ShelterBox sends team to Sri Lanka after worst monsoon flooding and mudslides since 2003 

 

Half a million people affected, around 85,000 made homeless. Disaster relief shelter experts, ShelterBox respond to Sri Lankan Government’s call for aid

International disaster relief charity, ShelterBox is sending a team to Sri Lanka today (1st June, 2017) to assess the need for the charity’s specialist aid – including sturdy weatherproof tents, emergency lighting, mosquito nets, and water filtration and carriers.

The team will be re-establishing partnerships with the Sri Lankan Government, colleague charities and local Rotary Clubs in response to the Sri Lankan government’s appeal to the United Nations for help with rescue and relief. The shelter experts responded to monsoon flooding and mudslides in Sri Lanka at this time last year, meaning they have developed the best possible experience in how to deal with flooding on the island and will be working with partners and the Sri Lanka government to share their expertise.

Sri Lankan residents walk through floodwaters in Kaduwela, Colombo. © Lakruwan Wanniarachchi: AFP

ShelterBox Operations Team Lead, James Luxton said, ‘This is déjà vu on a horrifying scale. I was with our team last year and I’m flying tomorrow again to meet up with our in-country contacts to carry out urgent assessments to help local families and communities.’

‘Last year’s response has given us solid experience of how best to level and drain sites so tents can be safely pitched. But the conditions are bad, monsoon rains are still falling, and many rivers are still overflowing. We know from monitoring our aid provision last year what will work best, and we’ll be offering that expertise to the Sri Lanka authorities, with whom we already have a good working relationship.’

In this latest monsoon tragedy the island’s emergency services are currently dealing with the rescue phase, and many people are housed in temporary shelters away from the flood zones. Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Centre (DMC) warns that the death toll may rise as reports come in from outlying areas. But when the floodwaters recede there could be a need for temporary shelter of the kind provided by ShelterBox.

SRT volunteer, Derek Locke (USA) instructs Sri Lanakan soldiers on erecting a ShelterBox tent

SRT volunteer, Derek Locke (USA) instructs Sri Lanakan soldiers on erecting a ShelterBox tent during our deployment in 2016

 

Sri Lanka is particularly vulnerable to this ‘moving earth’ mudslide phenomenon, having cleared land over decades to grow export crops such as tea and rubber. When the rains fall this deforested landscape can quickly become a torrent of mud with collapsing hillsides.

In 2016, ShelterBox provided tents and other aid to hundreds of families across six different camps. The work was complex because land had to be levelled and drained before it could be used safely for pitches, ensuring occupants wouldn’t be at risk from further storms and flooding. ShelterBox teams worked in partnership with the Rotary Club of Capital City in Colombo, who provided invaluable in-country local knowledge from a network of Rotarians across the island, and with the International Organisation for Migration and World Vision.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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At last, heartwarming photos of Aleppo’s children receiving ShelterBox aid

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They have been on the most terrifying of journeys unaware that the world was watching. Now thousands of the children of Aleppo have reached relative safety, been given warm clothing, their families receiving aid from disaster relief charity ShelterBox and its partners

At one point these are the photos we thought we’d never see. Thousands of Aleppo families bussed out of the world’s most war-ravaged city to be greeted at displacement camps, and given clothing and other aid that has waited at a tantalising distance for months.

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These images just received at ShelterBox’s Cornwall HQ show aid workers from in-country partner, London-based Hand in Hand for Syria, greeting the most vulnerable of the exodus from Aleppo. The aid shown is hats and scarves –  essential as it has started to snow in the region – and other non-food items supplied by ShelterBox. It is part of an ongoing programme to help families displaced by the Syrian civil war.

ShelterBox Operations Co-ordinator Sam Hewett says, ‘The fighting in and around Aleppo that has been broadcast in recent weeks is indicative of the intolerable position that people throughout Syria are forced to endure.’ 

Due to the support of our generous donors, ShelterBox has been able to support people as they are evacuated from the city with items such as clothing and bedding, to shelter them from the cold winter conditions. This would not be possible without the presence of our partner organisations, whose staff share the same fatal risks as the people they are trying to help.’ 

