During the past decade, more than 350 million people from around the world have been forced to flee their homes as a result of natural disaster and conflict. When disaster strikes, aid agencies rush food, medicine, shelter and other emergency supplies to the victims. Then they work to reconstruct damaged infrastructure and restore shattered lives. Humanitarian relief missions require money and aid related products. For the third year in a row, Geneva has hosted the Aid and Trade Fair. This unique exhibition brings together aid agencies and the commercial manufacturers of products that are essential for meeting the urgent needs of disaster and conflict-ridden victims. Lisa Schlein attended the trade fair and filed this report from Geneva.
Nearly 250,000 people were killed in the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami on December 26, 2004. In October 2005, a powerful earthquake struck Pakistan, killing more than 73,000 people. Floods, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, wars and other natural and man-made disasters take a terrible toll in lost lives and destroyed homes.
Survivors need a wide variety of aid. Shelter for the homeless is always a priority.
At this year's Aid and Trade fair in Geneva, a videotape shows a group of smiling men quickly and easily assembling a house made of a prefabricated, multi-cellular wall system. It is made of galvanized steel. Tall, hollow, rectangular containers are tied together with strong wire mesh coils.
Angelo De Iacovo is Project Manager for Hesco, a company that produces the so-called R House. He explains the rationale behind the invention.
"In disaster areas, there are two major factors in the problems that they have there," he noted. "One is getting rid of the rubble and clearing the area. And, the second is actually building a new shelter for them to live in. We thought we could combine the two."
De Iacovo says non-skilled people can easily erect a house for up to eight people in one or two days. And, the best part, he says, is the new shelter is built from the dirt, sand and rocks of the destroyed house. He says the builders simply fill the containers with this debris.
David Covell works for Mobil Medical International, based in the northern U.S. state of Vermont. He demonstrates his company's product, a cocoon-shaped tent that operates as a mobile hospital.
The tent is equipped with chemical and biological filtering systems. Covell says that in an emergency, where speed is of the essence, two people can set up this mobile field hospital in seven minutes.
Covell says the product was developed for the U.S. military and has been purchased by the Oman government. But the company believes it is a versatile product that could be used for humanitarian purposes. And that is why it is on display for the first time at Aid and Trade.
"This is not here to market it as a military tool. It is to market it as a tool for Aid and Trade," he said. "We hope to learn how to break into this market. We hope to learn how maybe to adapt this if necessary to make it more suitable for Aid and Trade. There may be some features that are not necessary to make it less expensive, to make it lighter."
Sian Bowen is communications manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. She says trade fairs that bring together manufacturers and aid professionals are important for bringing the latest products and ideas to the people that need them most.
"It is important that the Federation interacts in a proactive way with the commercial sector so that we can find out what they are doing, what their new ideas are, what they may have that can help us in emergency response," he explained. "So, it is good to have a two-way dialogue in that respect."
More than one billion people around the world do not have access to safe water and almost three billion people lack basic sanitation. The United Nations reports about half the people in the developing world suffer from diseases caused by contaminated water or food and an estimated 30,000 people are dying every day from unsafe water or food.
The president of U.S.-based Air Water International Corporation, Michael Zwebner, says he has a solution to this problem. His company's machines, he says, extract the humidity from the air and produce pure drinkable water.
"Our raw material is air," he said. "There is no charge, freely available, and in infinite amounts. So, we will never stop making water. And, our machines produce crystal clear, pure, filtered and very drinkable water. Probably the best water you can actually drink...from the air, from the atmosphere… Our corporate policy and our slogan is, 'If it is good enough to breathe, it is good enough to drink.'"
Zwebner says his product is sold commercially to various military services and to arid countries in the Gulf area. He says he has come to Aid and Trade to see how to break into the humanitarian market.
Announcements, like this, go on throughout the day. The heart of the exhibition is the more than 100 displays. But, the fair also offers a series of workshops that explore issues such as African Development, emergency preparedness, and shelter provision. Both commerce and education are available at Aid and Trade.