SYRIA CHEMICAL INCIDENT – ShelterBox partners in Khan Sheikhoun fear more attacks, and for the safety of their team

Hand in Hand for Syria is the London-based charity that has worked for years with ShelterBox taking aid to families displaced by Syria’s civil war. Yesterday their team in Khan Sheikhoun were at the centre of the chemical weapon incident that has caused international outrage.

In recent weeks aid workers from Hand in Hand for Syria have worked across Idlib Governorate distributing shelter aid and equipment from UK-based ShelterBox. Yesterday they found themselves caught up in a chemical weapons incident that has killed at least 70 people in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, including 20 children, and horrified the watching world.

As well as acting as an in-country distributor of ShelterBox aid, Hand in Hand for Syria also runs six hospitals, health centres, mobile clinics, ambulances and other emergency vehicles.

Their Country Director Fadi Al-Dairi says, ‘One of our offices is in Khan Sheikhoun and we have two hospitals in the vicinity. After the chemical incident we saw over 70 cases, over 300 received treatment from other health actors operating in the area, and we transported quite a few to Turkey. Sadly eight were pronounced dead at our facilities.’

‘Whilst this is a tragic event, we fear the use of chemical attacks more often. We are very concerned about the safety of our team in the absence of any proper protection in place. The unavailability of gas masks, plastic overalls, plastic tents at each and every health facility means there is a risk of spreading contamination whilst trying to do good.’

The UN Security Council is meeting today in an emergency session called for by France and the UK as international outrage mounts over the incident. ShelterBox Operations Director Darren Moss says, ‘It is saddening that it takes an appalling incident, huge loss of life, innocent children suffering, and the apparent use of illegal weapons, to put the world’s focus back on Syria.’

‘ShelterBox has a long association with Hand in Hand for Syria and other partners in the region, and we are very concerned that they have to carry out their vital humanitarian work in such dangerous conditions. Our thoughts are with our brave aid colleagues, and with all those families suffering in this seemingly intractable war.’  

Hand in Hand for Syria has been delivering aid to displacement camps across norther Syria, including those nearby Khan Sheikhoun. Thus far in 2017 ShelterBox aid has been provided to 3,430 households, and to over 20,000 families since the war began. ShelterBox supporters have funded around £2.5 million worth of aid over the last five years.

You can help by DONATING HERE

Colombia landslides – ShelterBox has aid in-country and a team in neighbouring Peru

 

As the flood-stricken Colombian city of Mocoa counts its dead and searches for hundreds missing after frightening mudslides, UK disaster relief charity ShelterBox has been invited by the Red Cross to help in the aftermath of this latest South American flood disaster

A plaintive message was posted on ShelterBox’s Facebook site today. It was from Gloria Cajavilca (right), Secretary of the Rotary Club of Bogota DC in Colombia. She wrote, ‘I’d like to know how we can bring ShelterBox to Mocoa, which yesterday suffered a major collapse in which there are many victims.’  

Gloria is referring to torrential rains that brought a sudden onslaught of water, mud, trees and rocks to the city of Mocoa in South West Colombia on Friday night and Saturday morning. Several rivers overflowed, and although warnings were sounded many people failed to hear them, or have time to get out of danger. Colombia’s director of the National Disaster Risk Management Unit told news agencies that a third of the region’s expected monthly rain fell during the night.

With search and rescue underway, there is no certainty yet on the number of casualties in this city of 350,000 people, but early estimates range from 200 to 400. 1,100 soldiers and police are involved in the relief effort. Video footage from the city shows residents crying over a list of missing children, along with their ages, pinned to a family welfare centre.

International disaster relief agency ShelterBox is in touch with its Colombia contacts, and has shelter aid already stored in the country. It also has a team currently in neighbouring Peru, monitoring shelter need after flooding since 13 March killed an estimated 78, demolished over 100,000 homes, washed out bridges, and affected more than 640,000 people along Peru’s northern coastal strip.

ShelterBox Operations Co-ordinator Ayeasia Macintyre says, We are still waiting on data to be released from Mocoa about how many people have been displaced, but for the time being the priority has to be on search and rescue.’ 

We have approached our in-country contacts and colleague agencies from previous responses in Colombia to see if they can provide us with any information on the most urgent needs, and any  emerging shelter strategy for people made homeless following this tragedy. The Red Cross has already asked ShelterBox for assistance, so we are looking to mobilise a team.’

As is often the case in South American natural disasters, one of our main lines of contact is with Rotarians who can provide eyewitness information and local knowledge. One of our Peru response team will also meet a Colombian associate in Lima this evening to get an update.’

