World Water Day: Keeping Communities Safe from Drought and Zika

World Water Day: Keeping Communities Safe from Drought and Zika

Red Cross volunteers in the Americas are working hard to ensure that household water tanks – which are used to help communities cope with droughts related to El Niño – do not become breeding grounds for the mosquito that spreads the Zika virus.

Globally, more than 60 million people have been affected by droughts related to El Niño, which have affected agricultural production and damaged food security. Some countries in the Dry Corridor of Central America have been forced to declare a state of national emergency, with responses focused on water provision and the rehabilitation of supply systems.

However, the solution to one crisis – the drought – could worsen the ongoing Zika public health emergency, so the Red Cross is taking action in communities across the Americas to raise awareness of good practices in water, sanitation, and disease prevention.

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International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Story by Wendy Ward, National Headquarters, Senior Advocacy and Program Policy Officer

The Mirabal Sisters

The Mirabal Sisters

For 30 years, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo ruled the Dominican Republic as a brutal dictator. On November 25, 1960, three women who opposed his regime were murdered in a sugarcane field at the hands of Trujillo’s secret police.  The Mirabal sisters, - Minerva, Maria and Patria - were wives and mothers who led a resistance movement to overthrow Trujillo.  They lost their lives in pursuit of social justice and positive political transformation in their country.

Nearly 40 years later, the United Nations General Assembly designated November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  This designation is based on a long-standing tradition of women activists using the date that marks the assassination of the Mirabal sisters to raise awareness of the issue of violence against women.  Ending this violence is essential to defend fundamental human rights.

Violence against women has been characterized as a “pandemic.” Up to 70 percent of women in some countries will have faced violence in her lifetime.  Women are killed by family members and intimate partners.  They are trafficked and sexually exploited.  As children, they are married off, acutely vulnerable to physical abuse.  Female genital mutilation is pervasive in 29 countries in the Middle East and Africa; and in many parts of the world, women and girls who have experienced sexual violence face being shunned because of cultural taboos.

As someone who works for an organization that responds to international emergencies, it’s wrenching to learn about violence against women that occurs in armed conflicts and natural disasters.  These events cause deep instability, and too many women and girls already live under volatile conditions. Where gender inequalities existed before, they can intensify during emergencies in the absence of structure and order, and the things that help us meet our basic needs.

Steps can be taken during emergencies and recovery to prevent, mitigate and respond to violence against women and girls.  Unaccompanied women and children should be registered, and their health and wellbeing safeguarded.  Programs and services that address violence against women can be activated as part of the emergency response.  Women must be involved in post-emergency decision-making and their perspectives integrated into recovery planning.  

We have to continue talking about the problem. The American Red Cross recently hosted a panel event  to discuss ways to combat sexual violence in Syria and Iraq, where incidents of sexual violence in armed conflict are being reported.  One of the key themes of the conversation was addressing stigma in a complicated regional context.

Despite stereotypes of powerlessness, women are incredibly resilient in the face of emergencies.  Resilience is a concept embedded in elements of the new proposed Sustainable Development Goals.  These goals, which will be adopted in 2015, include one that focuses specifically on achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. 

To meet this goal, countries must end all forms of discrimination against women and girls; eliminate all forms of violence against them, including trafficking and sexual exploitation, and eliminate practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.  The means to implement this goal depends on a global partnership that cuts across all borders and through all sectors of society to engage all of us.

Today we raise awareness of this scourge of violence against women and girls.  We must collectively join efforts to stop it.  I hope that in a generation, our children – particularly our girls – can honor the Mirabal sisters’ legacy without having to recognize violence against women as an enduring reality.

My Experience in Dominican Republic

Sneha Krish (right), International Services and Service to the Armed Forces Chair for the Youth Executive Board of the Greater Long Beach Chapter

Sneha Krish (right), International Services and Service to the Armed Forces Chair for the Youth Executive Board of the Greater Long Beach Chapter

Story by Sneha Krish, Greater Long Beach Chapter, International and SAF Youth Executive Board Chair

I have been an active youth volunteer with the Long Beach/Rio Hondo Chapter for two years, ever since my freshmen year of high school. The passion I have for the Red Cross has grown so much; therefore, in April, I applied to be part of the Youth Executive Board of the Greater Long Beach Chapter and was chosen to be the International Services and Service to Armed Forces Chair. I am ecstatic to devote my time to this line of service.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, I had never actually witnessed poverty or hunger directly before my eyes. I grew up in the safe bubble that my parents have created for me. But, one trip outside this safety zone was all it took to widen my perspective.

Three weeks ago, charged with excitement, I boarded a flight to the Dominican Republic with a group of around twenty students from school. Our goal was to help The Mariposa DR Foundation, a girl empowerment organization, through painting, menial construction work, and teaching. Since it was my first time out of the country without family, I was nervous and anxious about how I would manage. As a 16-year-old vegetarian girl, I knew I would have to adapt during our two-week stay in a different country. Except, when the flight landed and we reached the town we were assigned to work at, my problems paled in comparison to what I saw around me.

Paradise means a very beautiful, pleasant, or peaceful place that seems to be perfect according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary. I realized that we, back in the states, live in paradise. Our definition of poverty or the poor is nowhere close to what it actually is. Many in the Dominican Republic do not have all of the amenities that we are so lucky to enjoy. Electricity is a luxury, and even if you are rich enough to pay for it, it comes and goes, staying only for eight hours and coming back ten hours later. In the US, we live with dozens of types of technology and unlimited Wi-Fi, but often, we have taken all of this for granted.

The girls in the Dominican Republic, on the other hand, live with no air conditioning, computers, or microwaves yet they survive in the tropics all the same. To add on to their troubles, potable water in the Dominican Republic is hard to come by. Purification systems cost an arm, a leg, and a head; and are therefore unavailable to most people, leaving only two options: boiled or bottled water.

Many, who have large families, also resort to trapping rainwater, but during a drought there is no rainwater and bottled water prices undergo heavy inflation. Water is impermanent and seems to disappear when it is most needed. Also, families who live in the same community share latrines. The use of communal washrooms increases the risk of epidemics since proper sanitation techniques are not implemented. In their world, they shower in cold water and try to figure out their next meal for the day.

We spent all our time with the girls at the Mariposa Center and as every moment passed, I couldn’t help but wonder how people with so little could be so happy. This just proved that material wealth doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. They shared almost everything with each other. Their sense of sisterhood and community was so admirable and I felt so humbled to be part of this world, if only for a short time.

I was given the opportunity to interact not only with the girls, but also their parents. By talking to them, I discovered that everyone within a community is of a different status, meaning that some may be extremely poor and others, rather well-off, yet no one starves or is abandoned. The mother that I was able to converse with said, “Our duty as neighbors is to protect and stand by each other. Who else is there for us?”

Laughter was in abundance throughout our time in the Dominican Republic. While we painted, while we ate, and while we cleaned the school as well as prepared it for its opening in the fall, all I heard was the giggling of girls who appreciated everything we helped them with. Even when we spoke our Americanized version of Spanish, they smiled and patiently explained new words and phrases to us. After my time with them, I believe that paradise for me, is wherever those girls are.

I have learned so much from this trip. Though it may seem cliché, I have become so grateful for everything. Every time I turn on the faucet, charge my phone, or drink water, I think of them. I can only hope that I have left an impact on their lives as much they have on mine. One day, I wish to be part of a greater cause, and I know that this particular experience, and all of my Red Cross adventures will allow me to do so, in college and beyond.