Disasters and crises happen all the time around the world. Some make international headlines – like the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria or the international armed conflict in Ukraine – but others go unheard of to people outside the countries where they strike.
These smaller, lesser-known disasters still claim lives, destroy livelihoods, and set entire communities back.
The Americas region alone has faced many small and medium-sized disasters so far this year. But while these disasters may have gone unnoticed to the wider world, Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies across the region have been there – right by the side of communities.
The IFRC has supported – getting money to our National Societies quickly through our Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF) so they can prepare and respond effectively.
Let’s take a look at seven disasters in the Americas you may not have heard about from the first half of 2023, and how the IFRC network has supported the people affected.
1. Chile - forest fires:
In Febuary 2023, strong winds and high temperatures caused dozens of forest fires across central and southern Chile, leading to casualties and widespread damage. They followed earlier, destructive forest fires in December 2022 that spread rapidly around the city of Viña del Mar.
With DREF funding, the Chilean Red Cross provided support to more than 5,000 people affected by the fires over the following months. Staff and volunteer teams provided medical support to communities and distributed cash so that people could buy the things they needed to recover.
2. Uruguay - drought:
Uruguay is currently experiencing widespread drought due to a lack of rainfall since September 2022 and increasingly high temperatures in the summer seasons—prompting the Uruguayan government to declare a state of emergency.
The government officially requested the support of the Uruguayan Red Cross to conduct a needs assessment of the drought, so it could understand how it was impacting people and agricultural industries.
With funding from the DREF, Uruguayan Red Cross teams headed out into the most-affected areas to speak to more than 1,300 familiesabout the drought’s impact on their health, livelihoods and access to water.
Their findings are helping the government to make better-informed decisions on how to address the drought, taking into account the real needs of those affected.
This is the first time DREF funding has been used to support a damage assessment in this way.
3. Paraguay - floods:
In February and March 2023, heavy rains in northern Paraguay caused severe flooding—forcing many families to abandon their homes and paralyzing key infrastructure and industries.
The Paraguayan Red Cross responded, providing first aid and psychosocial support to people in temporary shelters. Volunteers also shared information with communities on how to protect themselves from water-borne diseases and from the increase in mosquitoes.
4. Ecuador - floods, earthquake, and landslides:
In the first quarter of 2023, Ecuador was struck by several, simultaneous disasters—floods, landslides, building collapses, hailstorms and an earthquake—that put the Ecuadorian Red Cross to the test.
Their volunteers deployed quickly provided wide-ranging support to people affected--including shelter, health care, water, sanitation and cash assistance. They also conducted surveys to understand exactly how people had been affected, and what they most needed to recover.
5. Argentina - floods:
In June, heavy rains caused flash flooding in the municipality of Quilmes, Buenos Aires, affecting an estimated 4,000 families. The flooding caused power outages, road closures and a contamination of water supplies—prompting the local authorities to request the support of the Argentine Red Cross.
Volunteer teams quickly mobilized to provide first aid and psychosocial support to people who had moved to evacuation centres in the area.
In the coming weeks and months, the Argentine Red Cross – with DREF funding – will provide shelter, health, water, sanitation and hygiene support to 500 of the most vulnerable families affected by the floods.
6. Haiti floods:
Flash floods also struck Haiti in early June following an exceptionally heavy rainstorm that swept the entire country. Though not classified as a cyclone or tropical downpour, the rainstorm nonetheless affected thousands of families, claimed more than 50 lives and submerged entire houses.
The Haitian Red Cross quicklydeployed rescue workers to provide first aid and assist with evacuations. Working alongside Movement partners, and with DREF support, they’ve also been distributing mattresses, shovels, rakes, hygiene kits, water treatment kits and plastic sheeting.
In a country already experiencing a cholera epidemic, Haitian Red Cross volunteers continue to share important information with communities about how to stay healthy and adopt good hygiene practices—especially important due to the increased risk from flood waters.
7. Dominican Republic - floods:
This same rainstorm in Haiti also affected communities across the border in the Dominican Republic, causing flash flooding in the country’s west.
The Dominican Red Cross has been providing humanitarian assistance in the form of search and rescue, evacuation, health and hygiene services, psychological first aid and restoring family links (RFL) services.
These are just a few examples of the many disasters that have hit the Americas so far this year.
With DREF support, Red Cross Societies across the region have been able to respond quickly to these disasters—providing effective and local humanitarian assistance directly to those who need it.
