Friday, 29 March 2013

Mt. Awful New Zealand

John Nankervis (right) with hat on at old Pioneer Hut in 1975. Bob McKerrow left and Russell Combes centre. Photo: Bob McKerrow

There is something in a name. Mount Awful.  My cousin Michael Cooper died on Mt. Awful at Easter 1967 when I was climbing on Mt. Huxley, some 100 km away as the crow flies. It was a dreadful blow to our extended family.

This morning I got the news that my good friend and fellow mountaineer John Nankervis was badly injured on a fall on Mt. Awful last Wednesday.

                                           Mt. Awful in the Mount Aspiring National Park.

This is what the Southland Times reported:

Climber falls 140m; helmet and registered beacon help save him

By Mark Price on Thu, 28 Mar 2013

Wearing a helmet may have saved the life of a climber who fell 140m on a rocky peak near Mt Awful, 
yesterday, in Mt Aspiring National Park.

The New Zealand climber, whose name was not released last night, was flown by helicopter to
Dunedin Hospital with serious head, back, facial and arm injuries.

Constable Les Andrew, of Twizel, said the man was in a party of four climbers descending and
sidling around a rocky ridge.

His foot slipped on a damp rock and he fell - 3m at first and then another 140m.

After a debriefing of the Department of Conservation alpine rescue team at Mt Cook late yesterday 
afternoon, Const Andrew said the man was ''lucky to be alive'' and wearing a helmet might have
saved him.

Rescue Co-ordination Centre search and rescue mission co-ordinator Dave Wilson said the man, in
his 60s, required ''some serious medical attention''.

He was flown off the mountain by helicopter to Queenstown Hospital and then to Dunedin.

The centre was alerted about 11am when a personal locator beacon carried by the climbers was
A Helicopter Line helicopter flew the rescue team to the scene of the fall, near the Gillespie Pass 
at an altitude of about 1300m.

Const Andrew said the rescue was made easier by the actions of others in the party.

Aware a helicopter would be on the way, one member of the party remained at a higher altitude
with bright clothing.

He was spotted from the helicopter and the rescue went reasonably smoothly after that.

The four male climbers are understood to all be New Zealanders ranging up in age from about 20.

Mr Wilson said the incident showed the value of carrying a distress beacon registered on website

''Because it was registered, we were quickly able to establish from the party's emergency contact
 the make-up of the party and their climbing intentions.
  ''It has enabled the injured person to get medical attention as quickly as possible.''

John Nankervis, 2nd from right, taken with a party comprising L to R, Colin Monteath, Mike browne, Dave Bamford, Chris Bonnington, Nank and veteran Ed Cotter. Photo: Bob McKerrow

This morning Colin Monteath informed me that Nank is recovering in the ICU at Christchurch Hospital. Close friends John Wild and Dave Bamford visited him this morning. I am praying, I am sure along with many other friends, that Nank will make a good recovery for he is such a wonderful human being who has contributed so much to mountaineering in New Zealand.

I now switch back to Easter 1967 when I returned home to Dunedin elated after  a successful climb of Mt. Huxley my Mother hugged me and said, “ Michael Cooper, your cousin is dead.” I was numbed.

While we were putting a camp in under Mount Huxley on March 26, 1967, and preparing for our big climb the following day, Michael had camped on a ledge somewhere under Mt. Awful, and as he walked along a ledge to get some water to cook the evening meal with, he slipped on some mountain tussock, and fell to his death over a rocky ledge and down a mountain face. Eighteen years old, academically bright, handsome, athletic and the world was at his feet. A life snuffed out like a flame from a candle.

In the conservative 50s and 60s, we were never encouraged to go to funerals and somehow I never really grieved for Michael.

Sadly for his father and mother, my Uncle Campbell and Auntie Mavis, they had lost their first son, Murray. His death was on the same website I visited this morning.

Cooper, Murray Campbell, Born Feb 15 1940 in Dunedin,, Otago, New Zealand, Died 1945 in Portobello, Dunedin, , Otago, New Zealand

Uncle Campbell lived in Portobello and used to take a small ferry across the Otago Harbour to his work in Dunedin. One night he came home and he looked for Murray, who usually met him at the ferry, and he couldn't see him. A few minutes later his body was found floating in the sea. Campbell and Mavis are dead, but one son, Maxwell survives.

The same year two other close friends who were emerging mountaineers died: Richard Tilley killed by an avalanche on Avalanche Peak in Arthur’s Pass, and Howard Laing, in a car accident. Mt. Awfaul and Avalanche Peak are names that stick in my mind.

I remember writing a poem at the time about the deaths of friends on mountains. Perhaps that is how I worked through my grief:

All stones we learn as children
Are dead inanimate things
But stones falling on a mountain
Are alive with a death that sings

A stone's song is enchanting
Fit for mountain Kings
First it’s high, then low
Lachrymose from the strings

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Mountains of our mind.

The North Face of Mellizos- Cordillera Vilcabamba-Peru. Photo: John Lawrence.

Occasionally I look at photos taken on my first overseas expedition to Peru at the tender age of 19. The photo above was taken by  John Lawrence, who lives in North Carolina, USA, of the most technical, and most difficult climb we did during the month we climbed together. The photo was taken 45 years ago.
 John is finally digitizing his vast photo collection and we are working together on a book of that amazing expedition to the Peruvian Andes. John and I did the first ascent of the North Face of Mellizos, by the route marked on the photograph.

In the forty five years since we did, from memory, five first ascents in the Andes, we have both gone our separate ways but have kept in touch regularly. John has gone on to be a very respected psychologist and is still very interested in the 'Mountains of our Minds." He has explored the theme rigorously.

