Monday, 18 August 2014

Red Cross scales up efforts to tackle growing disaster threats facing cities

August 19th, 2014, Manila – Starting today, a three day meeting in Manila convened by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, aims to develop a roadmap to address the rising humanitarian threat that disasters pose to urban populations.

More than 50 % of the world’s population is now living in urban areas and by 2020, the urban population in low-middle income countries is expected to rise to 80%. In many cities, this rapid growth has outpaced the ability of cities to absorb such numbers and provide essential infrastructure and services. Almost one third of the urban population in low-income countries are living in unregulated and overcrowded shelters with limited access to water, sanitation and drainage.

“We are seeing increased vulnerability, especially in the low social economic groups who often have no choice but to live in slums or informal settlements”, explains Gwen Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross - the  host of the meeting.   “Often these settlements are located in hazard-prone locations such as steep hillsides, industrial areas, and riverbanks subject to flooding. Here in the Philippines we suffer over 20 tropical storms each year and these communities are hit hardest when flooding affects Metro Manila”.

The IFRC meeting brings together disaster management specialists from the International Red Cross Movement in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, together with representatives from Government authorities, the UN, NGOs and academic and private institutions. Discussions will be centred on a shared common purpose - to develop an effective approach to urban disaster management.

‘We are seeing an increase in the number and severity of extreme weather related disasters”, explains Nelson Castano, the IFRC’s head of disaster management for Asia Pacific, “cities will also feel the effects of climate change through increasing frequency of heat waves, air pollution, severe storms and infectious diseases. The Red Cross aims to help citizens prepare for, respond to, and recover from urban disasters but no single organisation can manage the urban disaster management agenda on its own”

Participants at the workshop will be discussing a range of themes including: urban risk assessment, disaster law in urban contexts, violence and protection, the impacts of climate change and technology and communication with at risk communities. The meeting will also reflect on lessons learnt from the response to Typhoon Haiyan which devastated central areas of Philippines in 2013. 

As country coordinator in the Philippines for the Swiss Red Cross it was a memorable occasion last night at the opening dinner where Chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, Dick Gordon gave a powerful keynote address outlining the increasing pressure on urban areas in the Philippines, especially Manila with its 14 million people and other parts of Asia, and how the Red Cross must scale up its efforts to assist the growing number of urban poor. Dick Gordon presented us a very bleak picture of what would happen if Manila was struck by a moderate to large earthquake. 

I am pleased the Swiss Red Cross tackles the issue of urbanization in its  Disaster management concept paper by "highlighting the rapid economic growth which is concentrated primarily in cities and the world is experiencing massive internal migration to urban areas. Most of the world's population now lives in urban settings, implying changing lifestyles and different patters of vulnerability. Some of these urban areas are particularly risk-prone (flood, earthquake, violence) as urban development has often outpaced smart and safe planning."

The Swiss Red Cross looks forward to strengthening its partnership with the Philippine Red Cross in risk reduction and climate change adaption programmes in the chapters it is working with in the Philippines.
At the opening of the Red Cross Red Crescent Asia and Pacific Urban Disaster Management workshop. Right to left. Emily from China, Pavinee from Thailand, Gothami from Sri Lanka and Bob McKerrow Swiss Red Cross country coordinator.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Fresh twist in 40-year-old USSR - NZ Cold War spy mystery

Forty years after he was acquitted of spying, electrifying new evidence has emerged showing that top government official Bill Sutch was a KGB recruit working under the codename "Maori".
The Dominion Post has obtained copies of official KGB records that show Sutch was a 24-year veteran recruit of the feared Soviet spy agency when he was arrested while meeting a KGB agent at an Aro Valley park, in Wellington, in 1974.

But his daughter says the evidence does not match her father and maintains he was not involved with the Soviets.
Sutch was acquitted of a charge obtaining information helpful to the enemy, following a sensational five-day trial.

Bill Sutch
UNDER ARREST: Detective Senior Sergeant Colin Lines leads Bill Sutch to a car in the Aro Valley sting, September 1974.
Bill Sutch, Dimitri Razgovorov
ON THE RUN: Dimitri Razgovorov, a KGB officer, sprints down Aro St in Wellington when he realises Sutch has been arrested.
Kit Bennetts
SPY GUY: Former SIS agent Kit Bennetts, about the time of the raid.

Forty years later, the records provide the KGB's answer to the enduring question from New Zealand's greatest spy scandal: Was Sutch, a brilliant and senior bureaucrat who influenced several prime ministers, a Soviet spy?
Smuggled out of Russia by a KGB defector, the papers also provide coded details of other Kiwis the KGB recruited during the Cold War.
They even reveal the KGB's New Zealand budget, showing that the year Sutch was arrested, their safe held a surplus $2504.64.
The documents don't name Sutch but the details clearly identify him and state he was recruited in 1950.
Given the codename "Maori", the records say Sutch was in contact with a KGB agent, Drozhzhin.
The former SIS agent who caught Sutch in a clandestine meeting with KGB agent Dmitri Razgovorov in Holloway Rd, said the documents vindicated SIS attention on Sutch.
"I'm delighted . . . not because I want to stick it to Bill Sutch, but because I always knew it to be true," former agent Kit Bennetts said. "It is important we don't run from our history, no matter how uncomfortable it might be."
It was regrettable Sutch refused to co-operate when confronted with evidence of his previous meetings with the KGB agent, Bennetts said.
"What we really wanted to know was what he'd done in the past. There was no desire to send him to prison. If he'd co-operated he would have got his knighthood and no-one would be any the wiser."

Sutch's daughter, Helen Sutch, said last night she did not agree that the files showed her father was a KGB recruit for 24 years before his arrest and acquittal.
"The idea is absurd. My father was a true New Zealander and his life was dedicated to New Zealand's interests as his whole career and his personal life and his books and lectures show," she said.
"My father was charged on the basis of a few meetings at the end of his life, long after his retirement, not on anything he had done in his career and even then the charges wouldn't stick."
The KGB files did not surprise her.
"It is well known that KGB agents in general were desperate to talk up any contacts they had because they were under pressure from their superiors," she said.
The new evidence comes from papers copied by former top KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, who defected in 1992.
The papers have just been made public by Churchill College at Cambridge University in Britain. Only a few pages of the Mitrokhin records are devoted to New Zealand.
The file with New Zealand material in it says the KGB recruited an "ex-high ranking official in state machinery" who was born in 1907, obtained a PhD and retired in 1965.
That profile is a perfect match to Sutch who was born in June 1907, held a PhD and retired as the head of the Department of Industries and Commerce in 1965.
The KGB thumbnail sketch says the agent was "recruited in 1950," given the codename Maori and was "in contact with Drozhzhin".
Sutch therefore appears to have been recruited in New York as he was secretary-general of New Zealand's United Nations delegation there from 1947 to 1951.
Bennetts said Drozhzhin was a "seriously good KGB agent".
"He was so good he taught me my trade. When the new guy [Razgovorov] came along we'd got really good at what we were doing . . . we didn't set out to catch Sutch . . . they [KGB] led us to him."
Bennetts said even in the face of the new evidence some people will refuse to believe Sutch was a Soviet recruit.
Doubters should ask why the KGB were still meeting Sutch, he said.
"Why would they stuff around with someone for 25 years if he was no use to them?"
Thanks to the The Dominion Post for permission to run this article.