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PHILIPPINES: Red Cross to train 1.8 million volunteers

MANILA, 24 January 2012 (IRIN) - The Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) hopes to train 1.8 million volunteers as part of its nationwide community-disaster preparedness efforts.

Dubbed Red Cross 143, the programme will train 44 volunteers in each of the country's 42,000 villages or barangays to act as an extension of the PNRC at community level.

Volunteers are provided basic training in disaster preparedness and response, as well as first aid. They are also trained in monitoring and evaluation in times of disasters and emergencies.

"The nature of disasters and calamities is that they happen anywhere," PNRC secretary-general Gwendolyn Pang told IRIN. "We need people on the ground to be our eyes and ears. They can give us immediate situation updates as they occur."

Launched in 2009, the programme has already successfully trained volunteers in 60 percent of the targeted villages, according to Pang.

Disaster-prone islands

Home to more than 100 million inhabitants, the Philippines is ranked among one of the most disaster-prone areas in the world, experiencing on average 20 typhoons a year. Located in the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire", the archipelago is also home to some 23 active volcanoes.

According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) and the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), some 33 natural disasters struck the nation in 2011.

"All the volunteers will be given an ID and a whistle to identify themselves as part of Red Cross 143. This is also so people will recognize them as our first responders for immediate relief and support to the community," Pang added.

Benito Ramos, chief of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) agreed with the need for additional manpower to cope with calamities.

"We have more than 7,000 islands. Often, it is difficult to reach affected areas immediately. The people in the communities have to be empowered to act. But coordination with other key government agencies is key," Ramos said.

Keeping calm

Joy, 23, is a Red Cross 143 Volunteer from the city of Cagayan de Oro on the southern island of Mindanao.

Her village, Macasandig, was one of those severely flooded on 16-18 December when tropical storm Washi hit.

According to the NDRRMC the floods killed more than 1,200 people, and affected another million, making Washi the most destructive disaster to strike the Philippines in 2011.

As a registered nurse, Joy already had basic knowledge in first-aid training but says it was the disaster preparedness training under the Red Cross 143 programme that helped her as flood waters quickly rose.

"Being taught how to keep calm and alert in times of a disaster prevented me from panicking, enabled me to do my job effectively and help others," Joy said.

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Theme (s): Natural Disasters,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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