Supporting the homeless in Spain: Spanish Red Cross volunteers offer a warm embrace on cold winter nights
Four candles on a rickety table are the only heating and lighting in the makeshift home of Sonia and José Antonio, the four walls around them seemingly held up by a miracle
As lighting, the candles do their job, at least, for the tiny living space. As heating, the candles don’t cut it: a cold night of 6 degrees both outside, and inside.
The repeated dry coughs of 38-year-old Sonia are just one consequence of the lack of heat. Of the kind of cold that gets into your bones.
“They should give her a VIP card at the hospital,” jokes José Antonio, as he lists her lung ailments.
They’ve been a couple for four years, almost as long as they’ve lived between these four walls in the middle of a site that was once an important truck factory on the outskirts of Alcalá de Henares, Madrid.
Tonight, like so many others, they are visited by Juani and Basilio, two volunteers from the Spanish Red Cross homeless care teams. They have brought some food, as the two mastiff puppies, who keep looking for cuddles from the volunteers, can sense.
"Come on, get down from there," José Antonio scolds one of them, "you don't have to be cuddly, you have to defend the home," he laments. A generator was recently stolen from them, and with it, their heat.
The Red Cross volunteers advise the couple on some of the assistance they can offer and other administrative procedures, but, above all, they share their time.
"Our main job is to listen, to get them to open up. Imagine that you live alone, in the street, and you have no one to talk to from the moment you get up until the moment you go to bed," says Basilio, a former military man, who is now in his second year as a volunteer in the homeless care programme.
Juani and Basilio's route next takes them to the unfinished changing rooms of a sports facility in the area. There are no windows, no doors, no electricity, no water. The current ‘tenant’, Javier, arrives shortly after by bicycle.
By the light of mobile phones, walking among the rubble, you can see broken mattresses, discarded clothes and empty food cans.
But the laughter begins. Javier has found himself a new girlfriend, and proudly shows pictures of her off to volunteers Juani and Basilio on his mobile phone. He is very happy with her. His last girlfriend had beat him.
"That's the main problem, the dependencies that many of the people we work with carry with them and the violence that accompanies them", Basilio points out.
Juani and Basilio's nocturnal route then takes them to an old warehouse in an industrial estate in Alcalá. There they will have another laugh and a few jokes with 68-year-old Moisa, of Romanian origin.
Moisa has managed to turn the old warehouse into something resembling a home. He even has a television set on which he watches cowboy movies, the old-fashioned kind that he likes.
As he lights up a cigarette, under the disapproving gaze of Juani and Basilio, they begin to talk about the divine and the human and quickly move on from politics to lighter subjects, such as the singer Carla Bruni.
After dropping off some food, Basilio and Juani begin the journey back to the Red Cross headquarters in Alcalá.
They feel a bit sad, they say. They recently lost a friend from the street. A ‘family member’, they call him. Because, to them, they are all like family.
"At least he didn't die in the street, they were able to take him to the hospital and he passed away in a bed," Basilio stresses.
"In spite of everything, we have to go on, we can't take our problems home and let the situations we live through break us; I can help if I'm well, if I smile", says Juani, who has spent time on sick leave in the past when another person he was supporting passed away.
Comprehensive support for the homeless
Juani and Basilio are two of the more than 5,000 Spanish Red Cross volunteers who work with homeless people in Spain.
The Spanish Red Cross runs 77 Social Emergency Units (UES) for this purpose in nearly 40 provinces. In addition, they offer 800 places in temporary accommodation for critical moments and run 31 day centres in which they can offer showers, laundry or canteen services when needed.
As part of a wider network of organisations providing support to homeless people, they can also refer or transport people who need help to other accommodation or services as needed.
"The aim of our work is not only to provide basic goods such as food, shelter and hygiene products, but also to work for the social inclusion of homeless people," says Raquel Zafra, head of the programme in Alcalá de Henares.
"Our aim is always for people to go to different spaces where we can provide more in-depth support in the form of social care, monitoring and accompaniment, information and guidance, mediation, or training activities", stresses Zafra.
