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Emergency Relief Goods on Display at Aid & Trade Fair

Getting essential relief supplies to victims of natural disasters and conflict is critical for their survival. These emergency goods do not just magically appear out of the air. They have to be purchased. A wide range of items used in humanitarian operations were on display at an "Aid & Trade Fair" in Geneva. Some 130 exhibitors hawked their wares to representatives of United Nations and other aid agencies that procure the goods needed to help victims of catastrophic events. Lisa Schlein reports from Geneva.

A giant screen on back of a 15-ton truck projects images of a disaster mitigation operation. The narrator explains how the so-called Nomadic Dream Machine can use a first-world technology to communicate information essential for people in developing countries. For example, she explains that films on AIDS prevention or early-warning systems can be shown to audiences of 6,000 people in deserts, mountains or flooded village terrain.

This is just one of dozens of items on exhibit at the Aid & Trade Fair.

"The point of having aid and trade in this event is to bring together all the separate actors within humanitarian aid and relief and also moving towards development," said Sula Bruce,the fair's head of operations.

She says the event tries to bring aid agencies and companies together for their mutual benefit.

"Obviously, there are a lot of non-profit organizations working here. But, the equipment they use has to come from somewhere. And, I think it is very important that people are working together," continued Bruce. "And, also that the agencies that are providing relief can talk to companies and tell them what they are looking for so that the research and development can be made, so that more effective provisions and supplies are created."

"My name is Dr. Seyi Oyesola. I am an anesthesiologist and I am representing Global Medical Systems. We have developed a solar powered compact operating room. It is called the Compact OR," he said.

Dr. Oyesola says the Compact OR has all the equipment needed to allow surgical teams to perform a wide range of procedures. He says it works in areas where the electrical supplies are either unavailable or unreliable. Dr. Oyesola says it costs about $50,000, which is about half the price of similar equipment.

"We like to think of it as being a device that is much more than useful for just disasters, like we say in remote hospital locations ,where it is difficult to reach," he said. "This will fit in the back of a jeep, a Land Rover, a van and will take health care to places that are not necessarily disaster areas, but places where they would not ordinarily be able to get health care of this kind."

"We are introducing a deployable rapid assembly shelter which we sell in large quantities to the military around the world into the humanitarian and disaster relief area," said Max Houghton, a director of U.K.-based MilSys Limited. The giant tent on display is army green. But, Houghton says it can come in any color. It fits in a large sack and unfolds like a huge umbrella in just four minutes.

He says the tent is widely used by the American, British and other nations' militaries. He says, in many nations it is the military that carry out disaster relief operations.

"And, so they are starting to take these shelters with them to use. For example, we can take them straight up to Kashmir," Houghton said. "They can be rolled off the back of a helicopter in their bags. The people on the ground can look at the picture on the bag and four to six minutes later, four people can put up a shelter. The smallest one we think will sleep a family of 10. Sure they are lying on the ground, but they are undercover. And, the larger ones we can put 50 people into them."

Wandering through the exhibit, you pass the large Check pavilion, which offers a variety of rescue equipment. One stand promotes advice on how to clean up environments that have been contaminated with depleted uranium and other toxic substances during bombing raids. Other exhibits offer health and medical aids, a new method for de-mining, water and sanitation equipment. All that and much, much more are on view.

International Red Cross Federation communications official Sian Bowen says the Red Cross is always looking for new ideas and new ways aimed at finding solutions to problems.

"One very practical idea that I've seen here, it is one of the most important things we need, it is to do with sanitation and it is actually toilets," said Bowen. "We have seen companies coming up with lightweight toilets."

Bowen says no one wants to send three tons of sanitation equipment into the field.

"So, if we find companies that come up with more innovative ideas and different materials that are lighter weight, that are quick to assemble, that are still cost-effective, than that is the kind of thing that we are interested in because it makes our job easier and makes our delivery to help people more efficient," she added.

The Aid & Trade Fair gets generally high marks for exhibiting a large range of quality goods. But, some participants criticize the show for having too much trade and not enough aid. They say it would be useful to have a wider variety of humanitarian organizations and corporate companies at the fair to share experiences and discuss the challenges of humanitarian response.