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Hand in Hand for Syria’s team are reported to have all escaped Aleppo over the weekend, and the last of New Zealand-based ReliefAid’s team of 40 Aleppo residents has just been reported safely evacuated.

The actual locations of this latest aid distribution are being withheld for security reasons.

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Which way to run from war-torn Mosul? How desperate do you have to be to flee across the border into Syria?!

Syria seems the very opposite of safety or sanctuary. But as aid agencies in Iraq steel themselves for a possible outpouring from Mosul, ShelterBox and its partners find that even Syrian camps are now becoming boltholes for families on the run. 


Shelterbox aid being distributed to Iraqi IDPs

Mosul in Iraq, home to over a million civilians, now trapped by an intense battle to reclaim the last ISIS stronghold in the country. At any point, in any numbers, in any direction, hundreds of thousands could suddenly be on the run from warfare.

Some 80,000 civilians have fled Mosul and nearby areas so far, and the United Nations is preparing for a worst-case scenario in which more than a million people are made homeless as winter descends. ‘Children and their families in Mosul are facing a horrific situation. Not only are they in danger of getting killed or injured in the cross-fire, now potentially more than half a million people do not have safe water to drink,’ said UNICEF’s Iraq representative Peter Hawkins.

Iraqi children wearing red ShelterBox hats, scarves and gloves

Now reports from a partner organisation distributing ShelterBox aid in Hasake Governorate point to significant numbers fleeing east from Mosul into Syria. New Zealand based ReliefAid is one of ShelterBox’s long-standing distribution partners in Syria. Likewise London-based Hand in Hand for Syria, delivering ShelterBox tents and warm clothing to Syrian displacement camps (see photo), also finds some beneficiaries are from Mosul.

ReliefAid Executive Director Mike Seawright says, ‘We recently completed our ShelterBox distribution in Syria’s North Eastern Hasake Governorate, bordering Iraq. We were supporting a refugee camp in which 80% of the families were from Mosul or surrounding areas.’

This is a constantly changing situation, but ReliefAid reports that thousands of families from Mosul have recently found crossing the border into Syria preferable to taking their chances in Iraq. This is counter-intuitive, a turning of the human tide, which is forcing families from one dire situation into another.

And now the military offensive on Raqqa in Syria is creating another dynamic. Mike Seawright adds, ‘The offensive against ISIS in Raqqa is displacing more civilians into Hasake Governorate. Initial reports are that displaced families have been arriving into camps in the North of Syria over the last few days. These numbers are expected to increase as the military action gains momentum. Combined with the Mosul offensive unmet humanitarian needs, including shelter, are expected to continue to increase dramatically within the Governorate.‘

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All ShelterBox partners in Syria and Iraq – ReliefAid, Hand in Hand for Syria, ACTED and new associates Czech-based People in Need – deliver life-saving aid to communities under fire, working in some of the most dangerous places on earth, security issues dictating discretion and a low profile. 

Alongside ongoing work inside Syria, ShelterBox has been preparing for whatever Mosul will create in terms of humanitarian need. Via ACTED households in Northern Iraq have already received basic shelter-related kits from ShelterBox, and tents and aid are prepositioned ready to deploy as families are displaced from the fighting. 1,000 beneficiary households in Ninewa and Erbil Governorates will receive first line shelter support. Thousands of lightweight tents are also on standby, for use in agreement with Shelter Cluster leads.

ShelterBox’s Rachel Harvey has just ended a deployment to Iraq, including a field visit to locations in Ninewa province where aid convoys have to pass through several military checkpoints. Rachel said of this journey, ‘The close proximity of the fighting is really striking. One minute you are drinking coffee in a hotel, an hour and a half later you are driving through an obliterated village on your way to deliver aid to people displaced by a conflict you can hear being waged on the horizon. The distance between peace and relative prosperity, and the devastation of war is frighteningly short.’ 

Response Team volunteer, Jack Bailey is still in Iraq training partners in use of the charity’s aid. Jack says, ‘Our preparedness is the result of months of planning, and of course the generosity of our donors. But, however much notice we have had of a Mosul displacement, there are still many unknowns. We will have to respond as events unfold, and look to our supporters to help us meet the demand.’   

