It was literally calm before the storm when I visited the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in New York City last week. Before my visit, it had been rather unclear to me what exactly is the role of IFRC in relation to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). I learned that – very simply put – IFRC focuses on helping victims of natural disasters, whereas ICRC assists people affected by armed conflicts. National Red Cross and Red Crescent societies work to mitigate human suffering in their own geographies, and support each other, IFRC and ICRC.
On November 8, only four days after my visit to the IFRC, Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda, hit the Philippines. High winds, torrential rain and storm surge caused devastation beyond comprehension. The scale of the catastrophe is daunting: Almost 12 million people are affected, 2.5 million are estimated to be in need of food assistance, and nearly 1 million people are displaced. 4000-5000 people have lost their lives according to the latest reports. The typhoon has been described even as “perhaps the strongest storm ever to make landfall in recorded history”.
The power of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement gives hope even when facing a natural disaster of this magnitude. The global Red Cross network is responding to the emergency needs in the Philippines with food, water, and relief supplies. 1,000 staff members and an estimated 500,000 active volunteers of the Philippine Red Cross are engaged in disaster response. National Red Cross societies, including the Finnish Red Cross and the American Red Cross, provide financial assistance, and are additionally lending people, expertise and equipment.
So how can we all help? Online donations to support the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan can be made easily at the dedicated donation sites of the Finnish Red Cross and the American Red Cross. In both countries you can also donate by SMS: In Finland, text the word SPR to 16499 (15 EUR). In the US, text the word TYPHOON to 90999 (10 USD). For more ways to help, have a look at this excellent article by CNN.