Relief to get back on the road again

17th October 2003 at 01:00
RedR engineers help war-torn nations with vital repairs. Ross Davies reports

"The first two people I talked to told me that members of their families had been arrested and tortured by the regime. One woman was forced to drink mercury and then sent back to her family so they saw her die a long and painful death."

Such was Peter Glasper's introduction to Iraq, where this aid worker is working as a security and logistics officer for a relief agency in Naseriyah.

Mr Glasper's introduction to humanitarian relief work came through his membership of RedR - Registered Engineers for Disaster Relief.

RedR has 20 members in Iraq or along its borders, where they work on needs assessment, security, logistics, and water and sanitation missions for aid agencies. A full mobilisation of the membership in March of this year made 100 members immediately available for deployment to Iraq.

Mr Glasper's assignment is with Goal, a charity dedicated to "alleviating the suffering of the poorest-of-the-poor in the developing world".

Iraq, Mr Glasper says, is a third-world country that would have been rich years ago were it not for the "mismanagement" of the Saddam years. In temperatures that can reach over 50xc, Mr Glasper and other Goal workers are fixing Naseriyah's shattered water pipes and clearing the city's roads so traffic can circulate.

"The clearing of rubble may seem minor, but it makes a tremendous difference to the look and feel of the place," he says.

There are still unexploded bombs and landmines about, says Mr Glasper, although "it's quite safe as long as you stay on the roads and don't go on to soft ground that could hide mines".

RedR is an international charity which relieves suffering in disaster areas by selecting, training and providing competent and effective relief personnel to humanitarian aid agencies. It began a quarter of a century ago when an engineer, Peter Guthrie, was seconded by his employers, Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick, to help Vietnamese refugees in Malaysia. Mr Guthrie returned home convinced that while engineers can do much to reduce human suffering in emergencies, front-line agencies found it difficult to identify and recruit them. Discussions with friends and colleagues led to the foundation of RedR.

A register was compiled of carefully selected engineers who could be called on at short notice to work on assignments of typically three months with front-line relief agencies on secondment from their regular employer.

Since then, RedR's register has been broadened to include logisticians, project and programme managers, and security specialists, many of whom may be full-time aid workers.

RedR has recently merged with the International Health Exchange, a humanitarian relief charity which recruits and trains health professionals.

The merged organisation offers humanitarian agencies access to more than 2,000 skilled and committed professionals in health as well as in engineering. RedR now exists in Australia, Canada, East Africa, India and New Zealand.

From RedR in London more than 1,000 aid workers are trained annually. RedR has also been developing training materials and reference works.

"While most of our efforts are focused on delivering training courses and workshops, we have also worked with a number of academic institutions," says RedR training manager Tim Hayward. "Either providing trainers to deliver particular sessions on their course or working with them to develop and deliver whole modules, as we have done with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine." .

"We offer secondees and aid professionals a range of short courses - one on 'Personal Security in Emergencies' is particularly topical in view of the dangers faced by aid workers in many locations these days, not just Afghanistan and Iraq, although these are only two of the 40 or so countries in which RedR members are working with aid agencies such as Oxfam and Medecins Sans Fronti res."

"Attendance at a RedR course can count towards fulfilling the continuing professional development requirement clause in an engineer's contract with his or her regular employer.

"There have been some discussions about seeking accreditation for RedR's training programme, but it is not clear how this might be achieved, given the fact that we operate internationally, in quite a specialised area, and participants on our courses come from all over the world."

In addition to RedR's training and technical support activities, register members are offered pre-departure and post-assignment briefing and debriefing.

A quarter of a century on, and RedR is busier than ever in trying to alleviate human misery caused by disasters. But it is not all woe, not even in Naseriyah. "Today," says Peter Glasper, "I saw busloads of people arriving in town. I was told that they were returning home from exile in Syria and Jordan and some other places. That is a good sign."

For more information contact Tim Hayward at RedR on 07940 715427

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