Tuesday, February 8, 2005


Emergency: war hospitals and more

Last week, my computer was broken and I had a chance to dedicate time to reading books. I just got a wonderful package of books from a friend and included was "Bukashì" by Gino Strada. I had already read with great interest his previous books, "Green Parrots" and "Afghanistan Anno Zero", the latter written in collaboration with my favourite journalist Giulietto Chiesa and my favourite political cartoonist Vauro.

Bukashì reminded me just how important Emergency is. In their statement of purpose it reads:

"Two basic factors are weighed before EMERGENCY decides whether or not to undertake a project: the effective need for specialist medical or surgical services and the absence of similar humanitarian projects in the given country.

Emergency builds and runs- Hospitals for those wounded in war and for surgical emergencies- Physical and Social Rehabilitation Centres for the victims of anti-personnel mines and other war injuries- First Aid Posts (FAPs) for emergency treatment- Health Centres for basic medical assistance.

Emergency trains national staff to meet highly professional standards.Emergency offers humanitarian aid to prisoners in conflict zones.Emergency sets up development projects in the countries where it operates."

All of this may sound like the usual chatter, but when every international organisation from the UN to the International Red Cross was packing up and dashing from war zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq, Emergency was augmenting their presence, at great personal cost and risk. What good is humanitarian aid if it runs when the going gets tough? Strada presents the story of the days immediately following the events of 11 September 2002, focussing on what that meant to the country that was destined to be attacked by the world's super power and its people. It is eye opening, tragic and devastating.

Strada's staff not only has established hospitals, but it was also involved in an innovative prisoner exchange program between factions in the civil war. Strada makes an interesting point: prisoners of war are always one of the most delicate issues, and once that issue has begun to be taken into consideration, it can open up a spiral of hope for peace between factions and greatly reduce hostilities. It is this regard to the human matters which makes Emergency a precious contribution wherever it has been established.

I found a very interesting interview which accompanied a PBS documentary on Strada (which unfortunately has not aired in Italy) and post a few comments from interview with Gino Strada

Strada: Afghanistan remains one of the most deprived countries in the world. 23 years of war (and peace is definitely not on the horizon!) have shattered the country and before September 11th the so called international community has simply ignored or censured the tragedy of the Afghan people.

P.O.V.: What other relief organizations are active in Afghanistan? Were you literally the only hospital in Kabul in the early months of 2002?

Strada: Even now the EMR Surgical Center in Kabul is the only high standard facility totally free of charge. EMR has been the only agency which decided to stay in Afghanistan after September 11th, and we were in Kabul at the time of the take-over by the mujaheddin.

P.O.V.: What can people do to help?

Strada: Stop thinking of war and killing like means to solve the problems and help independent, non-political and effective humanitarian projects.


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