Red Cross: Helping Victims of War and Natural Disasters
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I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.
Today we report on the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement around the world. The movement helps victims of wars and terrible natural events.
In late December of last year, a severe earthquake in the Indian Ocean produced huge waves that washed over coastlines and deep onto land. The tsunami killed as many as two hundred eighty thousand people and made millions of people homeless in eleven countries.
As many as forty thousand people in Sri Lanka died in the disaster. The water destroyed or heavily damaged almost everything around Galle, Sri Lanka. Valuable coastline washed away. Hotels and entertainment businesses were wrecked.
The top official of the American Red Cross took part in aid work in Galle. Marsha Evans also traveled to other cities hit hardest by the tsunami. The Red Cross and Red Crescent movement have been active in the area since soon after the tsunami struck. Representatives of four American and Asian companies traveled with Ms. Evans. Money given by their companies helped make aid work possible.
Just outside Galle, schoolchildren at the Gintota School welcomed the visitors with smiles and friendly questions. The visitors gave them backpacks for carrying books and other school supplies. Most of their school buildings had been destroyed. But the American Red Cross had built the children a classroom.
The visitors also observed aid workers feeding tsunami survivors at a community center in Galle. The American Red Cross and the World Food Program made it possible for the workers to provide food. In the town of Matara, young people welcomed the visitors with traditional dance and instrumental music. The Sri Lanka Red Crescent Society had filled a storage center in Matara with supplies for thousands of people.
Ms. Evans and the other visitors met one hundred twenty families displaced by the tsunami. The Red Cross president and the donors gave the families sleeping mats and nets to protect against insects. They also gave out cooking supplies and water containers.
During a single week in March, the American Red Cross provided needed supplies to more than fourteen thousand families in Galle. Fifteen thousand families in Matara also received the goods. So did more than eleven thousand families in Hambantota (HUM-bun-toh-tah), also in southern Sri Lanka.
People throughout the world welcome the flags and signs of the Red Cross movement during natural disasters and war. The Red Cross flag shows two red lines crossing against a white background. The Red Crescent serves mainly Muslim countries. Its flag shows a red crescent. These flags on buildings, vehicles and aid workers' clothing mean "Do not attack."
Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations help survivors of natural disasters besides earthquakes and tsunamis. They also serve at floods, fires, landslides, wind and ocean storms and volcanic explosions.
When thousands of people flee their homes, Red Cross and Red Crescent teams go to work. The teams study the situation and conditions. They observe if the people are moving from country to country or inside their homeland. Are the people running from oppression and war? Are they moving because of natural disasters or economic reasons? The answers help decide how the aid effort will be organized.
During fighting, Red Cross and Red Crescent operations react to needs in order of importance. Safe water supply and personal health conditions are most important. So are emergency health care and temporary shelter.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is the lead agency within the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement. In conflict areas, national societies support the movement. The agencies help people rebuild their lives after war.
A coalition makes possible the work of the Red Cross movement. It has more than one hundred eighty national aid societies. The societies belong to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The American Red Cross is one such national organization. Money given by American citizens mainly supports this private organization. Most of its work is done by people who offer their services without pay. The American Red Cross trains millions of people in life-saving skills. It provides health care for more than two million people.
The American Red Cross carries out many activities in the United States. It supplies more than half the nation's blood products. The American Red Cross aids people in the armed services. It helps them communicate with their families. Thousands of families each year receive emergency information about service members in faraway places. Many years after World War Two, the Red Cross has re-united survivors of German Nazi prison camps with family members.
The Red Cross has taught millions of people to swim. They are among many Americans who learned safety and health measures in Red Cross classes last year. Red Cross community programs provide food for poor people. Volunteers take meals to people unable to prepare their own food. Other volunteers visit patients in hospitals and nursing homes.
The American Red Cross sends help to thousands of areas in the United States each year. For example, Red Cross volunteers helped after tragedy recently struck an American Indian reservation. The North Star Red Cross group of Bemidji, Minnesota served food to two hundred fifty people in Red Lake, Minnesota.
The volunteers held the dinner after a young man shot nine people to death in Red Lake. He also wounded fourteen others before killing himself. Mental health workers from a Red Cross group in Duluth, Minnesota provided emotional support for affected families.
The national Red Cross organizations cooperate through the headquarters of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Federation headquarters is in Geneva, Switzerland.
The International Committee of the Red Cross also has headquarters in Geneva. This group acts as a neutral negotiator among warring nations to protect human rights. It tries to guarantee that the Geneva Conventions are obeyed. These international rules provide for humane treatment of soldiers and civilians. For example, prisoners of war may not be tortured to get military information from them. And, poison gas is banned as a weapon.
The International Red Cross Conference meets every four years to discuss the Geneva Conventions. The meeting in two thousand three centered on the protection of human rights. The Red Cross and Red Crescent movement believes nations must take more responsibility for reducing violence and unfair treatment. The movement urges improved conditions for people suffering from war and disaster.
The proposal that led to the Red Cross movement was made more than one hundred forty years ago. A Swiss citizen named Jean Henri Dunant proposed that every country establish permanent aid organizations. Mr. Dunant said these groups should be politically neutral. He wanted the organizations to help sick and wounded soldiers.
Mr. Dunant had seen the terrible suffering of soldiers injured in war. He established a field hospital in the battle area for the wounded soldiers of both sides after a conflict in Italy. That was in eighteen fifty-nine, during the Austro-Sardinian War.
Mr. Dunant wrote about his experiences in a book, "A Memory of Solferino." His book helped many people understand the need for a worldwide aid agency. The influence of Jean Henri Dunant helped create the International Committee of the Red Cross. It was established at a meeting in Geneva in eighteen sixty-three.
Today, the organization that developed from his proposal continues to help people around the world.
This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember.
And I'm Faith Lapidus Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.