I recall John and I on two occasions, being stuck in tents as blizzards raged outside. In the intimacy of a tent at 19,000 feet, where there is no privacy, and your life is in the balance, you think about mountains and the place they have in your mind. In fact, you think a lot about fear when nature takes control of your life and environment.

John was about eight years older than me and had just obtained his PhD in psychology. I remember John telling me that "the mind is limitless," and he quoted the following.

"It is not the chains that bind our body, but the chains that bind our minds that restrict us."

Another view of the North Face of Mellizos

It was John's influence that helped me come up with the title of my second book, The Mountains of Our Mind, a collection of essays, poems and photos I wrote in Afghanistan The cover photo of my book is below.

In 1995 when I was camped under the peak of Mir Samir in Afghanistan, I wrote this poem about the mountains of our mind which explores the way we escape to the mountains from the mess on the plains.

Mountains of our Mind

From the courtyard of our dreams
To the mountains of our mind
We escape the blood and violence
To a white world sublime

Born on the edge of a cloud
I saw snowflakes form
Together we danced a ring of fire
Before the day was born

We travel on a moon ship
Where lunacy dictates
Where love is like a mountain
And where there is no hate

We scud along the summit ridge
Where the updrafts push
I am the King of Kabul
And lord the Hindu Kush

Bob McKerrow (copyright)

The same year as I published my book, Robert Mcfarlane published a book with almost a similar title as mine, 'Mountains of the Mind."

The result is a compelling and affectionate portrait of Man’s changing attitude to Nature at its most extreme.

Bob McKerrow at the top of the North Face of Mellizos, climbing up to the summit ridge. Photo: J.E.S. Lawrence

This attitude started to change in the eighteenth century, when ‘people started for the first time to travel to mountains out of a spirit other than necessity, and a coherent sense began to develop of the splendour of mountainous landscape’. Prior to this, dangerous peaks were to be avoided, and climbing them for the sake of it was considered tantamount to madness (and, to other cultures, such as the Sherpa people, almost sacrilegious).

As the nineteenth century progressed, courting danger at high altitude for the sheer thrill that it provoked became firmly entrenched in society. Ruskin in particular thought that turning back from a dangerous place would result in a slight deterioration of character.
Upon their return to Britain from their exploits, explorers gave lectures to huge crowds in the cities, and it soon became the thing for sons of the aristocracy to be guided through the Alps as part of their Grand Tour.

Gradually, this spirit of adventure, in conjunction with the twentieth century’s advances in transport and communication technology, has conquered almost all the unknown regions of the world. No matter how many people die on mountains every year, climbers will continue to climb, in search of personal fulfillment and victory over the inanimate peaks.

Macfarlane’s book is a classic.
The one we didn't climb in 1968, Pumasillo, Cordillera Vilcabamba, Peru. We got well (over 6000 m) up on this, the north ridge of Pumasillo, and John got snow blind, and we had to retreat. I doubt as if we would have climbed it as the snow was like melting like ice cream, and kept breaking under our weight.

I started this posting with a tribute to John Lawrence who opened by mind to the mountains, to handle fear in a rational way, and above all, to understand the mountains of my mind. Thank you John.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Interview with Sandra D'Urzo - Senior Shelter Officer at IFRC Geneva.

Sandra D'Urzo IFRC (right) and Jaime Royo-Olid EU (left) two experienced shelter and settlement experts at a PASSA workshop in Colombo last week. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Delighted to have Sandra D'Urzo from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies headquarters in Geneva visit the north of Sri Lanka in the past two weeks. Have a look at her interview on Shelter, Settlement and PASSA.

A permanent house with a transitional shelter attached to the rear in Aceh Indonesia. Red Cross built 20,000 transitional and 20,000 permanent houses after the Asian Tsunami. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Graham Saunders gives an introuduction to PASSA

Shelter and settlement risks and vulnerabilities are on the
increase due to changes in disaster trends, the impact of climate
change, as well as growing social and economic marginalisation
and urbanisation. At the same time, institutional resources to
support safe and adequate housing are declining because of
global financial constraints, the move towards smaller, less
interventionist government, and the scale of the challenges
faced. Households and communities that were previously able
to safeguard their lives and assets using their own resources
and know-how are increasingly finding that the type, scale and
frequency of the hazards they are now being exposed to pose a
severe threat to their safety and well-being.
Major disasters often, but not always, generate sufficient funding
for the required reconstruction and recovery. This can promote
the need to ‘build back better’; however, this is the exception.
With disaster trends indicating a move towards more frequent
small and medium-scale emergencies, the majority of households
affected by such localized disasters have to draw upon their own
limited resources, and invariably rebuild the same vulnerabilities.
There is no active presence to promote better practices in
mitigation and limited or no financial or technical support to
incorporate sustainable approaches to building resilience. What
can be done in such contexts, with unlimited needs but very
limited external resources?

A participatory approach to safe shelter awareness (PASSA)
aims to raise the awareness of the ‘everyday vulnerable’ of the
‘everyday risks’ related to their built environment and foster
locally appropriate safe shelter and settlement practices. It
offers a simple process, facilitated by the Red Cross Red Crescent

volunteers and technical advisors, through which communities International
Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies can build upon
 their own insights, skills and leadership to attain
improved living conditions and safer habitats.

Community participation is a crucial factor to success. here is a grievance meeting in Mannar Sri Lanka where people have a chance to discuss about those who got houses, and those who missed out.