As well as its current assessment role in Peru, ShelterBox also spent many months last year providing equipment and rebuilding kits to people in the coastal communities of neighbouring Ecuador affected by the 7.8 earthquake that struck Ecuador almost a year ago. From 2009 through to 2011 ShelterBox responded to flooding in Colombia, earning praise from the country’s President.

Ayeasia Macintyre adds, We are well placed to offer emergency shelter help, but know that Colombian officials are understandably concentrating on a massive relief operation and search for survivors at present.’

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Heart-breaking conversations with escapees from Mosul

ShelterBox’s Alice Jefferson has just returned from Iraq. Here in a screening and aid distribution centre south west of Mosul Airport, she met people who have just left behind one of the most intense battles on earth, still raging just a few miles away. They may have lost loved ones, their homes, their possessions. But they have escaped with their lives.

ShelterBox Operations Coordinator, Alice Jefferson in Iraq

Salamiyah is a surreal place. A former gas depot just a few miles from Mosul airport. Up to 14,000 people a day have passed through the screening site. It is the first step on a road that is taking the battle-weary of Mosul towards some sort of safety.

After security screening families receive initial basic support and their first meal. Most will then be taken by bus to camps, or, if they prefer, to relatives in the surrounding area. Aid is also being given to host families, and to communities that have also lived under two years of Islamic State rule. The flow of people through the site now requires a continuous 24 hour bus service for onward travel.

Alice spoke with a grandmother who now lives in Salamiyah village. ShelterBox respects their wishes not to be named, and in some cases not to be photographed. Despite all their hardships she was smiling and happy to discuss her situation with the team.

‘We have lived under Daesh (Islamic State) control for over two years’ the grandmother told Alice. When asked where her family is currently living she said, ‘We stay in the Institute with over a hundred other families.’ The Institute is a collective centre in the village of Salamiyah providing shelter to internally displaced families who were once held under Islamic State control. ‘I want to go home,’ she says poignantly, ‘But for now it is not possible.’

The grandmother and her family are from a nearby town called Gwer, on the banks of the Great Zab River, a strategic link between the cities of Tikrit and Mosul that flows into the Tigris. Gwer was captured by Islamic State in August 2014. Most schools were closed then, and children such as her granddaughter have missed out on education for over two years. ‘She has not been able to attend school, and there is also no schooling available here either.’

The town was retaken by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, but the bridge and key supply route across the river was badly damaged by Islamic State fighters. Fighting has continued for months and the town is now heavily fortified.

As Alice was talking to grandmother and granddaughter another family came forward keen to tell their story. They also dared not give names, and would not be photographed. They came from Al-Shuhada, a district in Western Mosul retaken by advancing Iraqi forces on 8 March after days of heavy fighting. The mother said, ‘I was displaced just four days ago.’

Alice asked if the young boy waiting quietly by her side was her son. She said ‘Yes, I also have two daughters – three children with no father.’ Alice asked what had happened to their father. ‘Daesh have been in control for two years. Our family lived in Mosul before, but I have family that originally came from this village. Before they came into the city my husband was working with the police service, collecting intelligence on Daesh.’

She reached for her tissue and was visibly upset at the memory. ‘When the city was taken my husband was murdered by Daesh. They took him away and cut him many times. He was then thrown into the landfill. No burial.’

His brutal murder took place more than two years ago, and since then the family has had to live under the rule of the people that killed their husband and father. They escaped as soon as they could, crossing the front line into Federal Iraq-controlled areas. They were screened before being bussed south to Salamiyah, choosing to not go into the government-run displacement camps as she had family connections in the village. This support structure is vital now she has lost her husband and her home.

Alice asked if the family will return to West Mosul. ‘No it is not likely that we will return,’ she said. ‘There is nothing left for us in Mosul’.

Alice Jefferson says, ‘As the distribution continued I spoke to a number of other women in the line. A startlingly common theme began to emerge. Husbands, fathers and sons were missing.’

ShelterBox aid being distributed in Salamiyah

The danger of freezing nights has now succumbed to rainy days, where dust is quickly churned to mud underfoot, and soon there will be the prospect of annual desert storms. Iraq can have an inhospitable climate, and shelter from the strong winds is essential, not a luxury. The weather was kind when Alice and colleagues visited Salamiyah, but on the previous day planned visits had to be cancelled due to severe rainfall.

 

You can help those fleeing the terror in Mosul by donating today: PLEASE DONATE

Praying for rain, searching for pasture – the nomadic people of parched Somaliland.

