Gabon ferry disaster: Gabonese Red Cross supports ongoing mental health recovery
"The sinking of the Esther Miracle, which I now call the Esther Ghost, profoundly changed the course of my life. I lost half of myself, my beloved wife," says Gabriel, a survivor who was travelling from Port Gentil to Libreville when the boat sank.
"We used to make this trip to Port Gentil regularly. It was around 8pm when we boarded. As a former seaman, I could already sense that something wasn't quite right. And indeed, it wasn’t.”
"Between one and two in the morning, we heard suspicious noises. A policeman on board approached us and the other passengers to inform us that there were a few minor problems on the boat but that everything was under control. Shortly afterwards, everything went wrong. The boat tilted dangerously to one side. On the orders of the policeman, we tried to balance the boat, but to no avail, and the boat began to sink.”
Hearing of the emergency, the Gabonese Red Cross rushed teams to Port Môle in Libreville where survivors, rescued by another boat, began to disembark in the early hours the following day.
Ambulances began transporting people in critical condition to hospital. Red Cross volunteers provided urgent care and first aid to survivors at the scene, and a psychosocial support unit was quickly set up to provide urgent mental health services.
"When we arrived at Port Môle, the Gabonese Red Cross teams were already there to receive the shipwrecked survivors, who were all in a bad way. It was only thanks to them that we all received first aid and support. Psychologists were made available to us", explained Gabriel.
For Priscillia, it was her uncle who was travelling on the Esther Miracle and who unfortunately lost his life.
"I thought of him as more than just an uncle, because he played many different roles in my life and in the lives of many members of our family. He was a pastor and had a huge impact on my life, supporting me so much from a very young age.”
“What we know is that when the boat was sinking, not knowing that there were not enough life jackets on board, my uncle gave his to another person who survived. I’m told he spent the last moments of his life saying prayers to strengthen the people around him," explained Priscillia.
“The Gabonese Red Cross was very supportive. Emotionally it was difficult at the time. From the first day at the port, when the survivors disembarked on the quayside and my uncle wasn't one of them, the Gabonese Red Cross volunteers were there to help us and take care of us. We were at the port in the morning and came back very late at night every day, and their teams were always there,” she added.
As well as providing psychological assistance, the Gabonese Red Cross prepared more than 7,000 meals within 10 days for survivors and families who had come to wait for news of their loved ones at the port.
They also set up a special Restoring Family Links (RFL) unit to reconnect people with their lost loved ones. And in the weeks following the disaster, they provided continued medical advice to survivors and helped people to track down lost belongings that were able to be recovered.
"It was our duty to provide assistance at such a difficult time. Providing first aid services enabled us to save lives. Similarly, the psychological unit that we opened enabled survivors and family members waiting for news of their loved ones to have an attentive ear ready to provide them with the necessary support. This support continues to this day", said Véronique TSAKOURA, President of the Gabonese Red Cross.
In the months since the disaster, Gabonese Red Cross psychologists have referred survivors and relatives of the victims to specialist mental health services in Port Gentil for continued assistance. And their door remains open to anyone seeking comfort or a listening ear.
Click here to learn more about our work in mental health and psychosocial support.
Polish Red Cross runs Poland’s largest ever international rescue exercise to prepare for disasters
“One minute is a lot of time.In a rescue, one minute can be decisive,” says Agata Grajek from the Polish Red Cross Medical Rescue Group based in Wrocław.
She’s one of 300 rescuers from seven Red Cross Societies in Europe who gathered last month in Malczyce, a small village in south-western Poland, to take part in the largest Red Cross rescue exercise ever held in the country.
The exercise took place in an abandoned factory to simulate an urban disaster requiring an urgent and complex search and rescue response.
Running for 30 hours non-stop, in both day and nighttime conditions, the gruelling exercise tested Red Cross volunteers and rescue dogs to their limits. Real people, rather than mannequins, posed as citizens injured in a collapsed building to make rescue efforts as realistic as possible.
“We mainly practised the skills of searching the area, coordinating search and rescue operations, and evacuating victims from upper floors,” said Marcin Kowalski, head of the Polish Red Cross rescue team.
The exercise was the 7th national gathering of the 19 specialized Polish Red Cross rescue groups based across the country. For the first time, they also welcomed fellow rescue teams from Lithuania, Germany, Croatia, Hungary, Spain and Finland to practise working effectively together during a response.