Using a step-by-step methodology, PASSA utilizes three
complementary processes. Firstly, it harnesses the established role
of the National Societies to support community-led and socially
inclusive development activities. Secondly, it enables communities
to identify their own solutions and realistic and comprehensive
strategies for addressing the myriad of problems that include
spatial and environmental planning, local building cultures and
the effectiveness of local construction techniques. Thirdly, it
fosters partnerships between local authorities, communities and
supporting organizations to prepare for, cope with and recover
from disasters.
The expertise of construction specialists is needed throughout
the process, to respond to technical issues arising and to help
manage the expectations of communities and households on
modifications to houses and the surrounding settlement. These
professionals work collaboratively with social mobilizers to
promote awareness, bring coherence to the risk-management
efforts and ensure the technical performance of the safe shelter
and settlement solutions identified.
PASSA draws upon the well-established practice of community
action planning, and the participatory hygiene and sanitation
transformation (PHAST) methodology used by many National
Societies. With IFRC’s vulnerability and capacity assessment
(VCA) to provide an overall analysis of a community’s needs
and assets, PASSA is the participatory tool to comprehensively
identify and safeguard against shelter and settlement risks.9
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Foreword Participatory Approach for Safe Shelter Awareness
The use of PASSA valuably informs both individual and
community understanding of vulnerability related to the built
environment, and leads to the identification and promotion
of locally appropriate measures to achieve safer shelter and settlement.

Farewell to Everest conquering climber George Lowe

George Lowe is dead. I feel a sense of grief and loss for it is the parting of a team of our greatest NZ mountain sons.. A short time ago I posted on facebook thus: 

The super-great New Zealand mountaineer George Lowe died yesterday. Of 1953 Everest fame, George started his adventures in the Ruahines and then made his mark in the Southern Alps with Sir Edmund Hillary, Ed Cotter and Earl Riddiford. His last years were hard ones for friends and family as he had Alzheimers so his passing over the 'divide' is a relief. Ed Cotter visited George and his wife regularly in England and was a faithful rope partner til the end. A photo of George Lowe right, and Ed Cotter last year in the UK. 

For a young New Zealand boy brought up on the heroics of Hillary, Lowe, Cotter and Riddiford on the first ascent of the Maximilian ridge of Mount Elie de Beaumont, and later Lowe and Hillary on a successful first ascent of Mount Everest, it is the passing of a 'great.'

For years my family has been close to George Lowe's climbing partner, Ed Cotter. Ed has been George's very close friend and visited England regularly to support George and his wife, as George deteriorated with Alzheimer disease.   Here is a photo of George (right)  and Ed Cotter.

Here is what his local newspaper the 'Hawkes Bay Today' recorded.

 Hastings Boys' High School is likely to permanently commemorate possibly its most famous pupil who has died in England - Everest-conquering expedition climber George Lowe.

School principal Robert Sturch, who last night conceded he'd never heard of George Lowe until he arrived at the school in 2002 and was introduced to the former head prefect returning as guest speaker for its centennial, said the death was marked with a minute's silence at an assembly yesterday.

Sir Edmund Hillary and Mr George Lowe , both members of the successful Everest Expedition , studying a chart of the Antarctic during their London talks .
Sir Edmund Hillary and Mr George Lowe , both members of the successful Everest Expedition , studying a chart of the Antarctic during their London talks .

But "without a doubt" there would be something to mark the life of a man for whom he said there could be few better examples of "courage and commitment".

As the school of 771 boys was told of the death there was a mixture of acclaim and disbelief - the latter mainly from younger students previously unaware of the school's links to the 1953 conquering of Mt Everest, and the role of a former pupil often referred to as the "forgotten" man of the expedition.

He was the man to whom Sir Edmund Hillary about 11.30am on May 29, 1953, announced the conquering of Mt Everest with one of the most famous lines of the 20th century: "Well, we knocked the bastard off."

George Lowe (left) and Edmund Hillary relax at camp near the Lhotse Face, during their 1953 Everest Expedition
George Lowe (left) and Edmund Hillary relax at camp near the Lhotse Face, during their 1953 Everest ExpeditionRoyal Geographical society

On behalf of the school, Mr Sturch has passed on condolences to bereaved family members in England where Mr Lowe died in a nursing home, aged 89.

He was born Wallace George Lowe in Hastings on January 15, 1924, one of eight children. His parents were Archie and Teenie Lowe, who operated an orchard off Maraekakaho Rd, Stortford Lodge. Lowe St is named after Archie Lowe, who was a Hastings Borough Council member from 1938-41.

George went to Hastings West School, now known as Raureka, and from 1938-43 was at the then-Hastings High School, where he played lock in the first XV rugby team. An arm injury at the age of nine proved little impediment as he grew up, delivering papers and milk on his bike, and he developed an interest in tramping.

After two years at Wellington Teachers' Training College he returned to Hastings where he taught at Parkvale School, from where he would leave for the Everest expedition - returning to a parade in Heretaunga St.
Moving to England, he made a point of returning to Hawke's Bay for some time at least once a year, often visiting his old school, and on one visit, in 2004, was accorded Freedom of the City in an investiture by Mayor Lawrence Yule.

Until his death he was the last surviving climber from the team that helped establish the final camp 300m below the Everest summit the day before Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the peak.

Sir Ed's son, Peter, yesterday remembered Mr Lowe as a talented man who shared his father's passions for climbing and helping others.

Mr Lowe had contributed to the mountaineering community in New Zealand and overseas, including the education of people living near Mt Everest in the Himalayas. Those people were "were real priorities for George", he told Radio New Zealand.

"That's perhaps one of the really significant thing about today losing George. It just is another stamp of how important this New Zealand connection with Mt Everest is," he said.

He referred to the Mt Everest climbs involving his father and Mr Lowe and their later work building the schools and hospitals. "It's been a long New Zealand involvement with the highest mountain on the planet."