ReliefAid has had to make the difficult decision to move its current winter aid distribution to the Idlib countryside as a result of the terrible situation in Aleppo City. Continued attacks against civilians, extreme medical shortages, zero access to humanitarian assistance and severe food shortages are causing the already dire living situation to deteriorate rapidly.

Aleppo, Mosul, now Raqqa. ShelterBox and its international partners stand ready to help families on the run from war wherever it is safe to do so. But this region will soon be in the grip of an icy winter, with storms and freezing overnight temperatures a real threat to families trapped in ruined cities,  fleeing across desert or up into the mountains.

Aleppo residents have ‘no food, no water, and no hope’

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Aleppo – child with destroyed cityscape background

Aleppo residents have ‘no food, no water, and no hope’. ShelterBox aid partner – ‘How could the world stand by as our people are killed?’

As the UN warns that east Aleppo may become a ‘giant graveyard’, local aid workers from ShelterBox’s partner organisation have spoken of their fears from within the war-ravaged city to ReliefAid’s Mike Seawright.    

 

ShelterBox aid partner ReliefAid has a team in Aleppo, trapped with their families in the bombarded city. In recent months ReliefAid had its offices destroyed by bombing, and they lost one team member to a sniper’s bullet.

Despite this being arguably the most dangerous place on earth to be an aid worker, the ReliefAid team has given up chances to leave East Aleppo, deciding to remain, providing humanitarian assistance to their neighbours and the most vulnerable. Their brave efforts have seen life-saving ShelterBox support provided to over 36,000 people this year, as well as winter clothing for children. But now their Executive Director says, ‘Their future and their lives are hanging by a thread.’

On Wednesday top UN envoy Stephen O’Brien warned that Aleppo risks becoming ‘one giant graveyard’ and pleaded with UN Security Council members to protect civilians ‘for the sake of humanity’. An estimated 25,000 people have been displaced, he added, while in some areas people are so hungry they are reduced to scavenging.

After this sudden escalation ReliefAid’s Mike Seawright managed to contact his team in the city. He says that their greatest feeling is one of ‘Fear of being killed, or injured with no medical care.’

Aleppo Relief Aid warehouse

Aleppo Relief Aid warehouse

East Aleppo has as estimated 275,000 people living in it. Needs are immense for families in cold winter conditions. Medical services are all but defunct following sustained attacks against hospitals and healthcare workers, and families have been forced onto the streets by the fighting.

People in some areas are now huddling in public buildings and former schools. Mike adds, ‘Our team reports a desperate situation with families having no security, no food, no water, and no hope. For civilians caught in the extended siege, having experienced intensive daily air strikes, the escalation in ground fighting is becoming too much to bear.’

In a telling part of the conversation, Mike asked his aid colleagues what messages they would like to give to the international community. The reply was, ‘Forgive me, but we have no messages. How could the world stand by as our people are killed?’

Mike says of one of his Aleppo-based aid workers, ‘He has not slept for two days, has already lost significant weight as a result of the ongoing siege and now is wondering what, if any, future lies ahead. When talking to him about the situation I am often rendered speechless as I try to provide some level of practical or emotional support. What do you say to someone who thinks his future contains only death or imprisonment?’

Mike adda that Aleppo citizens have lost faith in the international community, seeing themselves as pawns in a regional and international game. He adds, ‘The Syrian Government appears to be pushing to finish the game. Having already had one staff member killed by a sniper we are deeply worried about our team in Aleppo.’

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‘Haitians to help Haitians’ priority in hurricane-smashed communities, as ShelterBox plans to aid recovery

Little girl in doorway of flooded house

 

Haiti is counting the human and physical cost of hurricane Matthew – nearly 900 dead, tens of thousands homeless, cholera taking grip. But these disaster-prone communities are resilient, and a team from ShelterBox finds a new ‘self help’ ethos as it makes its partnership aid plans.

‘My house wasn’t destroyed, so I am receiving people, like it’s a temporary shelter.’ These are the words of Bellony Amazan in the town of Cavaillon, where around a dozen people died as hurricane Matthew tore across Haiti’s southern peninsula on Tuesday. She went on to say she did not yet have any food to give people.