A ShelterBox team is there now, discussing aid possibilities as drought threatens millions.

Somaliland is a self-declared state on the Horn of Africa. Diplomatically isolated, it is now facing famine as livestock perish after three years of poor pasture. A ShelterBox team is in Hargeisa talking to aid colleagues about what, if anything, can avert a humanitarian disaster

The people of Somaliland are looking anxiously to the skies. In the next few weeks seasonal rains known locally as ‘Gu’ might just save them from impending famine. But if the rains fail they will almost certainly lose their remaining livestock, on which they rely entirely for food and income.

The Gu rainy season in April is the main crop season in Somaliland. In the usual cycle it brings three quarters of the area’s annual rainfall. But for the last three years this corner of Africa has experienced the worst growing seasons on record. No rain means no pasture for the flocks and herds, which means nothing for people to eat or sell. Already the dehydrated carcasses of cattle, sheep and goats litter the landscape.   

Those still alive are being driven by their owners ever further off the usual routes in a desperate search for water and pasture. Somaliland has a population of 3 million, half of whom are nomads. Nomad life depends on livestock, and the continual search for grazing land. Already up to 70% of livestock have perished in some areas.

Now, with thirst and malnutrition a daily threat, families are becoming even more widely displaced.  Complicating the matter further, men and older sons usually head off first into the desert to seek pasture, sometimes by foot, sometimes in livestock trucks. This leaves women and children behind in households facing dire conditions. 

International emergency shelter experts ShelterBox are in the city of Hargeisa talking to the aid community and government officials about the scale of the problem. The people of Somaliland will need a mix of aid in the form of water, food, medicines and shelter.

Team leader James Luxton says, ‘Somaliland is distinctive in many ways. It has the advantage of being relatively peaceful, with no ongoing conflict as seen in neighbouring territories. And family and community really matters here. Displacement patterns are driven by clan, tribe and sub-tribe affiliations, so nomads displaced from one area will go to fellow clan or tribe members in another area.’

‘So, many communities are hosting the displaced, and in this extreme situation are becoming overwhelmed. There are some government-run camps, but they are little more than basic hubs providing water, food and hygiene items. We are visiting one such camp today.’

‘But it is the widely and thinly scattered nomadic population, constantly on the move, that brings the greatest challenges. Simply finding those in greatest need amid this vast open territory will be a task. We are talking to all the relevant players, aid agencies and government, and will then decide what help ShelterBox is able to offer, and where.’

The families in peril are a mix of internally displaced Somalilanders, and those fleeing famine and conflict from Yemen, Djibouti and Ethiopia. The ShelterBox team has so far met with the Somaliland Government’s Ministry of Resettlement, Rehabilitation & Reconstruction, with shelter and refugee aid agencies, and with various United Nations organisations.

To help those in need in Somaliland and other countries, please DONATE HERE

 

What about Chad and the other forgotten humanitarian crises?

A thought provoking blog from ShelterBox CEO, Chris Warham about yet another ‘hidden’ crisis………

Chris Warham

I spent much of a career working with journalists and the media.  I watched journalists take and shape stories.  I saw the good the bad and the ugly.  Brilliant investigative journalism that exposed rogues and villains and cheap dirty journalism that twisted words to score vindictive points.  I saw political bias colour stories. I even saw fake news (to use a Trump’ism).

But I think what aggrieves me more than anything is the parochial bias of the ‘western’ (used figuratively)  national news media. If it’s not happening in one of perhaps ten countries then its not happening at all.

Last week in Oslo, the UN along with Germany and Norway hosted a conference on the incredibly difficult humanitarian crisis that is on-going in the Chad Basin in West Africa.

chad-map The Chad Basin

Oslo Humanitarian Conference for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region …

The conference heard that over the past five…

View original post 422 more words

After Aleppo – Aid chief says, ‘People have escaped one hell only to be caught in another.’

Syrian baby wrapped in blankets

©ReliefAid

ShelterBox and its partners are helping displaced families cope with the grim realities of life under canvas, in the cold and mud, with only basic amenities. These battle-weary people, formerly residents of a thriving city, now need every kind of aid imaginable – even lighting, children’s clothes, and sewing kits.

We all breathed a sigh when we saw families being bused out of Aleppo just before Christmas. For them, at least, the fear of daily thirst, starvation and bombings was over. But now aid workers are finding that displacement is bringing other severe hardships.