If you would like to help our network to continue responding to smaller disasters like these, please consider donating to our Disaster Response Emergency Fund today.
The Empress Shôken Fund is named after Her Majesty The Empress of Japan, who proposed – at the 9th International Conference of the Red Cross – the creation of an international fund to promote relief work in peacetime.
It is administered by the Joint Commission of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which maintains close contact with the Japanese Permanent Mission in Geneva, the Japanese Red Cross Society and the Meiji Jingu Research Institute in Japan.
The Fund has a total value of over 17 million Swiss francs and supports projects run by National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to benefit their communities in various ways.
The first grant was awarded in 1921, to help five European National Societies fight the spread of tuberculosis. Since then, over 14 million Swiss francs have been allocated to 170 National Societies.
The Fund continues to encourage new and innovative approaches with the potential to generate insight that will benefit the Movement as a whole. An innovation campaign was launched in December 2021 to further increase awareness of the Fund and what it stands for.
The campaign resulted in 52 proposals being submitted versus only 28 in 2021, and more innovative proposals compared to previous years, further strengthening the Fund’s positioning as supporting innovation.
The imperial family, the Japanese government, the Japanese Red Cross and the Japanese people revere the memory of Her Majesty Empress Shôken, and their enduring regard for the Fund is shown by the regularity of their contributions to it.
The grants are announced every year on 11 April, the anniversary of the death of Her Majesty Empress Shôken.
The selection process
The Fund received 52 applications in 2022, covering a diverse range of humanitarian projects run by National Societies in every region of the world. This year the Joint Commission agreed to allocate a total of 471,712 Swiss francs to 16 projects in Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Jordan, Libya, Mongolia, Niger, Portugal, Serbia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Yemen.
The projects to be supported in 2022 cover a number of themes, including first aid and rescue, support for young people, disaster preparedness, health, social welfare and National Society development. The Fund continues to encourage new and innovative approaches with the potential to generate new insight and learning that will benefit the Movement as a whole. Reports from the National Societies whose projects were funded and implemented in 2020 generated insights in the areas listed below.
Top 10 key learnings from project implemented in 2020
Adaptability and agility
Taking a pilot approach
The 2022 grants
The Burkinabe Red Cross Society plans to strengthen psychosocial care and the capacities of community volunteers and first-aiders in communities affected by the crisis. The grant will allow the National Society to assist victims of attacks by armed groups in areas where security is a challenge.
In 2017, over 43.8% of Ivorians were illiterate, and the disparities between men and women and by places of residence were enormous. The Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire will use the grant to help improve the education and increase the autonomy of young women in the Bounkani Region who have not attended school.
The Croatian Red Cross will use the grant funds to spread awareness of the humanitarian ideals and educate children from an early age, through the Humanity Corner.
The Dominica Red Cross Society will provide support for and help introduce farming techniques and other solutions for managing climate change and other risks. The funds will be used to train 15 farmers as Agri First Responders in their community.
The Dominican Red Cross will help build young people’s capacity to carry out local social support activities. The grant will be used to develop a virtual introductory course on planning and coordinating social support activities that is adapted to the young people’s local reality, so that they are equipped with the techniques and tools to address the needs of their community.
The Ecuadorean Red Cross aims to identify and provide primary care for the negative feelings and emotions in young people from age 15 to 30 years in the city of Quito. The grant funds will provide immersion technologies to addresses the heightened need in the community owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Jordan National Red Crescent Society has recognized young people and volunteers as the beating heart of the National Society, especially during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, during which they served local communities across the country, when mobility was restricted. This grant will help them improve the management system for recruiting, developing, promoting and retaining volunteers to support humanitarian operations.
Libya is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, given its arid climate. This grant will help the Libyan Red Crescent raise awareness of the risks associated with climate change and highlight personal behaviours that could help mitigate these risks for communities.
The Mongolian Red Cross Society wants to use digital communication tools funded by the grant in order to help ensure there is meaningful community participation across all programmes and operations, improve its public relations management and strengthen its transparency and accountability to communities.
In the event of an accident, smartphones can provide information that is essential for providing effective first aid. Thanks to the grant, the Red Cross Society of Niger will educate and inform the public about how to store useful information in the “emergency call” section of their phones.
The Portuguese Red Cross will address young people's social exclusion and the lack of space and opportunities to develop relevant skills and digital literacy, through the Platforms of Change, funded by the grant.
