Category Archives: Emergencies

Famous for being there before, during and after a disaster, Caritas launched international responses to 40 emergencies in 2007.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon: a ray of light

Caritas doctors reaching out to Syrian refugees (Photo: Val Morgan)

Caritas doctors reaching out to Syrian refugees (Photo: Val Morgan)

Val Morgan from the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) blogs on the Caritas Syrian refugee emergency response from Lebanon and Jordan

Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley is just over an hour’s drive east of Beirut towards the Syrian border. Our first stop was the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre at Taalabaya where newcomers are registered and aid is distributed, including medicines.

There are currently 13 mobile clinics which travel to camps all over the country. One of the clinics has set up shop outside the Caritas centre in Taalabaya. Here, the doctor, Joseph Homsi, says he will see between 50 and 100 people a day. Joseph is from Zahleh, the main city of the Bekaa region, and he epitomises the selfless dedication of the Caritas Lebanon staff.

“I’m a humanitarian. I want to provide emergency care for Syrian refugees. I’m doing the thing I love,” he said. This was despite the fact that many people come and shout at them when they aren’t able to help them more. This, Joseph said, was sometimes difficult to take as they are doing everything they can but there simply aren’t enough doctors or medicines for the people who need help.

While I was with him, a young boy came in who had been involved in a car accident four days ago and his face was badly cut but he hadn’t had stitches because his family don’t have any money. Dr Homsi put a clean dressing on, gave his mother some anti-inflamatory medicine and antibiotics to tackle any infection. Caritas also arranged for the boy to go to a nearby hospital for surgery to re-open the cut and stitch it properly – Caritas will pay the US$100 charge for them.

Outside there were a number of queues. One was for registering people when they first arrive – this is to log their basic details and identify their situation and their needs. Each family is assessed and decisions made on what type of aid they should receive. Everyone will at least receive food and hygiene kits but the most vulnerable will receive additional help such as clothes, blankets, mattresses, plastic sheeting if they’re creating a shelter, fuel, stoves as well as basic medical care.

Another queue, of about 30 to 40 women and children, waited to pick up medicine from a nurse in the mobile clinic itself – essentially a small van full of drugs. After the consultation with the doctor, who prescribes the medicine, a list is then given to Aline Ephrema, the Caritas nurse in charge. Proscriptions being given out include medicine for babies and a wide range of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, diarrhoea and hypertension.

Aline, another incredibly positive person operating in what is an extremely tough situation, highlighted again that the situation is getting worse as more and more refugees flood into the county.

“This time last year I would see around 30 people per day here – now it is up to 70 or so,” she told me. I asked her why she worked for Caritas and how she dealt with the hardship she faces each day. She simply told me, “I love to help others. I feel very bad for the refugees because they have had to flee their homes – I would certainly not like to leave my home.”

Speaking with the Caritas staff and seeing their undimmed positivity was like ray of sunshine in what is otherwise a very dark storm.

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Filed under Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Syria, Lebanon, Middle East & North Africa, Peacebuilding, Syria, United Kingdom

Syrian refugees in Lebanon: Born under bombs

Adnan with wife and granddaughter.  Photo by Val Morgan/Sciaf

Adnan with wife and granddaughter. Photo by Val Morgan/Sciaf

Val Morgan from the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) blogs on the Caritas Syrian refugee emergency response from Lebanon and Jordan

“Our home was destroyed and my brother-in-law killed when a bomb landed directly on our house. I survived as I was in another room from him. Many others were injured.” This was the terrifying story of 24-year old Zeinab who fled with her husband and two children from Maarret El Noman-Edeeb in Syria five months ago.

Zeinab was just one of a number of Syrians I met on my visit to the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. Between 3,000 to 4,000 Syrians cross the border into Lebanon each day – many deeply traumatised, having seen family members killed and their homes destroyed. Official estimates of refugees now in the country stand at around 1.5 million. In a country where the total Lebanese population is 4 million, it is easy to imagine the huge impact the Syrian war is having on neighbouring countries.

Tensions between refugees and the host communities are rising and outbreaks of violence have occurred in several places, including Tripoli. One of the major issues is unemployment, with many Lebanese unable to get work as the refugees accept much less money for the same jobs as they are so desperate to provide food, shelter, clothing and medical care for their families. Another family I spoke to go out collecting and selling any recyclable rubbish they can find on the street. It still isn’t enough for them to support themselves.

Fr Simon Faddoul, the president of Caritas Lebanon told me, “There are immense numbers now. We try to mediate between the people – both Syrian and Lebanese. Our social workers are all over the country helping.”