Bellony’s community spirit in extreme circumstances reflects a fundamental change from reactions to previous storms and the massive quake in 2010. ShelterBox’s in-country coordinator Andrew Clark says, ‘Everyone is stressing a need and desire for ‘Haitians to help Haitians’ as best as they can. In the past there has been a reliance on aid organisations and a lack of local self-recovery.’ Although international assistance will be essential, and an official state of emergency has been declared, there is an increased emphasis on harnessing community groups and faith-based organisations.

Andre Bloemink, a ShelterBox response volunteer from Canada, adds, ‘Haitians are helping Haitians as best as they can. With previous operations the response often inadvertently promoted reliance on others as opposed to self-recovery. With an already challenged infrastructure, public health and uncertain political situation, the idea is to assist locals as best as we can to support a proactive recovery in the weeks and months ahead.’

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As in the 2010 quake when it supported 28,000 families, and in other hurricane events such as Sandy in 2012, ShelterBox has been a major aid provider to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

Food, clean water, healthcare and shelter remain priorities on Haiti in the aftermath of Matthew. Transport difficulties to affected areas have been eased a little by the construction of a temporary replacement bridge across La Digue river to the southwest of Port au Prince. ShelterBox team members are exploring transport links and logistics today. But aid access to many remote communities is still mainly by sea or military helicopter, and some coastal towns and villages are still underwater four days after the storm surge.

The UK’s Met Office reports that current weather in Haiti is dry, but very warm at around 28 degrees centigrade. 

In 2010 cholera, previously unknown in Haiti, claimed at least 3,500 lives. The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) now says, ‘Due to massive flooding and its impact on water and sanitation infrastructure, cholera cases are expected to surge after Hurricane Matthew and through the normal rainy season until the start of 2017.’ Among ShelterBox’s suite of aid is a water filtration device to give a household safe drinking water, as well as mosquito nets to combat the spread of other diseases. 

The 'Thirst Aid Station' water filter.

The ‘Thirst Aid Station’ water filter.

To donate, please visit www.shelterboxaustralia.org.au

 

 

ShelterBox Deploys To Haiti as Hurricane Matthew Pounds The Caribbean

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ShelterBox is sending aid and a Response Team to Haiti in the wake of the most powerful Caribbean hurricane in nearly a decade.

ShelterBox already has some aid stored in Haiti and large stocks of aid in Panama, ready to assist during the hurricane season.  With airports closed, some of this aid has already been dispatched from Curacao aboard the Dutch Navy vessel HMNS Holland. The aid includes water filtration equipment which will be vital given the flooding, solar lighting to assist during electricity black outs, blankets, special shelter kits of tools and tarpaulins to help weatherproof damaged buildings.

Operations Team Lead Andrew Clark says, The situation is still very fluid. We are still awaiting an official invitation to respond from the Haitian Government, and clarity on the most effective and safe transport routes. But we are impatient to help the people of Haiti who have yet again faced a terrifying natural disaster.’

The intention is that I will lead an experienced team of nine, some of whom deployed to Haiti following the quake in 2010. At present we expect to be able to mobilise on Friday, but we must await the re-opening of air routes, and the safety of our staff and volunteers is paramount.’

ShelterBox is also standing by to help other countries along Matthew’s expected course.’

There have been a number of deaths in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which together comprise the island of Hispaniola. Death tolls are expected to rise as the extent of damage emerges. In the port town of Les Cayes an estimated 70,000 people were affected by flooding, and many of the area’s insubstantial houses had lost roofs. The UN said that Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, was facing the largest humanitarian eventsince the earthquake in 2010.

With advance warnings at least 10,000 people were evacuated to shelters, but the UN has since reported overcrowded hospitals and fresh water shortages, with fears of waterborne disease. An estimated four million children may have been exposed to hurricane damage.

Meteorologists expect Hurricane Matthew to become less forceful as it moves on from Cuba later today, but precautions are being taken already in Florida, the Bahamas, and along the eastern seaboard of the USA. Current tracking indicates the storm may reach Maryland and New Jersey as late as noon on Sunday.    

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