Through the “Their life is in your hands” digital marketing campaign, funded by the grant, the Red Cross of Serbia will raise the general public’s awareness of the value of CPR skills and AED use and provide the related training.
The Republic of Korea National Red Cross will focus on supporting disaster risk reduction in many countries in the Asia Pacific Region. The grant will fund development of virtual reality training content by the Asia Pacific Disaster Resilience Centre, provide sets of virtual reality devices to seven National Societies and provide virtual reality training on disaster risk reduction.
The Sri Lanka Red Cross Society is aiming for better nutrition and improved water, sanitation and hygiene in vulnerable communities that are drought-prone. The grant will introduce groundwater recharging practices into the catchment and tank ecosystem areas, to facilitate groundwater retention.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, communities face challenges in gaining access to reliable, up-to-date information and in overcoming the rumours, myths and misconceptions around the vaccine. Supported by the grant, the Tanzania Red Cross Society will develop a mobile application, “UJANJA KUCHANJA”, to enhance information-sharing, build trust and increase information access and reach.
In a mountainous district of Yemen, frequent rockslides often injure people and domestic animals, disrupt transport networks and cut people off from their livelihood activities. Thanks to the grant, the Yemen Red Crescent Society will take measures to prevent rockslides and help reduce the number of victims and the damage caused.
Kingston, Jamaica – November 15, 2021: The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) are calling for governments to urgently invest in climate change adaptation measures to tackle the growing climate crisis in the Caribbean.
The call follows two key climate events - the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) and the 7th Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas and the Caribbean (RP21).
In the Caribbean, storm events account for US$7 billion in losses in average per year (or US$135 billion between 1990 and 2008). Research indicates that 70% of people in the Caribbean live near the coast, where vulnerability to climate change is higher. Studies have also shown that the impacts of climate change are unevenly weighted against the most underserved people – those who are the poorest, most exposed and have the least resources to withstand climate shocks and stresses. In addition, data from the IFRC’s World Disasters Report 2020 reveals that international climate and disaster risk reduction finance are not keeping pace with climate adaptation needs in low-income countries, and the countries with the very highest risk and lowest adaptive capacities are not being prioritized. In fact, less than 1 US dollar per person was made available for climate adaptation funding in high vulnerability countries.
“The priority and focus should be the communities that are most exposed and vulnerable to climate risks and the Caribbean region has proven to be one of the most susceptible to climate-related disasters. Therefore, governments must ensure that all efforts and actions to address climate change must prioritize, and not leave behind, those most prone to its impacts,” said Velda Ferguson Dewsbury, IFRC Project Manager for the Resilient Islands by Design (RI) imitative in the Caribbean.
Red Cross societies are on the forefront of helping communities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from climate-related disasters and see, every day, the rising risks for vulnerable people. Through projects like the Resilient Islands, the IFRC in partnership with TNC, has been working with communities to help them find innovative, low-cost, and sustainable nature-based adaptation and risk reduction measures.
“Climate change isn’t a distant threat - it is happening now. We have all seen the visible impacts of climate change before our eyes such as more extreme weather and natural disasters, chronic drought and economic instability. While our work with the Red Cross is helping at-risk communities across the Caribbean to adapt to climate change, with the power of nature, we need more investments in these and other communities and we need joint actions from all relevant stakeholders,” said Eddy Silva, TNC RI Project Manager.
The IFRC and TNC are working with communities in the Dominican Republic, Grenada and Jamaica helping them protect and restore natural habitats, such as mangroves, that help reduce the impact of severe storms and floods. Studies indicate that up to 65% of the increase in projected economic losses due to climate change could be averted through timely adaptation to climate change. In addition, nature-based solutions to minimize climate change can reduce 37% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
Resilient Islands incorporates ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR) measures, that harness natural systems to prevent and reduce natural hazards and climate change impacts. For example, by protecting and supporting the growth of coral reefs that provide cost-effective natural barriers, protecting our coasts from waves, storms and floods, or by planting more mangrove trees, which grow roots that mitigate coastal erosion, provide food and other services, and serve as nurseries for a diversity of fish species. These actions help communities reduce their exposure to hazards by identifying and lessening their vulnerabilities while at the same time enhancing their livelihood sources, as well as building their capacities and resilience to prepare for and respond to emergencies.
The RI initiative aims to protect Caribbean people against the impacts of climate change not just by promoting the use of natural coastal and marine habitats to reduce risks, but also by helping governments, partners and communities implement sustainable development plans that prioritize nature. Resilient Islands is part of the International Climate Initiative (IKI). The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) supports this initiative on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag.