Money being provided by Caritas agencies around the world is helping to provide food, clothing, blankets, temporary shelters, rent vouchers, trauma counselling and medical care. Since the conflict began in March 2011, Caritas Lebanon has helped over 125,000 people – that’s roughly 10 to 15 per cent of the Syrian population in the country.

We should be under no illusions. What is happening here is an abominable human tragedy on an almost unimaginable scale. Each family I met today has lost everything and their immediate future looks bleak at best. The fantastic work being done by Caritas is providing vital lifelines to many thousands but the continuing flow of newcomers is overwhelming the capacity and resources of those who are trying to help.

It is heart-breaking to listen to so many stories of people in such desperate situations. However, there was one beautiful moment when I met an elderly couple and their family in the Baddaoui camp. They fled Damascus one year ago. As I sat chatting with them a ten month old baby girl crawled into the room and joined them. The husband, Adnan, told me that it was their first grandchild. They beamed. I said I was so happy for them and offered my sincere congratulations. It really lifted my spirits, despite the proud grandfather adding that the baby had been born under the bombs of Aleppo.

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Filed under Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Syria, Europe, Lebanon, Middle East & North Africa, Peacebuilding, Refugees, Syria, United Kingdom

Two weeks after Philippines quake, residents overcoming tragedy

A family of four live in this very small makeshift tent erected at Loon. They are prohibited from returning to their house in barangay Napo where liquefaction and a sink hole have been reported. They are unable to expand their tents because there are no more tarps available in Loon. Loon Park, Loon, Bohol. Garrett Nolasco/CRS Philippines

A family of four live in this very small makeshift tent erected at Loon. They are prohibited from returning to their house in barangay Napo where liquefaction and a sink hole have been reported. They are unable to expand their tents because there are no more tarps available in Loon. Loon Park, Loon, Bohol. Garrett Nolasco/CRS Philippines

Caritas relief efforts are well underway for the survivors of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck the Philippine islands of Bohol and Cebu two weeks ago, on 15 October. Caritas Philippines (known locally as NASSA) is getting tarpaulins for temporary shelters to some of the hardest hit areas as well as giving out food.

“It’s a catastrophic situation,” said Fr. Edwin A. Gariguez, Executive Secretary of Caritas Philippines. “People are not ready to go back to their homes and are still in evacuation centres or with friends and family.”

People in the evacuation centres have limited access to drinking water and sanitation facilities.

Caritas relief efforts are focusing on Maribojoc and three other areas in Bohol, where the national Caritas is working with Caritas members from the UK, North America, Singapore and Japan to get the aid through to around 20,000 people.

“We are used to emergencies in the Philippines,” said Fr. Gariguez. “But this earthquake was totally unexpected. The good thing has been that the people are really resilient. They have been able to help one another cope with this disaster.”

Although the death toll was low “thanks to a miracle it was a holiday”, Fr. Gariguez said the level of destruction is huge. Over three million people have been affect, bridges, roads and houses destroyed.

“One of the hardest things for the people is to see so many old churches destroyed,” he said. “We are a very religious people and to see old churches flattened has added to the tragedy for many people.”

“My heart dropped when I saw the rubble of the parish church in Clarin. The churches in Bohol date back to the earliest days of Catholicism in the Philippines in the 1600s,” said Catholic Relief Services Philippines emergency program manager Arnaldo “Arar” Arcadio. CRS is a Caritas member with headquarters in the USA.

“They represent the depth and richness of my own Catholic faith. And while the structural damage is an enormous blow, the loss of more than 150 lives strikes the “living Church” in Bohol, a true heartbreak,” he said.

But Fr. Gariguez said he has been moved by the response to the disaster in the parish. “Priests and
parishioners may have lost their churches, but their energy and organisation in helping those in need has been truly impressive,” he said.

For CRS’s Arar, he said “As I go to mass on Sunday, I will take heart that the “living Church” doesn’t reside in a structure. Today I saw the Church in the faces of neighbours helping each other, and in the priests and laypeople who are working tirelessly in very difficult conditions.”

Caritas Philippines say they still need to mobilise funds to help those in need, with international appeals receiving less than half of what’s needed.

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Central African Republic: a lost generation

Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalaing of Bangui and President of Caritas Central african Republic. © Xavier Schwebel/SC

Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalaing of Bangui and President of Caritas Central African Republic. © Xavier Schwebel/SC

Read this in French

Central African Republic has descended into anarchy after rebels seized power in March. The situation has recently deteriorated with popular militias being formed to defend the local population against the rebels, sparking a cycle of retaliation. Marina Bellot of Secours Catholique (Caritas France) spoke with Caritas Central African Republic President Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalaing of Bangui about the crisis in his country.