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Happy Nowrūz نوروز, Nauroz

Nowrūz (Persian: نوروز, various local pronunciations and spellings) is the traditional Iranian new year holiday celebrated in Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, Georgia, the countries of Central Asia such as Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, as well as among various other Iranian and Turkic people in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, Northwestern China, the Caucasus, the Crimea,the Balkans and Malaysia and Indonesia.

Nowruz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the Iranian year as well as the beginning of the Bahá'í year. It is celebrated on the day of the astronomical vernal equinox (start of spring in northern hemisphere), which usually occurs on the March 21st or the previous/following day depending on where it is observed.

As well as being a Zoroastrian holiday, it is also a holy day for adherents of Sufism as well as Bahá'í Faith. In Iran it is also referred to as an Eid festival, although it is not an Islamic feast. Shia Nizari Ismaili muslims, who trace their origins to Iran, celebrate the festival under the name Navroz. In their religious protocol, Navroz is officially recognized as an Eid, as with Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha, although it involves a distinct set of religious ceremonies. Alawites also celebrate Nowruz.

The term Nooroz first appeared in Persian records in the second century AD, but it was also an important day during the time of the Achaemenids (c. 648-330 BC), where kings from different nations under the Persian empire used to bring gifts to the emperor (Shahanshah) of Persia on Nowruz.

The book I wrote on Afghanistan which has a number of photos on Nowruz.

I have celebrated Nowruz many times in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Bangladesh and India. It is probably celebrated with the most vigor in Mazar I Sharif in Afghanistan, where a huge fertility pole is raised with ribbons tied to it. Each ribbon represents someones prayers.

In Northern Afghanistan the feritliy pole is a pre-Islamic celebration seen as a phallic symbol. Around 20 to 21 March, the winter snows starts to melt and the celebrations and prayers are in the hope that the spring will bring plenty of water to nourish the crops and bring fertility to land and people.

At the Blue Mosque in Mazar I Sharif on Nowruz, the fertility pole is raised. Taken on 21 March 1994. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Nowruz and the Spring Equinox

In Afghanistan, Nowroz festival is traditionally celebrated for 2 weeks. Preparations for Nowroz start several days beforehand, at least after Chaharshanbe Suri, the last Wednesday before the New Year. Among various traditions and customs, the most important one is :

Haft Mēwa: In Afghanistan, they prepare Haft Mēwa (Seven Fruits) instead of Haft Sin which is common in Iran. Haft Mewa is like a Fruit salad made from 7 different Dried fruits, served in their own syrup. The 7 dried fruits are: Raisin, Senjed (the dried fruit of the oleaster tree), Pistachio, Hazelnut, Prune (dry fruit of Apricot), Walnut and whether Almond or another species of Plum fruit.

Along with other customs and celebrations, normally a Buzkashi tournament is held. The Buzkashi matches take place in northern cities of Afghanistan and in Kabul.

In Mazar I Sharif they play Buskashi for the week following Nowroz

So happy Nowruz. The reason it is so important to me is that my birthday, on 21st of March, usually coincides with Nowruz. This celebration has certainly brought fertility to my life as I am the proud Father of seven wonderful children. If you need further infirmation, see a much longer explanation of Nowruz.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Reflections on the ICRC’s present and future role

Reflections on the ICRC’s present and future role in addressing humanitarian crises.

Volume 95 Number 889 Spring 2013 International Review of the Red Cross

Matthias Schmale, Under Secretary General of
National Society and Knowledge Development at the
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent

Matthias Schmale is Under Secretary General of National Society and Knowledge Development at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). During his career with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, Mr Schmale has also served as IFRC Under Secretary General for Programme Services and as IFRC Under Secretary General for Development, and International Director at the British Red Cross from 2005 to 2009.

While writing this opinion note about the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the occasion of its 150th anniversary, I fondly remembered many encounters with ICRC colleagues over almost twenty years. During numerous field visits to hugely challenging environments, such as Darfur or Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, I have been privileged to witness the ICRC as an action-oriented agency that delivers humanitarian aid. Around the globe there are countless people who will tell you with deeply felt gratitude how the ICRC has saved their lives and helped them cope with immeasurable suffering caused by armed conflicts and violence.

An important factor making the ICRC a credible, neutral, and independent actor is its competent and dedicated staff members. Like for so many humanitarian agencies, perhaps the biggest asset for the ICRC– apart from international humanitarian law providing the legal basis for its action, and the protective power of the emblem– is its people. Having got to know a considerable number of ICRC staff over the years, I can testify that, for many of them, working for the ICRC is more than a job: in an almost religious sense, they are committed and totally passionate about what they are doing for the cause of humanity. I remember vividly a cooperation delegate explaining with conviction and credibility many years ago to several Federation colleagues, on a hot evening somewhere in the field in Africa, how the ICRC is ‘an organization I would die for’.