Syrian refugee children

©ReliefAid

Farid, a Syrian staff member with ShelterBox partner ReliefAid, says, ‘I am deeply shocked by the living conditions of the camps where Aleppo families are now living. Even coming from East Aleppo where the destruction was huge and the humanitarian situation dire, the situation in the camps is worse. I have not seen anything like this before. No toilets, no water, mud everywhere.’

It takes a lot to shock aid workers in Syria, particularly former residents of Aleppo. Farid and his ReliefAid colleagues had seen their office bombed, and one of their team gunned down as he worked on a rooftop. But now, having quit their home city, razed to the ground by years of warfare, they have followed their neighbours into dozens of makeshift displacement camps dotted across the desert.

True, they are now out of the line of fire. But in every other way conditions could hardly be more harsh. Mike Seawright, Founder and Executive Director of ReliefAid, has worked in partnership with UK-based ShelterBox throughout the Syrian civil war, distributing its aid in some of the most dangerous territory on earth. Mike says, ‘People forced from their homes in Aleppo City are now having to live in freezing conditions surrounded by mud and water.’

‘They are joining families who have been living under the intense heat of summer and freezing winter conditions, including snow and ice, for five seasons. People have escaped one hell only to be caught in another.’

‘Families are now living in tents, having lost loved ones, with no idea how they will keep themselves warm at night. Without our collective support people will literally not survive.’

image of displacement camp in Syria

©ReliefAid

The ReliefAid team and ShelterBox are now gearing up to provide more aid to Syria’s displacement camps throughout March. They are concentrating on settlements in Idlib Governorate, particularly fifteen informal camps. The families here have been displaced from Aleppo over months, including in December’s exodus, and from areas in the south of the country.

Mike adds, ‘As you can see from our photos living conditions are very difficult. These smaller informal camps have been largely ignored as aid organisations look to provide assistance to sites that are easier to access and allow faster distribution. Families in these informal camps have significant needs which our next distribution is looking to address.’

syimage008

©ReliefAid

ShelterBox is providing 5,000 blankets and mattresses to help combat the cold, 4,000 sets of children’s clothing, and 4,000 pairs of jeans and jumpers. 1,000 tarpaulins are included for waterproofing tents and buildings, and 4,000 20 litre water carriers. Then there are the less expected items – solar lamps for safety in the dark desert nights, hammers and fixings, duct tape and rope.   

Without the financial means to purchase new clothing and tents, repairing them is an essential task in camp life. So the inclusion of 1,000 sewing kits means that families can make their precious materials last as long as possible.

ShelterBox’s Sam Hewett says, ‘Wherever you look in this region displaced families are living threadbare existences in uncomfortable conditions. These aid items bring some relief, particularly to the vulnerable, the young, the elderly. We will continue to source partnerships and aid routes that can find them, whether they have settled in large camps or small ad hoc encampments.’

You can help by donating here: PLEASE DONATE

Warm hands, warm hearts. ShelterBox brings heat to families on the run in the icy Syrian winter.

syria-warm-1

Displaced families in Syria are in peril in their desperation to keep warm. Last week a stove004makeshift kerosene heater exploded at the Bab Salama camp in north Aleppo, burning down two tents and injuring the occupants. UK agency ShelterBox is sending safer heaters into northern Syria.

Idleb in northern Syria is host to hundreds of thousands of families fleeing war, most of them now in vast displacement camps. But the area is also in the grip of an icy winter, with night-time temperatures as low as -9 degrees centigrade.

Some families are huddling in draughty single-room shelters constructed from concrete with tin roofs, with no source of heating and no windows. Others are living under canvas. So, the temptation is to improvise, to burn wood, or to make basic heaters out of tin cans, with naked flames and noxious fumes. The dangers are obvious, and spontaneous fires are frequent in this daily battle against the cold.

swarm002

 

So, to minimise fire-related tragedies while warming young hands, UK aid agencies ShelterBox and its in-country partner Hand in Hand for Syria have just distributed 1,000 high-spec kerosene heaters to families in Idleb.

ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Sam Hewett will shortly be travelling to the region to check on the charity’s aid programmes in Syria.

Sam says, We typically provide items to help insulate people against the cold. But it’s not always enough, as people need a source of heat as well. By providing heaters such as these people are able to get some comfort and undertake basic household activities such as cooking.’

‘But it also helps to prevent diseases—particularly those related to long-term exposure to cold and damp conditions and noxious fumes—that they would be exposed to from using improvised stoves.’

The 1,000 Diora kerosene cooker/heaters come supplied with fuel, and the families are shown how to use them safely and with proper ventilation.

swarm006

You can help those displaced by the conflict in Syria by donating to our Syria Refugee Appeal here:

PLEASE DONATE