In June, you said that Central African Republic was slowly dying. What is the situation today?

On 24 March, President François Bozizé was overthrown by a coalition of rebel forces called Seleka. Many of the rebel forces come from outside the country, from Chad and Sudan. The coup d’état came with promises of freedom and peace, but that was quickly replaced by disillusionment among the people.
We have never witnessed such widespread looting. There have been rapes and execution in full sight of everyone. We are accustomed to coups here, but normally they last for two or three days and the leaders of the ousted regime are the only ones who suffer. The current crisis has been going on for four to five months and the whole country is in pain.

It was saddening that rebel fighters looted and vandalized our churches. In some dioceses, all our vehicles were stolen in front of the bishop and priests, who were helpless to prevent them. Now, our pastors have no transport to reach the population.

We’re not surprised that people are fighting back in what I call a “revolt of the poor”. They are desperate, they have lost their parents, their children and their homes. What else do they have to lose.

The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF has expressed concern about the use of child soldiers.

Young people are suffering the most in the crisis. There have been no schools since December. Teachers with links to the former government have been hunted down. They have fled, leaving the children to fend for themselves. Some have been recruited as child soldiers, swapping their pens for Kalashnikovs. How will we be able to get them back to school? This is a lost generation.

The population seems deeply divided…

The Seleka rebellion has broken down our civil order. The rebels have sought to exploit religious difference in the country. Many of the fighters, especially those from Sudan and Chad, are Muslim and speak only Arabic. They speak only with our native Muslims, giving the guns and inciting them.
People equate Seleka with Islam. But that is dangerous thinking. This is not a religious conflict but a political crisis. That different faiths live side by side is a reality of this country. Our history of co-existence and soial cohesion should not be destroyed. But today everyone lives in fear of the other.

What role can the Church play?

Muslim, Protestant and Catholic national religious leaders work together to defuse tensions and explain that the crisis is political. We also train grassroots mediators to reduce conflict in communalities.

The Catholic Church provides aid to those in need. Caritas gives food and clothes and has provided seeds for replanting.

Do humanitarian agencies have access to people in need?

Most aid agencies are unable to leave the capital Bangui because of the danger. In September, two aid workers were killed. We need secure humanitarian corridors so that we can reach all the people.
What can the international community do?
The African Union peacekeeping mission MISCA must be strengthened. Some African countries would like to participate but don’t have the financial means to do so. We want the UN to strengthen its presence. We need security so that people don’t live in fear and can go about their daily lives.

Can the crisis be dealt with by the national government?

The president’s authority is weak. His support is not strong. His generals don’t obey him. The soldiers obey their generals. This is anarchy.
The government has no money. Civil servants haven’t been paid for three months. There aren’t chairs or computers in offices. How can they do their jobs?

Elections must be held in within 18 months. We must do everything to ensure this happens.

Caritas Central African Republic needs further support to carry out its humanitarian work.

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Filed under Africa, Central African Republic, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Central African Republic, France, Peacebuilding

A refugee remembers Syria

The business of Karim, a shoemaker, was destroyed during bombings in Syria. He, his wife, Zahaya, and their year-old son also lost their home to the violence. The family has been living in this tent in Lebanon since late June 2013. Photo by Sam Tarling for CRS

The business of Karim, a shoemaker, was destroyed during bombings in Syria. He, his wife, Zahaya, and their year-old son also lost their home to the violence. The family has been living in this tent in Lebanon since late June 2013. Photo by Sam Tarling for CRS

By Caroline Brennan,

A family photo album. “If only I could see it,” says Zahaya. “Only then could I get the fuller picture.”

Zahaya, 21, is talking about her family and  life in Syria that was so recent—just a year or so ago—that might as well have been another lifetime.

We are sitting in her tent in the summer heat in a growing refugee settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Many refugees have come from their neighbouring tents, and they all want to talk about the Syria they remember. They are taking me back in time—all the way to 2010. They serve coffee, though they have nothing. It is the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, so they are not drinking. They insist and, after some time, there is no way to refuse their offer.

The nostalgia for what Syria was – and the effort to convey that  longing to others – seems to be for so many refugees the last grip on a normal life, to keep themselves from losing their minds. What is happening to their country is simply beyond comprehension. Many of them echo the same message: “We were the country that helped so many people in need. We were the stable ones in the Arab region.” Says Mona, a young woman in the group, “We are humiliated.”

Zahaya keeps referring to the lost family album. It’s not just a book to her—that is clear. It’s not just the loss of something in a move—that can happen to any of us. The album is central to her identity and is now a crucial document in her search for help.

