Friday, 2 July 2010

Red Cross doctor dies - Richard Munz

Yesterday sitting in my office overlooking Jakarta, a message from Joe Lowry flashed on my screen announcing Richard Munz had died.

"It must be a mistake" I thought because Richard was invincible, indestructable and a self-contained human dynamo of action and compassion. I recalled he must have been in his mid-fifties so I lived in the belief I would see him at a few more disasters in the next decade or two. But no, Richard is dead. He was no stranger to death  as he was an expert on international humanitarian aid, writer, surgeon, academic and veteran of 38 disasters over the past 20 years. Richard was always out front, often the first to come across those killed or badly injured, and he saved countless lives with his skill and backpack of basic medical supplies and instruments.

MUZAFFARABAD, PAKISTAN - OCTOBER 26: German doctor Richard Munz (R) examines a young boy at the Basic Health Care of the German Red Cross on October 26, 2005 in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan controlled Kashmir. The current death toll is now believed to be over 54,000 from the South Asian earthquake that happened over 2 weeks ago. Photo: Life

In the early hours of this morning I received this email from Marcel Fortier, head of delegation IFRC in Haiti.

The passing away of a valued colleague

It is with great sadness that we have learnt that Dr Richard Munz, the manager of the Red Cross Finnish German field hospital at Carrefour, passed away last night.

Dr Munz was an esteemed colleague with decades of experience in the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.

As many of you will know he played an active role at the beginning of the Haiti operation and has for the past weeks managed the field hospital in Carrefour, one of the most impressive services we have provided for the people of Haiti.
His loss touches us all and our condolences go to his family.
Marcel Fortier

Richard came in as a FACT (Field Assessment Coordination team) member after the Gujarat earthquake in 2001 and did a brilliant medical assessment which resulted in a 400 bed Finnish/Norwegian Red Cross hospital being set up to treat the thousands of people crushed by the quake.

Richard has seen more disasters than some people have seen hot dinners and I have had the privilige in working with him in Gujarat, India 2001, Pakistan 2005, Tsunami 2005 and again in West Sumatra earthquake last year.

Richard has Degree in Medicine (Germany), M.A. in Humanitarian Assistance (RUB, Germany and spoke German, English, Spanish and French

I identified with Richard's disdain from red tape, bureaucrats and anything he saw as someone putting an obstacle in his way, or his team's way,  to get to those in need.  We clashed a little last year after the Sumatra earthquake when Richard came in as a one man band and was out there working up the frontline with young Indonesian RC volunteers. I told him when we met, " you need to coordinate better Richard." He smiled, and the smile said all.  It read, " There were people out there needing help, do you want me toi be in stuffy coordination meetings in Padang."

Commenting about the earthquakes he had worked after in recent years when in Haiti. 'It really is one of the worst earthquake situations I ever saw,’ says Dr Richard Munz, 56, an expert on international humanitarian aid, writer, surgeon, academic and veteran of 38 disasters over the past 20 years. 'It hit a very vulnerable population, it hit the capital city, and it hit a place without any pre-existing local response systems – all the systems that might have been there on the ground were just destroyed.’

Tributes have poured in from all around the world and one of his close friends Bernd Schell  said "It's so incredibly sad to see an old friend go, one in the the RCRC world who made a difference in his engagement for others, always in the frontline after all the disasters we went through together, never scared about what he has to confront, and with so much humour and stories to tell. Richard, thanks that I had a chance to work with you in so many occasions, RIP

But let his feats speak for the man who brought medical treatment, first aid, surgery, water sanitation and vaccinations to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in his life, an excerpt from a RC magazine.

Some 140,000 thousand people will benefit from an emergency vaccination campaign that starts today and has been initiated by the Haitian Ministry of Health, UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the main implementing partner of this major public health campaign and is mobilizing over 100 people, mostly Haitian Red Cross volunteers. The IFRC expects to reach 80% of the total number of people to be vaccinated.
‘The campaign will concentrate for the moment in Port-au-Prince since it is here thGat people are considered to be most at risk from disease outbreaks. “People are living in extremely harsh conditions that directly threaten their health and wellbeing” explains Dr. Richard Munz, IFRC Health Coordinator.

From Gujarat, India 2001
More than a week after the quake many survivors still lack shelter and sleep outside in the cold. Red Cross official Dr. Richard Munz commented on the situation last weekend in Bhuj, the worst hit town: “We found destroyed villages and destroyed houses, and many people sleeping on the streets without any tents, and without any blankets.”
 From the 2004 earthquake in Bam, Iran.

One main objective achieved has been to ensure the water supply to the newly constructed Red Cross and Red Crescent hospital, set up with the financial support of European Union’s humanitarian office, as well as two other Red Cross clinics, set up by the german and Japanese Red Cross Societies.

“The water must be in optimal condition for medical staff to clean the instruments and do medical interventions in the hospital and clinics,” says Dr. Richard Munz, International Federation health co-ordinator in Bam.

Richard  made sure he shared his experiences and knowledge was a member of many institutes and forums that served to improve services to disaster affected people such as The Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict (Institut für Friedenssicherungsrecht und Humanitäres Völkerrecht, IFHV) which was established in 1988.

So farewell Richard. I think of those pleasant evenings we spent on the outskirts of the Bhuj desert, near our tents and close to the surgery tent, spinning a yarn or two, and sipping Kingfisher beer. You wanted to make a difference, and you did. It's a pity you couldn't have stayed a day or two longer to watch Germany play in South Africa, but then you were often too busy for things like that. The only thing I am happy about today, is that you died in the field working with the people you have served so attentively, so passionately, and with such bloody-minded determination. They will miss you most.

Thanks to LIFE for permission to reproduce photographs


Anonymous said...


latrine for all family (jamban u semua kelaurga) said...

I am budi laksono, Indonesian medical doctor who built red cross hospsital RC Indonesia and German. it surprise me. some photograp how his and other germany vollunter work for Aceh tsunami make us unhappy with this news. how ever, die is our destiny. but richard teach us how to be useful for humanity

Anonymous said...

I am Hafeez Ur Rahman from Muzaffarabad. i had work with Dr. Richard in German BHU Muzaffarabad Pakistan as Norse Assistant. He was very nice man and was ready for any emergency. Hy heart cannot bleave that he is died.

Anonymous said...

Very sad to learn of Richards death. We worked closely together in Afghanistan in 2001 and bumped into each other in Jakarta airport only a couple of years ago. Always liked his rebelliousness but also his professionalism. He'll be sadly missed. Renny Nancholas

contramore said...

I had the privilege to know him, when he brought his team to help the victims of 1999 Izmit Earthquake.

No words to describe how inspiring he was. I can't believe we lost him. His big heart will not be forgotten.

May his soul rest in peace in heaven.

degisen said...

I remember meeting Richard very vividly. He was the first face of the GRC team that would come out from the airport gate in Istanbul right after 1999 Gölcük earthquake where we had been waiting for teams to volunteer for.

His smiling, all the way humane, gentle, comforting face was the best thing that could have happened to us, worried students at their early 20s during a major catastrophe.

Then through out our time in Izmit, together with Dieter and other members of the team, they conducted magic setting a great example for us which I have been remembering and appreciating ever since.

He had a profound impression on me. I'm simply sorry. May he sleep in peace.

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