Through the Social Emergency Units, the Spanish Red Cross assisted more than 18,000 people in 2022.
| Press release
Afghanistan: Unending crises driving millions to breaking point
Kuala Lumpur/Kabul/Geneva 15 August – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is renewing its call for increased global solidarity with the people of Afghanistan who continue to face immense humanitarian need.
Simultaneous crises in the country have caused some of the worst suffering in recent generations.
A cocktail of disasters and crises has battered the country for more than a year now, with new shocks worsening conditions that were already dire. In late June, an earthquake struck south-East Afghanistan killing more than 1,000 people and destroying or damaging homes of 60,000 households leaving them exposed to the elements. Starting July into August, off-season rains brought floods that washed away livelihoods and aggravated humanitarian needs across more than 20 provinces.
Mawlawi Mutiul Haq Khales, Afghan Red Crescent Acting President, said:
"The past 12 months have been extremely difficult for our people as economic hardship, exacerbated by sanctions-related limitations to access income, piles pressure on millions who were already battling acute food insecurity, poverty, and many other shocks.
"We, in Afghan Red Crescent, have scaled up our response operation in every province and our extensive network of volunteers continues to deliver assistance which is really a lifeline particularly to those excluded even from the most basic support, especially widows and their children.
"Contributions from our local and international partners have been critical, and we are truly grateful. We are asking for continued support because millions of our people will rely on long term humanitarian interventions to meet their very basic needs."
With the support of the IFRC and other partners, the Afghan Red Crescent response operation has so far reached more than 150,000 households with food assistance and at least 15,000 households with cash distributions. Its more than 140 health facilities, among them mobile health teams, also continue to provide primary health services including routine immunizations across Afghanistan.
Humanitarian assistance needs to be sustained.
Necephor Mghendi, IFRC's Head of Delegation for Afghanistan, said:
"The people of Afghanistan cannot be forgotten. This is now one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with over 20 million people remaining in need of urgent assistance."
"As the world's largest humanitarian network, we are responding in many ways to help aid vulnerable communities. IFRC continues to support the Afghan Red Crescent in its humanitarian efforts, but the succession of crises and disasters is driving millions to breaking point, resulting in a massive humanitarian need that is putting immense strain on the availability of resources.
"Winter is coming, and we are worried that lives could be lost if we do not act early enough to alleviate conditions for people whose coping capacities are weakened by multiple shocks."
The IFRC and Afghan Red Crescent are ramping up preparedness for a potentially harsh winter, which will be upon the country in a few months. The greatest concern is high-altitude areas where temperatures are very likely to drop below minus-10 degrees. Procurement of winter clothing, winter boots, thermal blankets, heating stoves and other essentials is underway in readiness.
To support the Afghan Red Crescent, the IFRC has appealed to the international community for 90 million Swiss francs to deliver urgent humanitarian aid to more than 1 million people affected by multiple crises. Winter preparedness forms a critical part of the plan.
To arrange an interview, get access to audio-visuals, or for more information, contact:
Asia Pacific Office: Rachel Punitha, +60-197-913-830, [email protected]
Asia Pacific Office: Joe Cropp, +61 491 743 089, [email protected]
| Press release
Syria: Extremely harsh winter raises acute humanitarian needs to highest level ever
Damascus/Beirut, 27 January 2022–Extreme winter conditions are putting communities already overwhelmed by overlapping crises in immediate danger, resulting in the highest level of acute humanitarian needs ever in Syria, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) warns. In many areas, this winter has been one of the coldest in the past decade, with snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures.
IFRC is deeply concerned about the situation in the country as the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has reached the highest since the start of the crisis. According to the UN, a total of 14.6 million people needs support, 1.2 million more than in 2021. 6.9 million people are internally displaced.
Mads Brinch Hansen, Head of the IFRC Delegation in Syria, said:
“Exceptionally cold weather is making the lives of many people all around Syria even more difficult, especially the displaced communities living in temporary shelters who don’t have appropriate clothing or heating for sub-zero temperatures.