The ICRC has come a long way from being a very Swiss, male-dominated organization to being multinational and more gender balanced in its staff composition. Even some years ago, the ICRC’s Director of Operations stated with pride in talks with British government representatives and the British Red Cross in London that among the 200 or so expatriate staff working in the then Sudan, the ICRC had almost fifty different nationalities represented.
For the ICRC, access to the most vulnerable people – often in places that others cannot reach– is based on NIIHA, neutral, impartial, and independent humanitarian action. It was particularly during a visit to Darfur that I understood how much effort the ICRC puts into maintaining dialogue with all parties to a conflict in order to ensure access to people in need. If I remember correctly, at one point there were– apart from the Sudanese national army – at least eighteen armed factions on the ground in Darfur, with all of whom the ICRC maintained regular and professional dialogue.
The NIIHA approach is often misunderstood as the ICRC not caring about and closing its eyes to injustices. In this regard one of my lasting memories is of a panel discussion in Nairobi in the mid-90 s looking at how to deal with alleged perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide living amongst the numerous refugees housed in camps in north-western Tanzania. The event was organized to discuss the implications of a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) report suggesting that ‘humanitarian relief organizations may well be forced to halt their humanitarian relief activities’ due to the deteriorating security situation in the camps. During the panel  discussion the ICRC’s regional head of delegation eloquently outlined that neutrality does not mean sitting on the fence, and that in fact the ICRC always takes the side of the most vulnerable. He went on to explain that as long as the Red Cross and Red Crescent could reach the majority of people in desperate need of support it would and should stay and carry out its humanitarian work. He acknowledged the presence of people in the camps who had allegedly committed horrendous crimes against humanity, but insisted that it is not the job of humanitarians but of the police, the military, and governments to hunt down criminals and those violating international humanitarian law (IHL).
At the beginning of my own humanitarian journey, another ICRC colleague explained to me that working for Red Cross or Red Crescent ‘you need to be prepared to do business with devils’. When visiting Taliban-ruled Afghanistan I experienced what this meant in practice: without any doubt the leadership of the Afghan Red Crescent at the time was closely linked to the Taliban regime, and this was hard to stomach for even the most seasoned Red Cross or Red Crescent workers. At the same time, maintaining dialogue and relations with the Taliban and the leadership of the Afghan Red Crescent allowed the ICRC and its Movement partners to reach hundreds of thousands of Afghan people – including very vulnerable women and children– and deliver life-saving and dignified humanitarian aid.

Staying focused on action does not mean that the ICRC shies away from controversy and from trying to influence opinion leaders and decision-makers. In 2007, the ICRC stopped its humanitarian work in Myanmar and publicly criticized the authorities for not giving it the humanitarian access it needed to be effective (the ICRC has since resumed its activities there). Much of its influencing or advocacy work happens away from the public limelight and is thus insufficiently appreciated.
An example of this is the work the ICRC has been carrying out behind the scenes to work towards more acceptable conditions in prisons for those detained as a result of armed conflict and political disagreement. The ICRC’s detention delegates are unsung heroes. When they were released from their long captivity under the apartheid regime, Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists acknowledged that receiving visits from ICRC detention delegates were a lifeline to the outside world and an important part of surviving with their sanity intact.

What does the future hold for the ICRC?

Having expressed all these fully meant compliments about what the ICRC does andwhat it represents, the question is whether it will likely stay this way. We have to acknowledge that neutral, impartial, and independent humanitarian action is increasingly under threat, and not just in very recent times. In June 1996 I was working with the Federation’s regional delegation in Nairobi –home to a big ICRC base –when the tragic news of ICRC delegates being targeted and murdered in Burundi came through. This profoundly shook friends and colleagues in the ICRC, not least as this was followed a couple of months later – in December 1996 – by the similarly murderous attacks on ICRC delegates in Chechnya. The ICRC’s privileged access to vulnerable people in armed conflict and situations of violence suddenly seemed threatened by the proliferation of armed groups that did not understand or accept international humanitarian law, that were driven by a profound disrespect and disregard for humanity as well as a sense that an organization that has its roots in the West could not be truly neutral.

The ICRC leadership has understood that the world is changing rapidly and that the ICRC needs to adapt – potentially quite radically – if it wants to stay relevant. One of the reasons why the ICRC has increasingly focused on its operational partnerships with National Societies is the realization that access to sensitive conflict situations could no longer be guaranteed by relying on its own expatriate staff and its own relations with the respective national and local authorities. For a number of years now, the ICRC has been investing considerable resources into what it calls ‘cooperation with National Societies’. There are many examples in places like Afghanistan or Palestine where successful delivery of the ICRC’s humanitarian services is made possible through the network of National Society volunteers and staff.

A legitimate question is whether the ICRC is instrumentalizing National Societies for operational survival reasons. I share the perception that there is some ‘institutional arrogance’ in the ICRC– deriving from its size and impressive track record – and that it will take time to fully weave into its DNA how to evolve its relationships from that of a donor with National Societies as its delivery organizations to equal and fully transparent partnerships.
There are also inherent limitations to what an organization with an international global mandate can operationally transfer to national organizations.

As local actors, National Societies will continue to face conflict and war situations where they –with the best intentions –will not be able to provide fully neutral and independent humanitarian services to affected people. In such situations the responsibility for humanitarian action will likely continue to be with the internationally recognized neutral actor, namely the ICRC.
As it prepares itself for the future, the ICRC appears to be struggling to redefine its role and added value in the context of being part of a larger Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The ICRC’s President and Director General have publicly stated that we have to acknowledge that in the outside world we – that is ICRC, National Societies, and the International Federation– are seen as one and that we have no choice but to work together. Some in the ICRC see it asessential to fully embrace the Movement, as well as to further diversify its portfolio in order to, for instance, include and/or broaden the scope of its operational work to other situations of violence and to diversify its developmental action (e.g. in livelihood protection and agriculture), organizational development, and capacitybuilding. Others advocate for remaining focused on preserving and strengthening the ICRC– almost irrespective of what goes on in the rest of the Movement – and staying as close as possible to its original mandate. Former President Kellenberger clearly expressed this view when I heard him state a number of times that his job was to be President of the ICRC and not of the Movement. He saw National Societies and the Federation as privileged, but not exclusive, partners of the ICRC.
From my perspective, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement will stay strong and relevant if all three – ICRC, National Societies, and the Secretariat of the International Federation–have a constructive dialogue about what the future might bring and what adjustments or changes will have to happen. A conventional view is that we have to keep all three components as healthy organizations, each delivering distinct services and value. And, not least of all given the tightening of financial resources, we will have to, at a minimum, avoid duplication as much as possible, provide our services in the most (cost-) effective manner and ensure that we each offer something unique and complementary. From this perspective, there are grounds to caution the ICRC not to give in to what is called ‘mission creep’ by further diversifying its activities. While modernizing and adapting, the ICRC would be well advised to stick to its roots by remaining the international humanitarian organization of choice for neutral, impartial, and independent response in times of conflict and violence, giving a lifeline to humanity for prisoners and remaining the guardian of international humanitarian law.
A more ‘out of the box’ view would suggest that what is described in the previous paragraph amounts to ‘fiddling while Rome is burning’, and that we need to be more brave and daring in jointly designing a future architecture for the Movement. This approach could entail anything from merging the two international components of the Movement (especially if they were to end up doing more or less the same) to redefining what each one should be doing. It would come with a zero tolerance for duplication by, for instance, having only one of the international organizations carry out operational work and the other – standard-setting and  maintaining the joint values and principles base.

