in mind the past and looking at preventing the worst effects of potential future disasters, the Algerian Red Crescent has established a disaster preparedness and response strategy based on enhancing the operational capacity of the National Society and on raising awareness at community level so that local populations can adopt life-saving measures and are able to deal with disasters.

The ultimate goal of this strategy is to have 54 functioning disaster intervention teams, one for each wilaya, or province, and six larger regional coordinating offices, before the end of 2007. This strategy, developed in collaboration with the International Federation and others, has been integrated within Algeria’s National Plan for Risk Reduction to ensure maximum coordination with all concerned parties.

“Other achievements include the creation of a national programme for psychological support to traumatized victims of violence,” says Dr. Mohamed Salah Badouna, president of the Algerian Red Crescent.

“In spite of the fact that now, violence is at very low ebb, thanks to the policy of reconciliation adopted by the President of the Republic, much still needs to be done. We need to work very hard to eliminate the scars left by the violence that engulfed our country during the last gloomy decade,” he adds.

Based mainly on the strength of more than 25,000 volunteers, 48 provincial committees and a wide variety of programmes and achievements since the 5th Pan African Conference in Ouagadougou in 2000, the Algerian Red Crescent was eager to host the 6th Pan African conference which opened on 8 September in the Algerian capital.

The host National Society has deployed 150 volunteers for the conference, who have been ensuring that the event runs smoothly. “Discussions are taking place in a very peaceful and responsible environment because the topics are pertinent to the problems of the African continent,” explained Dr. Badouna.

“National Societies are committed to solving these problems, above all through African cooperation. Discussions are focusing on a new Algiers Plan of Action coupled with a follow-up committee to ensure implementation,” he explained.

The atmosphere dominating the sessions of the 6th Pan African Conference is a reflection of the peace that has been returning steadily to Algeria over the last couple of years. “I am glad that people had an opportunity to see that our country is peaceful and open to all,” Dr. Badouna said.

“The Conference is an opportunity for our National Society to strengthen relations with other sister societies. This is part of the Federation’s strategy made easier to achieve within such an environment.”