Press release -

4 big disasters of 2011

Throughout this year, the TV news has been filled with images of aid boxes arriving in countries that have suffered a major disaster.

But disaster relief doesn’t just come in the form of non-perishable food and bottles of water. It’s also the calm and caring voice of a person who can tell you where to go to get help, and how to sign up for long-term support. It’s someone who will lend you a mobile phone so you can contact family. And it’s people with specialist skills who risk their lives in the most dangerous situations  to help survivors.

This year has been a stark reminder of the many forms disaster relief takes, and that anyone – anywhere – can be vulnerable to crises. As part of a global network that has specially trained local volunteers in 186 countries, the British Red Cross has been supporting massive relief operations after four major disasters in 2011.

On February 22, an earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, reduced homes and businesses to rubble. At least 160 people lost their lives and 2,500 were injured. Some survivors were left stranded in damaged homes with no electricity, no running water, no sewerage, and no way to contact anyone.

After the earthquake, New Zealand Red Cross volunteers worked in teams going door-to-door looking for anyone who needed help. Among the people they discovered was a 19-year-old woman and her toddler son living in their car in their driveway. Their home was uninhabitable and they didn’t have enough petrol to drive to a petrol station. The volunteers filled their tank and helped them get to a welfare centre where they would be safe.

When a massive earthquake struck Japan a few weeks later, the Japanese Red Cross responded immediately, carrying out search and rescue, and providing first aid for survivors.

Around 14,000 people have been confirmed dead and some 13,000 remain missing.

Since the disaster struck, the Japanese Red Cross has been providing healthcare, food and water  to the many thousands of people left homeless or displaced by the earthquake, tsunami and ongoing problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

But just as importantly, they’ve been providing psychosocial support for distressed people. In one shelter, for example, an elderly man visited a Red Cross nurse and told her felt unwell. She could tell he was holding back information, so she chatted with him for a while. He finally admitted that he had a colostomy bag, and he was too embarrassed to change it in the shelter. By taking the time to talk, and to make him feel comfortable, the nurse was able to help him find ways to manage his complex health needs.

Someone to help you find family

In the Ivory Coast, violence erupted at the end of 2010 after election results were disputed. More than one million people fled their homes, including over 180,000 who crossed the border to nearby countries. The majority of refugees are now being hosted in villages and camps in Liberia, one of the poorest countries in the world, where food and water supplies are running out and there are not enough shelters or latrines.

In the chaos of fleeing their homes, many displaced people have lost contact with their families. They have no idea whether their husbands, wives, children, parents managed to escape as well. The Liberian Red Cross has volunteers working in camps along the border, registering people who have been separated from their loved ones so they can be reunited.

Emergency healthcare in danger

Emergency responders and local Red Cross or Red Crescent volunteers are usually the first on the scene to help survivors of major disasters. But the conflict in Libya reminds us that they’re just as vulnerable in disasters as the people they’re rushing to help.

The Libyan Red Crescent and its partners are delivering aid to thousands of displaced people in Benghazi, Misrata and around Tripoli, as well as people living in shelters or with relatives in the western mountain areas.

They’re also running a camp in Misrata and distributing food to people who have been displaced. Volunteers are providing first aid and have provided blood bank services to those injured in the conflict. Doctors and nurses from both the Libyan Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are treating people wounded in the fighting.

But those ambulance drivers, first aid volunteers, doctors and nurses are as vulnerable as the casualties they’re helping. Ambulances have been hit, one nurse has died, and several volunteers have been injured.

How you can help

Successful disaster relief operations depend on many things. Volunteers can contact the Red Cross or Red Crescent National Society in their own country to find out how to be prepared for disasters in their communities. For example, the British Red Cross has emergency response and first aid volunteers who support the statutory emergency services in the UK.

Many disaster relief operations also rely on trained professionals who are ready to use their skills anywhere they’re needed.

But none of this work is possible without generous donations from the public. 


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Find out more about the disaster relief operations you can support through the British Red Cross