Regardless of which one of these scenarios turns out to be more feasible and appropriate, the ICRC should not rest on its well-deserved laurels. If it wants the Movement as a whole to be strong and relevant, it will have to move beyond defending its own institutional interests and agreements outlining roles and responsibilities, such as the one reached at the Council of Delegates in 1997 in Seville. The ICRC should continue to identify and implement the mindset and organizational culture changes that will ensure that at its next major anniversary, it will receive similarly positive feedback on its role and performance as can be found in this edition of the International Review of the Red Cross.

Monday, 11 March 2013

New psychological stresses emerge amongst survivors of Japan’s triple disaster

This large vessel remains grounded some 800 meters inland in the port of Kesenumma, while arguments continue as to what to do with it. MASAKI KAMEI/ IFRC

Two years after Japan’s triple – earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, considerable progress has been made to help re-establish normal life for the thousands of families affected by the disaster.
The Japanese Red Cross has played a prominent role in recovery efforts, running a variety of social welfare programmes and construction projects. These include provision of a package of household electrical appliances to 135,000 displaced families to help equip their temporary homes. Significant investment has been made to rebuild damaged health infrastructure and temporary medical facilities.  Five hospitals and medical centers have now been constructed with Red Cross support and over 300 vehicles have been donated to support transportation needs in 200 social welfare institutions.  
But after two years, new psychological stresses are emerging amongst some of the 300,000 displaced survivors, particularly children and elderly people.
“What we are seeing is a scissor split, with most of the children getting better, but a small number of more serious cases emerging,” says child psychiatrist Dr Junko Yagi, who is based in one of the worst affected prefectures, Iwate. She estimates that while some 80 per cent of her caseload is improving, some 20 per cent are getting worse.
Stress of moving forward
“Some patients are only now starting to develop dissociation and depression symptoms. They seem to be actively moving forward with their lives but in reality, they are in a state of hyper-arousal. They are tired and exhausted.”
Dr Yagi is one of the key figures involved in setting up a centre for children’s mental health care in the Iwate Medical University in Morioka, which will be financially supported by the Japanese Red Cross.
Not just children
But children are not the only ones experiencing the psychological impact of prolonged displacement. While businesses and institutions are gradually being re-established, lack of consensus among the various stakeholders and difficulty in finding suitable land are making the reconstruction of permanent housing a slow process. Some people are giving up on it altogether and leaving for other parts of Japan where prospects may be better.
 “This year we’ve seen signs of depression emerging amongst a number of people living in temporary shelters,” said Takeshi Ino, director of the Red Cross Chapter in Miyagi. “This is because they see others around them starting new lives, finding jobs or moving on from their prefabricated homes. They feel trapped and uneasy about their own future.”
Much of the work of Red Cross staff and volunteers has been focused on providing a variety of services that are helping to meet the psychosocial needs of survivors in the worst affected prefectures of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima. These include social activities and physical exercise sessions for the elderly as well as recreational activities designed for children such as summer camps organised for thousands of school children from disaster stricken areas.
The elderly make up a large percentage of people living in prefabricated temporary housing. To prevent them from sinking into inactivity and isolation, the Japanese Red Cross is conducting a broad programme of activities including physical exercise, massage and health checks and events such as tea ceremonies to help build a sense of community.
Fukushima aftermath
The aftermath of the nuclear accident in Fukushima has also brought new issues to the fore.  Prompted by media reports, government officials have recently disclosed that decontamination has not been properly carried out in a number of places in the prefecture,
“This makes people both furious and sad, because we feel that our concerns are not being understood,” said Fukushima Red Cross Chapter Deputy Director General Takeyoshi Saito.
As part of its commitment to improve preparedness around nuclear disasters, the Red Cross plans to open a nuclear disaster information centre to gather together data and best practices. Red Cross nurses are also providing health monitoring and psychological support to the displaced survivors of some of the worst-affected areas, such as those from the town of Namie, which is one of the closest to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.  From next year the Red Cross will be involved in screening youngsters under 18 years of age for thyroid cancer.
Mixed picture
Taken as a whole, “the picture in the three worst-affected areas is a very mixed one, with a certain amount of real progress being made, but also a feeling that many people, especially the elderly and the young remain in a vulnerable state of mind, so we need to give them our continued support in a variety of ways,” says Japanese Red Cross and IFRC president, Tadateru Konoé.