“The situation in Syria is worse than ever. The price of basic commodities such as food and fuel has skyrocketed making them unaffordable for the majority of people, escalations of violence are intensifying, and COVID-19 continues to put an extra burden on communities. At the same time, funding for humanitarian actors is shrinking.”
Eng. Khaled Hboubati, President of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), said:
“Daily, our volunteers in Hassakeh and everywhere in Syria see more people who are asking for support, more children who are without winter clothes in the middle of the storm. The situation is getting worse amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic sanctions that complicate our humanitarian response.
“We will continue doing our best to alleviate the suffering of millions of people and preserve their dignity. We need the support from partners and donors to restore the livelihoods of people and ensure sustainable solutions to accelerate the recovery.”
Hassakeh, where up to 45,000 people have been displaced by recent violence at Sina'a Prison, is one of the hardest-hit regions with sub-zero temperatures making the winter one of the coldest in recent history. Snow has also covered the Al-Hol camp, which hosts more than 60,000 displaced people.
SARC continues to be the main humanitarian actor in the country with thousands of volunteers responding to the acute needs caused by the conflict, economic crisis, and COVID-19 as well as the cold wave.
In Hassakeh, SARC has a key role in evacuating as well as providing medical services and drinking water for the newly displaced and the communities hosting them.
Almost 11 years since the start of the conflict, Syria continues to be one of the biggest and most complex humanitarian crises globally. Homes and whole cities have been utterly destroyed, forcing mass displacement.
According to the UN, 90 percent of the population in Syria lives below the poverty line and 70 percent are facing acute food shortages – figures that have not seen improvement in recent years due to the economic downturn, instability and disasters driven by climate change. In 2021, Syria faced the worst drought in more than 50 years.
To scale up the Syrian Arab Red Crescent's humanitarian response and meet the growing needs, IFRC calls for partners and donors to continue showing their solidarity towards the people in Syria. Funding is more urgent than ever to ensure Syrian people can cover their basic needs and maintain a life of dignity.
For more information:
In Beirut: Jani Savolainen, IFRC, [email protected], +961 70372812
In Damascus: Rahaf Aboud, Syrian Arab Red Crescent, [email protected], +963 959999853
IFRC Syria Country Plan
For the editors:
About the Syrian Arab Red Crescent:
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) is the main humanitarian actor in Syria. It has more than 13,500 staff members and volunteers in 14 branches and 97 sub-branches nationwide. Annually SARC reaches 5.6 million people with humanitarian assistance.
About the IFRC:
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world’s largest humanitarian network, comprising 192 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies working to save lives and promote dignity around the world. With a permanent delegation in Syria since 2007, IFRC has played a pivotal role in providing humanitarian services and supporting the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) in their organisational and strategic development and in strengthening SARC’s operational capacity.
A cold wave, sometimes knownas a cold snap or deep freeze, is a weather event involving a cooling of the air,or the invasion of very cold air, over a large area. It is marked by a drop of average temperature well belowthe averages of a region. Cold waves can havenegative impactson people, crops, properties and services. Theycan be preceded or accompanied by significant winter weather events, such as blizzards or ice storms. And they can feel even colder during periods of high winds.
| Press release
Red Cross provides relief ahead of extreme winter season in Mongolia
Ulaanbaatar/Kuala Lumpur, 12 January 2021 –Forecasts of one of the most extreme winters on record in Mongolia have triggered the release of pre-emptive emergency funds in a bid to protect the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable herders, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) announced today.
Mongolia’s National Agency for Meteorology and Environmental Monitoring has warned that more than 60 per cent of the country is at risk of an extreme winter, with temperatures forecast to plummet to extreme lows of -50C for days on end.
These extreme winters – known asdzud– threaten the health and livelihoods of thousands of Mongolian herders living in the country’s remote central and southern provinces.Dzudis caused by the double impact of drought in the summer followed by harsh winter conditions. Without summer rain, grass does not grow and millions of farm animals cannot put on enough weight to survive the winter and farmers are unable to grow sufficient harvests.