“If a humanitarian, construction or natural disaster occurs somewhere, we are always ready to help,” says Pasi Raatikainen, a Finnish Red Cross rescuer who took part in the exercise. Like almost all Red Cross rescuers, Pasi is a volunteer. He leads a four-person rescue team in Helsinki and takes part in exercises – all in his spare time.
“In Finland, there aren’t many training sessions dedicated to urban rescues with the use of rope techniques, so the exercise scenarios in Poland were very instructive,” he says.
It wasn’t just search and rescue teams who got put to the test, though. 60 recent volunteer recruits from the Polish Red Cross’ Humanitarian Aid Groups initiative also took part in the exercise to practise setting up shelters, distributing aid and providing psychosocial support to people affected.
“It warms my heart to see hundreds of people so committed to the idea of the Red Cross.” said Polish Red Cross Director-General, Katarzyna Mikołajczyk.
Based on the experience and learnings from the exercise, the seven Red Cross Societies who took part have now developed a cooperation framework so that they can work together more effectively on search and rescue in future whenever disasters strike across Europe.
No rescuer or volunteer ever hopes for disaster, or hopes they’ll need to put their training into action.
But in a world of increasing and increasingly complex disasters, it’s more important than ever that we take time to practise and prepare – so we can be there for people, whatever the disaster, and as soon as they need us.
Find out more about how the IFRC prepares for disasters on our disaster preparedness page.
Technological and biological hazard preparedness
Technological and biological emergencies, sometimes called 'CBRN' (short for chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear hazards), can have devastating and long lasting impacts on people's lives and livelihoods. The IFRC supports National Societies worldwide to effectively prepare for and respond to technological emergencies using a multi-hazard approach.
Lebanon: Complex emergency
Lebanon has been facing an evolving complex humanitarian crisis since late 2019, generating widespread and growing needs for assistance and protection. Two powerful explosions occurred at the Port of Beirut on 4 August 2020, leaving devastating impacts while the country grapples with overlapping economic and financial crises, political volatility and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The country is also hosting the highest refugee population per capita in the world.
Technological and biological hazards
Technological hazards originate from technological or industrial conditions, dangerous procedures, infrastructure failure or human activity. Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) hazards are all types of technological hazards. They are commonly grouped together because they share lots of similarities, and many of the preparedness and response measuresare the same or very similar. Learn more about these specific hazard types below.
4 months since the Beirut explosion: Lebanese Red Cross Secretary-General explains the situation now
On the 4th of August, a massive explosion occurred in the port area of Beirut, capital of Lebanon, injuring more than 6500 people and affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands. Four months later, a lot has been done but the work is far from finished.
Secretary-General of the Lebanese Red Cross (LRC), Georges Kettaneh, what are the needs of the affected people four months after the explosions?
People need three things: cash, health services and reconstruction of their houses.
We are supporting with the minor repairs and providing cash assistance to the families assessed to be in the most vulnerable situation. We continue the lead in the ambulance services and blood transfusions. We are active in primary health care services, providing mental health support, restoring family links and dead body management. We are also responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in many ways.
How was the situation when the explosion happened on the 4th of August?
We had, and still have, an emergency contingency plan to manage unset emergencies. But the Beirut Port explosion was something we had not prepared for or even imagined in our wildest risk assessment exercises. We acknowledge that the humanitarian needs were too big for us to manage completely.
In 2 minutes, the blast caused devastation beyond imagination. People lost their lives, homes, loved ones. When we went to the streets to assess the needs, we found bodies of people laying on the ground.
We started our needs assessment as soon as possible to have the data that helped us to set priorities. Many people left their houses that were destroyed so we could not reach them. Now, they are coming back to us asking to be included. We had to evacuate people affected by COVID-19 and other patients from the destroyed hospitals to the ones that remained functional, either in Beirut or outside the capital.
How is the mental health of the Lebanese Red Cross staff and volunteers?
We Lebanese often like to project a positive image about ourselves pretending that we are doing fine. But in reality, we have been shaken to the bones. Our volunteers and staff need psychological support as all Lebanese people do.
Personally, I went through many challenging situations throughout my 20-year career as a humanitarian. During the war in Lebanon, I evacuated 21 bodies in 1986 in an explosion in Northern Beirut. I was kidnapped many times. I was under fire from snipers several times. All of this affected me for sure. But the Beirut explosion has been by far the most difficult thing to witness.