Japan looks back - two years on

My mind is dotted with all the disasters I have been part of over the last 42 years, working for the International Red Cross. Today, my old friend from the Japanese Red Cross, Akira Nakata, sent this note to me: 
Today, 3.11 is the special day for all Japanese. At 14h46 JST, a silent prayer is scheduled throughout the nation. It is a rare moment for busy Japanese."
Nakata, like me, has been involved in one way or another, in many of the world's devastating disasters  There is something unsaid that we feel. We exchanged other private feelings.
This is a story I got from my faithful New Zealand website,, that remembers those who died and still suffer.
The two-year anniversary of Japan's devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe is highlighting the country's continuing struggle to clean up radiation, rebuild lost communities and determine new energy and economic strategies.
More than 300,000 people remain displaced and virtually no rebuilding has begun along the battered northeastern coast, where the tsunami swept away entire communities.
Memorial services were to be held today in Tokyo and in barren towns along the northeastern coast to mark the moment, at 2.46pm (6.46pm, Monday NZT), when the magnitude 9.0 earthquake — the strongest recorded in Japan’s history — struck off the coast, unleashing a massive tsunami that killed nearly 19,000 people.
In the ravaged small fishing town of Miyako, sirens wailed as residents trundled to higher ground in a disaster drill.
In some areas, searches for the 2676 people still missing in the disaster continued, as workers poked through sand and debris along the coastline.
A thin blanket of snow covered the ground in Kesennuma, where houses and fisheries once stood.
Survivors live in temporary housing farther inland on higher ground, while others have decided to move away altogether.
On Monday morning, fishermen, who were trying to get the vital industry back on its feet, lined up rows of tuna and other fish for auction.
‘‘It’s scary (living here) when there is an earthquake. It’s scary, but I don’t plan to go anywhere else. I want to give my own very best, somehow, toward reconstruction of the city,’’ said 75-year-old Kenichi Oi, who had to refurbish his home, just a few hundred metres from the sea, but on higher ground, after the tsunami flooded its first floor.
Throughout the disaster zone, the tens of thousands of survivors living in temporary housing are impatient to get resettled, a process that could take up to a decade, officials said.
‘‘What I really want is to once again have a ‘my home,’’’ said Migaku Suzuki, a 69-year-old farm worker in Rikuzentakata, who lost the house he had just finished building in the disaster. Suzuki also lost a son in the tsunami, which obliterated much of the city.
Farther south, in Fukushima prefecture, some 160,000 evacuees are uncertain if they will ever be able to return to abandoned homes around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, where three reactors melted down and spewed radiation into the surrounding soil and water after the tsunami knocked out the plant’s vital cooling system.
‘‘I don’t trust the government on anything related to health anymore,’’ said Masaaki Watanabe, 42, who fled the nearby town of Minami Soma and doesn't plan to return because the radiation in the ground is too high.
In Kawauchi, one of many towns with varying degrees of access restrictions due to radiation, village chief Yuko Endo is pinning his hopes on the success of a long decontamination process that may or may not enable hundreds of residents to return home.
 Much of the area is off-limits, though some restrictions gradually are being lifted as workers remove debris and wipe down roofs by hand.down roofs by hand.  
‘‘If I were told to wait for two more years, I might explode,’’ said Endo, who is determined to revive his town of mostly empty houses and overgrown fields.
‘‘After spending a huge amount of money, with the vegetable patches all cleaned up and ready for farming, we may end up with nobody willing to return.’’
Evacuees are torn. They are anxious to return home but worried about the potential, still uncertain risks from exposure to the radiation from the disaster, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986.
While there have been no clear cases of cancer linked to radiation from the plant, the upheaval in people’s lives, uncertainty about the future and long-term health concerns, especially for children, have taken an immense psychological toll on thousands of residents.
A group of 800 people filed a lawsuit Monday in Fukushima against the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that operates the Fukushima plant. It demands an apology payment of 50,000 yen (NZ$750) a month for each victim until all radiation from the accident is wiped out, a process that could take decades.
A change of government late last year has raised hopes that authorities might move quicker with the cleanup and reconstruction.
Since taking office in late December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made a point of frequently visiting the disaster zone, promising faster action, and plans to raise the long-term reconstruction budget to 25 trillion yen (NZ$315 billion) from 19 trillion yen (about NZ$240 billion).
Hopes for a significant improvement may be misplaced, said Hiroshi Suzuki, chairman of the Fukushima Prefectural Reconstruction Committee.
‘‘There have been no major changes by the new government in response to the nuclear accident, though the budget has been increased,’’ he said.
‘‘If the reconstruction budget continues to serve as a tool for expanding public works spending, then I believe local societies and economies will be undermined.’’
Another lingering problem is that of discrimination against evacuees from Fukushima, Suzuki said: Many fear their children will find it hard to find spouses due to worries over potential long-term harm from radiation.
Watanabe, who used to work for a company maintaining the nuclear plant’s lighting systems, said his sons are sometimes shunned or taunted by classmates who say things like: ‘‘Don’t come near me. You're radioactive.’’

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Cricketing history at University Oval today

Today cricketing history was made at the University Oval in Dunedin. Once a lake, once a great athletic ground in summer, rugby ground in winter and to all Otago primary school children, a venue to have our annual provincial athletic championships. It's a ground I have played 1st grade rugby on, broke athletic records, trained daily for six years, ran the annual interclub Lovelock Relay for many years and under the old stand, courted pretty lasses at dances held there by Otago University.