She and her husband, Karim, lived in Ras Al-Ayn, a town near the Turkish border. They were safe for some time during the first year of the civil war in Syria, a conflict that began in March 2011 with a peaceful protest in the south that gradually escalated into a deadly fight for the country. Estimates put the number of people killed in Syria from March 2011 to July 2013 at about 93,000 to 100,000 people. Millions of people have been uprooted inside the country, and at least 1.6 million people having fled into neighboring countries to seek help.

As the indiscriminate violence began to transform sleepy middle-class towns and urban neighborhoods, Zahaya’s family started to feel the creep of danger.

Two events were pivotal to Zahaya’s decision to flee.

Zahaya’s mother, who was suffering from cancer but had already fled to Lebanon when violence engulfed her village, tried to return to Syria for chemotherapy that she couldn’t afford in Lebanon. The bus she was traveling on was hit by a bomb. No one survived. Zahaya still has trouble talking about it today.

Around the same time, Zayaha’s neighborhood started to shake from bombings at night. Community members decided to sleep outside to keep each other safe. One night in April 2013, after waking up, she and her husband walked back to their home and saw that it had been demolished.

“When we saw the house, a house we had worked so hard to physically build, we would have preferred to have died in our house than to see it that way,” Zahaya says. “We had nothing, only the clothes we were wearing. We knew it was time to leave.”

The family tried to go to Turkey, because it was close by, “but even that was too dangerous with bombings and insecurity,” says Zahaya.

So they made their way to Lebanon. Zahaya, Karim and their 1-year old son took several buses and made attempts to cross at three different borders. They were turned away each time because they didn’t have their papers or proof of identity—all destroyed in their house—and because they didn’t have any photos. “No albums?” they were asked when prompted to prove that Zahaya was in fact the mother of her son.

This affront to their identity seems to be the deepest wound many Syrians have endured. Their country is a living nightmare. Their homes and livelihoods are gone. Their families are torn apart. They have nothing to show for everything they lived and worked for.

“It is very difficult to live here in a tent. We live here because we have no money to pay for rent. We have no shower or bath here. We have no running water or electricity,” says Zahaya. “As a mother, it is difficult to manage my family here. Even when I want to bring water to clean clothes, my clothes get dirty with the process of collecting the water.”

The refugee families clutch memories shared in these tents and a hope that they will one day return and rebuild Syria as they remember it. For now, they try to create a semblance of home in another country, in living conditions far below their standards, awaiting news on the safety of loved ones.

“We want all countries around the world to know how we live in this very bad situation,” Zahaya says.” Our children have asthma, illnesses, allergies that we are struggling to care for here. Our life was good before. We were not afraid before.

“Even if I have to live in a tent in Syria, I will go back home the moment it is safe,” she adds.

Her mind goes back to Syria. Without photos of her family to show visitors or to convey what her country means to her, Zahaya hopes that words can do her justice.

“The characteristics of Syrians are generous and helpful. In [previous conflicts in the region] people came to Syria for help. We opened our schools and homes to them. We welcomed them.

“We hope people will be kind to us.”

Editor’s Note: Caritas Lebanon provide critical food, shelter and living supplies to Zahaya and her family. Caroline Brennan is a CRS senior communications officer. She is based in Chicago.

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Filed under Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, Emergencies in Syria, Lebanon, Middle East & North Africa, North America, Peacebuilding, Syria, United States

Relief efforts start in India after Cyclone Phailin leaves trail of destruction

Image

Credit: Caritas India

Hundreds of thousands of people in India need help after Cyclone Phailin flattened their homes and destroyed their livelihoods.  Many people remain marooned with their villages cut off due to high flood waters.

It was the strongest storm ever to make landfall on India, crashing into the eastern coast at the weekend. The cyclone caused great swathes of damage in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh states. As many as 9 million people are said to have been affected in 13 districts.

A mass evacuation effort – described as the biggest in India’s history – kept the death toll relatively low, but needs are still great as people return home.

“Even though many people had gone back to their own villages, they came back to cyclone shelters due to the fear of mud slides or drowning,” said Babita Alick of Caritas India. “Families are living in the open crowded buildings, some in the back of trucks  covering with  plastics.”

Caritas India says families are at risk due to poor hygiene and drinking untreated water.

Caritas India is supporting SWAD (Berhampur Social Service Society) and Balasore Social Service Society with immediate relief in camps and villages where government aid has not reached. Caritas India will provide food, non food essentials and medical aid to address possibilities of risk.

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Filed under Asia, Conflicts and Disasters, Emergencies, India

Caritas India on Cyclone Phailin

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