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Red Cross Puts Climate Change, AIDS Atop 2007 Appeal


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says it is expanding its humanitarian operations in 2007 to meet the problems and challenges posed by climate change and HIV/AIDS. The agency is launching an appeal for $285 million to finance its expanded programs, particularly in Africa. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Red Cross headquarters in Geneva.

This year's appeal is more than $100 million larger than last year's. The Red Cross says the funding request is a reflection of the need to respond to increasingly urgent situations.

It says more money is needed for disaster preparedness and risk reduction. It says more has to be done to tackle the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters linked to climate change.

In 2004, the Red Cross responded to 63 floods worldwide. That number more than doubled last year. The Swiss agency says this alarming trend was most visible in Africa. It notes the number of floods in Africa rose dramatically at the same time that millions of people continued to suffer from drought-related food insecurity.

The Head of the Red Cross Climate Center, Madeleen Helmer, says climate change has mostly been seen as an environmental problem and treated as such. She says less attention has been paid to the humanitarian risks associated with this phenomenon.

"One of the impacts of climate change are going to be more extreme weather events, increased risk of floods, of droughts, of heat waves, of diseases like malaria and dengue going to be spread by regions where they have not been seen before," she noted. "And, even of combined risks, like sea-level rise and storms that may hit, particularly vulnerable people-people who live in coastal areas very strongly."

Helmer says Red Cross volunteers will work with vulnerable communities to provide better early warning systems for pending disasters, building shelters, and providing mosquito nets to protect against malaria. She says people will be given drills to prepare for a natural disaster. They will be taught first aid.

The appeal also reflects the Red Cross' increased commitment to combating HIV/AIDS. The disease is expected to kill more people in the coming decade than all the wars and disasters over the past 50 years.

The problem is most serious in sub-Saharan Africa and the agency plans to focus most of its prevention, care and treatment programs there. It says it is asking for nearly $50 million for HIV/AIDS programs in southern Africa alone.