But today, was a proud moment for the New Zealand cricket team, and especially Hamish Rutherford (pictured left) playing in front of his father, Ken Rutherford, a New Zealand cricket great, and his family, friends and fans. At the end of the day he was 77 not out, and his partner, Peter Fulton 46 not out. Some hours earlier, England finished their horror show, by being bowled out for 167 runs on what seemed a good batting pitch. ESPN website saw it this way:

New Zealand took advantage of one of the most bungling England batting displays of recent vintage to take a firm hold of the first Test in Dunedin. New Zealand were disciplined and willing, but they will be realistic enough to know that England made a dreadful mess of it, dismissed in 55 overs and never summoning the resolve to counter a sluggish and occasionally two-paced pitch. 

And tomorrow we await Rutherford's test century and some swashbuckling cricket from Brendan McCullum. Come in Captain McCullum!

ON FIRE: Neil Wagner of New Zealand celebrates the wicket of Ian Bell of England. Getty images.

A captain's homecoming - Brendan McCullum

In a cul de sac close to the Parkside Hotel and a stone throw away from that famous rugby and cricket ground, Carisbrook, in Dunedin, Brendan, and his younger brother Nathan, lived their younger life. My brother and I lived not far away, and remember watching Brendan’s Dad, Stuart, playing for Otago at Carisbrook.  So with the England New Zealand test match starting tomorrow, I am hoping that Brendan McCullum will lead the New Zealand cricket team to victory. Here is an excellent article written by Andrew McGlashan, ESPN, which I would like to share.

Like other southern hemisphere cricketers, McCullum could have chosen rugby for his career. And it would not have been the lesser option. He was once good enough to keep Dan Carter out of a South Islands schools team.
There is a story told by those who know him from his days at Kings High School in Dunedin - which has perhaps been slightly embellished over time - that shortly after being selected for a rugby match at about the age of 20, McCullum was hurrying around trying to find a pair of boots to borrow. However, before he could find them, Richard Hadlee, who was New Zealand's chairman of selectors at the time, was on the phone with the message, "Don't give him those boots."
McCullum had already been involved in New Zealand age-group cricket, and Hadlee was understandably reluctant to let one of the sport's most talented youngsters go. McCullum had a decision to make: All Blacks or Black Caps? He picked cricket.
"He was a freak," says Daryl Paterson, who worked at Kings High School during McCullum's time there, and still does today. "I've no doubt he could have played rugby for New Zealand. But he stood out at everything: batting, keeping, scoring tries. I was only involved in his cricket for a short time because I coached Year 9, and Brendon scored so many runs he was soon moved up a level. He was only a little bit taller than the stumps and he was standing up to the fast bowlers."
Now he is New Zealand's captain, a position acquired in a messy turn of events that exposed divisions in the side. On Wednesday he will lead his country on his home ground. He has previously captained in a one-day international here, but that was a far more subdued affair, against Zimbabwe. There are few grander occasions than a Test against England.
McCullum isn't the first New Zealand captain from Kings High School. Ken Rutherford, whose son Hamish is set to make his Test debut this week and is another alumnus, came from the school. "We are very proud about that," says Paterson.
McCullum's mother will be in the crowd, although his father, Stuart, a former Otago player, will miss Brendon's homecoming, as he is on business in Adelaide. But he will be keeping a close eye on his oldest son and speaks with great pride about both him and his brother Nathan, who is part of the one-day and T20 teams.
"You always hoped that they would play for New Zealand," he says, "but to captain them, it's a wonderful honour, and hopefully he will do a fitting job. It will be a very proud day. He's proud of his roots. Any game he plays is special but there's some added significance [to this one]."
Did it hurt to see his son caught up in the melee that occurred when Ross Taylor was sacked? "It wasn't so much how it happened," Stuart says. "Some people don't understand Brendon, some have a false impression of what he is like. Brendon looks upon the captaincy as a privilege rather than a matter of course. He is a team man through and through. He never actively went out and sought the captaincy. He had nothing to do with the process. It took him a long time to decide whether he would accept it.

"He was a freak. I've no doubt he could have played rugby for New Zealand. He was only a little bit taller than the stumps when he was standing up to the fast bowlers"Daryl Paterson, who worked at Brendon McCullum's school
"He has no beef with Ross at all - they are friends. It was disappointing to hear some people casting aspersions over his integrity, but you just have to sit back and listen to it. I admit there are times when you'd just like to get on the phone and ask if they actually know the facts, but it's not for me to get involved. People seem to get the wrong idea of what he's like."
Brendon, his father says, has always had drive and determination. There is also a combativeness about him, which stands out in a New Zealand side that can often struggle to impose itself. "He's always been confident," says Stuart. "He's a 'see ball, hit ball' kind of batsman, but I don't think anyone can play down his skill."
It was towards the end of Stuart McCullum's first-class career with Otago that the cricketing future of the next generation of McCullums started to be forged. When aged about six and seven, Brendon and Nathan would accompany their dad to training, but he was never a pushy father. He didn't need to be, really, as it was clear his sons would chart their own paths.
"They were always around when I was playing, and used to take part in a lot of fielding practice when they were young kids. But it was very much a natural course of events. If they ever wanted extra time in the nets I'd happily go with them."
My 12 year old son, Ablai right, with Brendan McCullum at Queenstown, 31 December 2011. McCullum is a great role model for young crickets and takes time out to talk to them after the match.
Paterson remembers Brendon as someone with vast self-confidence. "He has always carried himself that way," he says, "but it never verged into cockiness. Everyone knew he was something special but he was also one of the lads."
At stages during the T20 and one-day series, it was very much Brendon McCullum v England. He struck three blistering half-centuries in the one-dayers, and a match-winning 74 in the Hamilton T20. If they are to compete in the Tests, McCullum will again have to lead the way.
Do that he will. "He loves challenging himself against the best," Stuart says. "He measures himself against the best. He's never completely satisfied with his own performance, and that's an attitude he has had all the way through his career. He never takes anything for granted."