When the blast took place, people called me on my mobile screaming that they were injured pleading me to evacuate them. We mobilized all the ambulances and volunteers we could, even the retired ones. Some of the ambulances were not able to reach people because the roads were blocked by the rubble. Paramedics were hearing injured screaming under the rubble of their houses but they were not able to reach them.
As a humanitarian, this is your scariest nightmare.This affected me a lot. Some of my acquaintances and friends died. We all need mental health support in this situation, and the Lebanese Red Cross is doing as much as possible to provide it to everyone willing to receive it.
What have you learned from the explosion and the response operation?
The explosions were a force majeure. We were not prepared for such a thing. We didn’t envisage an explosion in the port. We were fully stretched by the COVID-19 as well as in providing first-aid, COVID-19 awareness and responding otherwise to the demonstrations in various parts of the country. No matter how overwhelmed we might be, we should always be prepared for the worse.
Another learning we got when we started to distribute relief item boxes. At first, we had 400 boxes but only 100 people showed up at the collection points. The community members that were affected by the blast, did not come to the street to receive the relief items they urgently needed. Culturally, coming to the public for the aid was hard for them.
We realized we need to adjust our approach to fit the sensitivities of the community. We decided to distribute the relief items from door-to-door even if it meant more work for us. Then, people were very happy to receive the aid as their dignity was intact.
Does the Lebanese Red Cross have enough resources to help the people in need?
We have gotten enough donations to provide cash assistance for 10,000 families. We are providing 300 US dollars per month to the most vulnerable affected families to cover their basic needs. You can read more about the cash assistance on the Lebanese Red Cross website.
The demand would go beyond the 10,000 families but we don’t have resources for more.
We are thankful for all the donations and support we have received from IFRC, ICRC and Partnering National Societies as well as other partners. We have worked together as one in the response to the explosion. From the Lebanese diaspora and companies, we have received more than 20 million USD as they regarded us as a neutral and trusted organization.
What comes to the economic crisis in Lebanon, we don’t have enough for responding to that in long term. For example, we need to provide livelihood support and shelter for the people, including the Syrian refugees.
In this situation, being transparent and accountable is crucial. Therefore, we have hired an international audit company to monitor our performance and to be as transparent as possible.
3,741 Individuals treated & transported by ambulance
14,499 individuals received primary health support
13,895 blood units distributed to hospitals
22,001 households with 110,005 individuals received food parcels & hygiene kits
49,127 door-to-door household assessments completed
6,019 individuals affected by COVID-19 transported
16,437 individuals received psycho-social support
9,744 vulnerable families received cash assistance
The Lebanese Red Cross launched an appeal for 19 million USD to continue providing emergency medical services and relief operations during the first three months.
IFRC, in support of LRC plan, has appealed for 20 million Swiss francs (21.8 million US dollars) to scale up health, shelter and livelihood support over the coming 24 months. Read more on the Lebanon Red Cross website.
In Beirut: Rana Sidani Cassou, +961 71802779, [email protected]
Beirut Port explosions: Survivors’ needs on the rise while normal life seems far away
Beirut, 4 September 2020: One month after the devastating port explosions in Beirut, the humanitarian needs of the survivors remain unmet and are growing every day.
The horrific disaster on 4 August killed at least 190 people, injured some 6,500 others, and left 300,000 homeless. The volunteers and staff of the Lebanese Red Cross are supporting more than 106,000 of the most vulnerable survivors with ambulance and medical services, psycho-social support, and assessing their short-term and long-term needs.
More than 6,000 households have been assessed to date, and the overwhelming majority – 96 per cent - need assistance with shelters, home repairs, medical care, medications especially for chronic diseases, cash and food assistance. Because of banking restrictions since October 2019, only 13 per cent reported having savings that they could access.
Mr. George Kettaneh, Secretary General of the Lebanese Red Cross, said: “In the very near future, the Lebanese Red Cross will start to distribute direct cash support for at least 10,000 families. We will spend 5 million US dollars every month on direct cash distribution to enable people having some level of dignity in buying their own food and fulfilling their own needs.
“In view of the impact and severity of this disaster, many people will depend on national and international donor support for a long time before they can rebuild their lives and their livelihoods.”
The assessments indicate that more than over half of the survivors assessed (57 per cent) have a family member living with a chronic illness that requires medication, 8 per cent are living with a disability, and 5 per cent are pregnant and lactating mothers.