Mongolian Red Cross Society Secretary GeneralBolormaa Nordovsaid:
“Dzuds are devastating for the herder families who rely on their animals for almost everything, whether it’s meat and milk for food, or the cashmere and skins they sell to buy supplies or pay school fees. Losing their animals mean they can quickly fall into poverty.”
“Without support, extreme winter brings misery, hunger and hardship for thousands of families forcing many to move to squatter settlements outside Ulaanbaatar, our capital. This anticipatory action allows us to help some of the most at-risk people before the harsh winter sets in.”
The unwelcome news of the coming dzudhas triggered the release of nearly 290,000 Swiss francs (about 314,000 US dollars) from the IFRC’s Disaster Relief Emergency Fund. This will allow the Mongolian Red Cross to support 2,000 herder families in a bid to prevent major stock and economic loss through the distribution of cash grants and animal care kits.
The release of these funds come as part of the IFRC’s Forecast-based Financing approach. Under this approach, IFRC works with scientific partners to combine weather forecasts and risk analyses to develop pre-agreed thresholds that trigger the release of emergency funding with a view to limiting or even outright preventing the adverse consequences of climate hazards like the dzud.This early action is conducted in partnership with other humanitarian actors including the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
IFRC’s Regional Forecast-Based Financing Coordinator, Raymond Zingg, said:
“The goal of Forecast-based Financing is to anticipate disasters, prevent their impact as best as possible to reduce human suffering and losses. The key element is to agree in advance to release financial resources if a specific forecast threshold is triggered.
“Simply waiting for disasters to strike is no longer an option. Climate change is bringing more frequent and severe disasters and our anticipatory action approach is helping communities move from reacting after extreme weather events to preparing before these emergencies.”
In 2010, the dzudkilled more than 11 million animals and thousands of herder families were forced off the land. Mongolia’s Information and Research Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment has predicted that severe dzuds like the 2010 event will become more frequent, occurring every four to five years instead of every 10.
Forecast-based Financing: Early Action Protocol in place to protect Peru’s alpaca herders
The Red Cross and Red Crescent’s first ever Early Action Protocol funded by IFRC’sForecast-based Action by the DREF – which will useforecast-based financingto support herder families in the high Andes region of Peru – is now in place and ready for activation.
The protocol is designed to help herder families to protect their lives and livelihoods during periods of extreme cold weather. The early action will be activated based on a five-day climate forecast, which will give the Peruvian Red Cross a period of four days to act before the start of an extreme cold wave.
This EAP was developed by the Peruvian Red Cross with support from the German Red Cross, the German Foreign Office, IFRC and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, and is designed to shift humanitarian action from response to anticipation – a shift that could save lives and dramatically reduce costs compared to traditional emergency relief.
Lebanon: Storm Norma brings rain, snow… and two babies
By Rana Sidani Cassou
More than 300 Lebanese Red Cross volunteers and staff have been working round the clock to protect people from the rain and snow of Storm Norma, performing nearly 600 rescue missions – and delivering two beautiful, healthy babies inside ambulances.
The Red Cross rescue missions have taken place all over Lebanon and have included emergency response support following 49 road accidents with one CPR.
Volunteers transported seven pregnant women to hospitals to deliver their babies, one of whom - a baby girl - was in such a hurry to see the world that volunteers had to deliver her inside the ambulance. A second baby, a boy, was born in another Red Cross ambulance on 9 January.
The National Society has deployed more than 45 ambulances to take patients to hospital for treatment for heart attacks, dialysis, and other emergency cases, and has also also evacuated more than 700 Syrian refugees from five flooded camps, bringing them to safety and providing relief supplies. Lebanese Red Cross blood centres have also distributed around 100 units of blood to hospitals in need.
With a further 200 trained volunteers on standby, the Lebanese Red Cross is ready to scale up the response should the storm intensify. People are advised to stay inside their houses and call 140 in case they need help.