Monday, February 27, 2006

Andrew Weeks: Generosity key to Red Cross helping when disaster hits

Among the urgent things of life, such as taking the kids to soccer practice and getting to work on time, it's easy to let the important slip to the bottom of the list.

Household emergency plans sit firmly on the wrong half of the list for most people. There are so many other things to do and, besides, disasters don't happen in New Zealand, do they?

Wrong. Disasters can happen anywhere and to anyone, even in New Zealand. They are not the preserve of Third World countries.

Hurricane Katrina showed us that help is always needed in a major disaster, even in a First World country. Look at the North Island floods. New Zealanders are generous when other countries are hit by disaster but they also need to be able to help themselves.

Let me pose some important questions. How would Aucklanders cope if an earthquake or volcanic eruption hit the city? Do they have a plan to ensure their children get home from school? Will returning home from work involve walking a long distance? If their homes are damaged, do they have somewhere else to go?

This week is New Zealand Red Cross Annual Appeal Week. Newspapers and television commercials will remind us all that disasters do not discriminate.

The campaign is intentionally provocative. People being hurt, injured, and even killed is the reality when disaster strikes. People may have to survive for up to three days on their own, and it could be months before they can live in their houses again.

This week, New Zealand Red Cross wants to raise awareness about disasters and disaster preparedness. As well as raising funds for domestic and international activities, we will be distributing Civil Defence emergency plan brochures that we helped to launch in Auckland last year.

The brochures advise what civilians should to do if disaster strikes.

Regardless of the disaster and where it happens, Red Cross will be there to help. A federation with 183 societies, Red Cross is the world's largest humanitarian organisation. In famine, war and natural disaster, Red Cross works with Civil Defence and government officials.

The Red Cross uses donations to maintain its infrastructure, ensuring emergency preparedness and response in regions throughout the country are in good shape.

Some of the money collected contributes to international programmes, particularly in the Pacific, and for funding the costs of sending delegates to international responses.

Donations can be made by calling 0900 Red Cross (0900 73 327) to make a $20 gift, by using the appeal envelope or by visiting the link below.

* Andrew Weeks is the director general of New Zealand Red Cross

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