There have been serious psychological and mental health impact on the general population, including staff and volunteers of Lebanese Red Cross. While the long-term effects are yet to be assessed, the Lebanese Red Cross is providing psycho-social support in three locations near the blast area. Its volunteers and staff are also working to maintain regular services such as emergency medical services and blood transfusion.
Dr. Hossam Elsharkawi, Middle East North Africa Regional Director at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said: “The explosion is no longer in the headlines, but it is still affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who desperately need shelter repairs, medical care, medications, cash, and food. The Lebanese Red Cross are doing everything they can, but they need our and donors support to do more.”
The Lebanese Red Cross launched an appeal for 19 million USD to continue providing emergency medical services and relief operations during the first three months.
IFRC, in support of LRC plan, has appealed for 20 million Swiss francs (21.8 million US dollars) to scale up health, shelter and livelihood support over the coming 24 months. Donate here: https://supportlrc.app/.
In Beirut: Rana Sidani Cassou, [email protected]
Beirut explosion: thousands of families shocked and homeless in devastated city
The Lebanese Red Cross is working around the clock to support hundreds of thousands of people affected by Tuesday’s disaster at the Port of Beirut, with medical treatment, shelter and psychological support.
The National Society deployed Emergency Medical Teams and more than 125 ambulances to the site of the explosion, rescuing injured people and transporting them to medical sites despite some hospitals having been damaged. First aid and triage stations have also been set up to help people with less severe injuries. Red Cross teams are also distributing food, water, hygiene kits, mattresses, masks, gloves and other essential relief items to survivors.
The explosion killed 150 people and has injured more than 5,000. Some 200 people are still believed to be missing.
Huge numbers of people lost their homes in the disaster, with the Lebanese authorities estimating that as many as 300,000 people have been displaced. The Lebanese Red Cross is providing emergency shelter for 1,000 families for the first 72 hours after the crisis and plans to provide shelter to as many as 10,000 families in the coming weeks and months.
Trained volunteers and staff are also providing psychosocial support to survivors and are running Restoring Family Links services to help put separated family members and friends back in touch.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has released 750,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to support the Lebanese Red Cross in providing assistance to 15,000 of the most affected people for two months.
The Lebanese Red Cross is appealing for 19 million US dollars to cover the cost of providing emergency medical services for three months. Donations can be made by wire transfer or via the iRaiser platform.
Genoa bridge collapse: one year on
By Nora Peter, IFRC
This time last year Paola Vicini was keeping vigil at the base of the collapsed Ponte Morandi in Genoa, anxiously waiting for any news of her missing son, Mirko. For five long days, she did not budge from the site, sleeping in a campervan provided by the Italian Red Cross, and being supported by its volunteers.
“Mirko was working at a company close to the bridge. As soon as I heard about the disaster, I rushed to the red zone. Even though I knew it was impossible for him to survive under that debris, I did not give up hope,” she remembers.
During those days of uncertainty and anguish, Paola was supported by Federica, an Italian Red Cross volunteer, and the two of them formed a strong bond. Federica was holding Paola’s hand when Mirko’s body was retrieved from under the ruins.
“I don’t remember much from those days, but I can still recall Federica’s smile. She was my fortress.”
On 14 August 2018, a 200-metre section of the four-lane bridge in Genoa, Italy, collapsed. Vehicles plunged 90 metres onto railway tracks, and buildings below, killing 43 people and injuring 29. 600 people have been displaced.
Together with the military and state authorities, Italian Red Cross search and rescue teams searched for survivors for 26 hours. Two Red Cross nurses helped identify bodies at the Genoa morgue, while 15 other volunteers provided psychosocial support to the families of the victims. Altogether 500 Italian Red Cross volunteers took part in the operation that lasted for 35 days.
Antonio Cecala was another who was helped by the Red Cross volunteers.
“My brother and his family had left for a holiday. When I heard the news about the accident, I tried to call him, but he wouldn’t answer his phone. I got anxious and started making calls to the police and the local hospitals, but nobody had any information. So, I decided to go to Genoa to find out what happened to them,” remembers Antonio.
Amid the chaos, he found support and comfort among the Red Cross volunteers who helped him in the search for his missing relatives. Days later his brother’s car was found under the ruins.
Antonio was so moved by the work of the volunteers that he decided to become one of them. “Since the Red Cross gave me so much, I wanted to give something back to those in need,” he explains.
A video tribute to the rescuers and volunteers, “Ponte Morandi: a year on” can be viewed here.