Every 8 minutes, a disaster
happens somewhere in the world.
We spend 7 days with the people
6 X Half Hour
Every 8 Minutes
come from every part of the world and every walk of life. They’re known,
loosely as ‘International Disaster Response’ teams. Their job is to go to the worst
places on earth. Towns, cities and countries experiencing flood, earthquakes,
war, diease or drought.
15,000 tents, three field hospitals, 45,000
blankets and 16 tonnes of food – 7 doctors, 12 paras and 3 sniffer dogs – just
part of the manifest for today’s flight by the Emergency Response Unit of the
IDR. These people spend their lives flying round the world to disaster areas.
Often at an hour’s notice.
You see them in the evening news, anonymous
figures moving in the background.
But who are these people?
What is life like for the teams who know
nothing but catastrophe?
While the backdrop is the dramatic sweep of
flood, earthquake and war, the focus is on the people who attend disasters and
the challenges they face. This is the frontline crew. The first on the scene.
Their efficiency and calm can often mean the difference between life and death
for thousands of people.
For 7 days, we work with IDR teams who
travel to disaster spots around the world. For twenty four hours, we get to
know these people – people like you and I who have chosen a most demanding and
Behind these teams are literally hundreds
of volunteers who organize, pack, count, manifest and fundraise. Who are they?
There will be five camera teams waiting to
join five IDR units as they pack up, kiss their family’s goodbye and fly off to
– who knows where.
There are disaster relief teams everywhere –
from the National Council of the Uniting Church in Australia (seven Disaster
Coordinators) to Disaster Relief, who have operations around the world and of
course the International Committee of the Red Cross and the many sub-groups
that work with them.
The outlines below are based on a range of
Obviously, we don’t know what disasters will
happen next – but we do know they will happen.
- We are in a Chinook helicopter, flying low over a ravished
landscape. Dr Larsky is edgy and annoyed. He’s come to this small African
state from Ireland. Customs delayed them for three hours. Now they’re
flying a small medical team and supplies into a remote village that has
been destroyed by flooding. Communications are bad. They don’t really know
the number of casualties and it looks as though land access to the village
- In a makeshift office, Lee Emers from Kansas City, sets up his
communication gear and swears. The translator hasn’t arrived and the ERU
(Emergency Response Unit) are already on their way to the disaster site.
He has to find a boat to take in the larger supplies. He tries the few
words he knows of Spanish but the locals shake their heads in dismay. The
earthquake outside the town of Cotopaxi, has killed dozens and wounded
hundreds. Lee should be coordinating half a dozen teams arriving to help
but, without a translator, he’s powerless to do much but fume.
- In a small mid-western town, the members of the local Uniting
Church have given up another Saturday to pack rations. They do this with
practiced skill, overseen by Deacon Sauder. They’ve sent more than 40,000
ration kits around the world in the past year alone, each of them made up
according to a Red Cross Guide. Plastic cutlery, bottled water, dried
foods and vacuum packed meals form the bulk of the contents of each pack
but the women of the parish always add a personal touch. This Saturday,
there’s an extra buzz in the air as they work – Dora Thiel, seventy in the
shade, is leaving tomorrow to deliver these rations in person to a remote
village in the Philippines, destroyed by mudslides.
- In eastern Africa, Isabelle Bourgeois of the International
Committee of the Red Cross, coordinates a massive team waiting to get the
call. The call has come. Less than a year after 128 people died in an
outbreak of Ebola fever in the western Republic of Congo, the virulent
disease has struck the same region again. A total of 43 cases have been
reported in Mbomo District. 10 dead so far and rising. This is no ordinary
disaster and Isabelle’s not happy about the camera crew going into the
area…Then the ICRC chopper gets stranded in Kinshasa and the camera crew’s
little Bell is the only way to get a doctor to the district quickly.
- In Ust Kut, things are going a little better. The Catholic
Relief Services cargo arrived on that morning. 23 trucks carrying 500
family tents, 8000 family food parcels, 10,000 blankets and nearly 2000
paraffin heaters. A chartered plane is expected to arrive later that day
carrying a further 32 tonnes of relief items, including medical supplies
to treat several thousand casualties. The Red Cross is sending a
family-tracing specialist with several satellite telephones to the city.
He will work with the ICRC to help survivors re-establish contact with
The earthquake at Ust Kut wasn’t that
large – but large enough to destroy most of the dwellings. Even that didn’t
spell the disaster – it was the winter storm that wrapped the flattened village
in gale force, twenty degree below winds. Francois Degradae had wanted to
evacuate the surviving population but the storms precluded air-lifting and it
would take days to garner enough trucks and buses…
on a high tech parka and climbs into a 4WD with the familiar Red Cross on its
roof. With the supplies and the teams organized, he’s going to make the 2 hour
trip to Ust Kut – if he can get through the storm…
- Slightly closer to home, devastating floods have hit
Bangladesh, triggering massive landslides and killing hundreds. In Darwin,
Mark Hanrahan overseas a hastily formed group to co-ordinate Australian
aid with the equally hastily formed Humanitarian Coordination Task Team in
Bangladesh. Communications are dismal. Not knowing what they might need, Mark
decides to take everything; inflatable rafts, life jackets, submersible
searchlights and the usual emergency kit used for just about everything.
Will he have medical assistance? He’s still waiting to hear. Divers? Not
likely. He’s not even sure who his
group will be sharing the RAAF C-130J-30 Hercules with. Medicen sans frontieres, he hopes. Or