For more information, please contact:
In Jamaica: Trevesa DaSilva | +876 818-8575 | [email protected]
In Panama: Susana Arroyo Barrantes | + 506 8416 1771 | [email protected]
In Washington, D.C.: Claudia Lievano | +1 786 230-6144 | [email protected]
In Geneva: Marie Claudet | +33 7 86 89 50 89 | [email protected]
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is mourning the loss of Dr Ligia Leroux de Ramírez, President of the Dominican Republic Red Cross and former member of IFRC’s Governing Board.
Dr Leroux de Ramírez served as President of the Dominican Republic Red Cross between 2000 and 2020. During this time, she steered her National Society through a range of challenges, including the massive response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake and, most recently, the complex and crucial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Within the wider Red Cross and Red Crescent family she served as President of the Inter-American Regional Committee between 2007-2011, as well as a member of IFRC’s Governing Board. In 2018 she became a member of the IFRC’s Compliance and Mediation Committee.
IFRC President, Francesco Rocca, said: “On behalf of the IFRC, I express our condolences to Liga Leroux de Ramírez’s family and friends, and to the Dominican Republic Red Cross’ volunteers and staff.
“Ligia was not only a committed humanitarian: Ligia was for me a close friend, a wise mentor and an incredible example for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. She will never be forgotten: her name and her leadership will guide us in our humanitarian activities”.
She was a passionate leader and made significant contributions to the development of National Red Cross Societies in the Caribbean.
“Her constant efforts to strengthen cohesion between National Societies in the Caribbean and across the Americas served as a great example of human solidarity and strength in action”, President Rocca added.
Miguel Villarroel, Vice President of the IFRC, also paid tribute, saying:
“Dear Doña Ligia – as I have always called you during all these long years of friendship – I cannot imagine an international gathering without you, without the chance of sitting next to you and listening to you words: “Let's see Miguel, tell me how things are going?" And then the two of us talking for hours.
“You were a woman of upright principles, faultless and of total honesty. You were a colleague in great battles, committed to humanitarian work. You dedicated a good part of your life to helping the most vulnerable, saving lives and protecting human dignity. Your wise advice made it possible for us to unite National Societies on our continent, thus leaving us a great legacy. Doña Ligia, you will always be in my heart, I will miss you very much.”
IFRC’s Regional Director for the Americas, Martha Keays, said:
“Dr Leroux de Ramírez had an unrelenting commitment to humanitarian work in Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Her personal contribution to the Haiti earthquake response and the humanitarian corridor in Hispaniola is part of her rich legacy. Our thoughts are with her family and colleagues.”
Dr Leroux de Ramírez served as a public official in her country, where she was designated as Sub-Secretary of Public Health and General Director of the Dominican Institute of Social Security. She held a Doctorate in Pharmacy and Chemical Sciences, with a specialty in Biochemistry, and was a graduate from the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo. She taught biochemistry at the University for 37 years.
Dr Leroux de Ramírez passed away on 4 December in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. She is survived by her siblings, her daughter, Ligia María Ramírez Leroux, and the rest of her family.
Santo Domingo, 10 July 2020 – At the end of June, the IFRC was able to send relief items from the Dominican Republic to Haiti through a humanitarian corridor. The operation, activated in the context of the COVID-19 response, will benefit 2,000 vulnerable people in Haiti.
Together with the Haiti Red Cross, the Dominican Red Cross, the World Food Programme (WFP) and with funding from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and from the Belgian government, the IFRC developed a logistics model to respond quickly to emergencies in the Caribbean, especially in Haiti. The model is part of a wider strategy to create "Humanitarian Corridors of the Caribbean" and preposition stocks of essential supplies - such as hygiene kits, shelter kits, tarpaulins, jerry cans - which can be moved immediately after an emergency in the region, particularly during the hurricane season.
Thanks to the support of the Dominican Red Cross, the IFRC was able to stock emergency items in the Dominican Republic and send them to Haiti to respond to the urgent needs of vulnerable people. On 26 June 2020, 400 hygiene kits were delivered in Port-au-Prince to support the stay-at-home policy in the country, as part of the COVID-19 response, benefitting a total of 2,000 people.
The President of the Haitian Red Cross, Dr. Jean-Pierre Guiteau, said: "Since 2019, given the deteriorating security situation in Haiti as a result of socio-political tensions, we had been thinking about a humanitarian corridor that would allow transport of humanitarian supplies and could facilitate the urgent evacuation of patients requiring treatment that is not available in Haiti. Since then - together with the President of the Dominican Red Cross, as well as IFRC and UN representatives – we further developed the idea, which resulted into concrete actions taken during the coronavirus crisis. The IFRC was able to send us hygiene kits using this corridor. The humanitarian corridor is definitely a very useful tool, to be perfected and endorsed by Haiti and the Dominican Republic for the benefit of both countries during emergencies."
Raphael Hamoir, Disaster Management Coordinator for the IFRC and in charge of operations in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, said: "This operation is rather small in terms of the size of the delivery, but it’s significant in terms of partnerships. Thanks to bi-national support from the Haiti Red Cross and the Dominican Red Cross, and thanks to our collaboration with WFP, we were able to move stocks from the Dominican Republic to Haiti and help vulnerable families, in the context of the COVID-19 response."
The model was developed over the years as part of disaster preparedness plans, but was activated during the COVID-19 pandemic. “With COVID-19, it would take just one hurricane making landfall to create a very difficult situation in the Caribbean. With established and functional humanitarian corridors, we are increasing the number of options to get help where it is needed", Raphael Hamoir added.
♪ Water come inna mi room
Mi sweep out some with mi broom
Di likkle dog laugh to see such fun
And di dish run away with the spoon ♪
It was catchy, it was humorous, it was enjoyed by persons as far as Nicaragua, however, it spoke to a very serious subject. It was a song about Hurricane Gilbert and the devastation wrought upon Jamaica in 1988. There are no wildly popular songs about Hurricanes Irma and Maria, perhaps because Lovindeer didn’t write one or maybe because, in this instance, the two hurricanes that came almost back to back caused so much destruction in 2017 that no humour could be found in the situation.
In readiness for the 2019 hurricane season five international organisations, based in the Caribbean, are working with national disaster offices and communities to strengthen disaster preparedness. Saint Lucia, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as the Dominican Republic will improve preparedness during the hurricane season through improved localized early warning systems. Financial assistance was provided by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).
The project has a four-pronged approach that includes improving the coordination of aid organisations. After Gilbert many international aid agencies sent zinc to Jamaica because thousands of homes had lost their roofs. However, as Community Early Warning Technical Specialist of the International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Nicole Williams recalls, “there was no lumber on which to put the zinc or no nails to attach it to the houses.” This unfortunate circumstance did have a positive outcome - it led to the formation of regional organisations like the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). However, the response to Hurricane Maria in Dominica demonstrated that there is still room for improvement. CDEMA and United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) have been working together to improve on the Regional Response Mechanism.
As part of the project there was a Training of Trainers in Dominica where members of the Dominica Red Cross received instruction on how to deliver early warning systems to the community. Early warning systems are an important aspect of preparedness because allows for early action to save lives and protect assets. National early warning is often not specific to an at-risk community. New communications tools are preferred over traditional radio and television messages. Understanding from where people receive messages and their needs is essential. The needs of vulnerable groups like women or differently-able persons are better considered in the design of alert messages. Karen Lawrence who is attached to the Dominica Meteorological Service described the training as “empowering, knowledge sharing, networking, so much so that people will be so informed that they will be able to make the right decisions at the right time, hence mitigating against all impacts of disasters.”
The international partnership aims is to work with national disaster offices and communities to improve preparedness. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) leads the team on this project and works with national disaster offices to improve communications, test plans through simulations and support public awareness and education. Communities will develop a better understanding of potential risk which will encourage their members to take protective actions.
Red Cross National Societies in the five countries, together with IFRC are supporting other local level actions. Ten communities will implement local early warning systems and will also be provided with the necessary technology to mitigate the risk. Early warning technology including rain gauges, flood staff gauges and warming signs. The technology is not limited to equipment but involves training of Community Disaster Relief Teams (CDRT) and the updating of disaster response plans which are tested through simulation exercises.
There have been 9-15 storms predicted for the 2019 hurricane season with the probability of 4-8 hurricanes. There is the likelihood that 2-4 of those hurricanes will be major ones. As was seen with Irma and Maria in 2017, two major hurricanes can have a severe impact on the Caribbean so the international team recently got together at the World Bank’s Understanding Risk Conference in Barbados 27 May- 1 June 2019 to share progress and plan the next steps. Hopefully there will be no need for witty ditties to be sung after the 2019 hurricane season, but it has arrived so get prepared!