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Vast international mobilization after the earthquake in Armenia

(archives) It was last December 7 (1988), an earthquake of intensity 9 on the Mercalli scale (which has 12), left 55.000 dead and 500.000 homeless, destroyed thousands of villages and two important towns Spitak (50.000 inhabitants almost completely destroyed) and Leninakan (300.000 inhabitants 50% destroyed). The international Red Cross movement has committed significant resources, in which 40 national societies participated. 19 million CHF in cash and 48 million CHF in kind were mobilized on site, as well as 500 delegates and 350 rescue volunteers on site, 275 planes.

One of the most international solidarity actions

Reszö Stüchlick (director of external relations of the Hungarian Red Cross), present on site from the first days of the disaster until the end of January, was one of the coordinators of Red Cross aid for Armenia. Armenia for me was “ one of the largest international solidarity actions in recent times: 38.000 train wagons, 1250 special planes, thousands of tons of material aid ". But the aid has not always been adapted. “ The first days, the help of medical teams and rescuers was very useful, 5400 people were able to be extracted alive from the rubble ».

Human toll less heavy than initially feared

Then it turned out to be less necessary. There are several reasons for this… “ The affected area was relatively small. The human toll was less heavy than one might have thought at first glance. 10.000 people were hospitalized from the start. This figure was reduced to 4/5000 in a few days, because a good part of the victims were in a state of shock. There were (only) 500 amputees. Which is relatively little in such a disaster. Finally, hospital structures could be used nearby, particularly in Yerevan. Foreign specialists were therefore not necessary. Some even took the initiative to return shortly after their arrival (like the Germans). »

A very disparate material aid

As for material aid, it was “ very disparate both in terms of quality and nature. Once arrived and disembarked, the problem was to transport and store all the arrivals. As soon as the first phase of extreme emergency passed, several warehouses were set up, under the responsibility of the Armenian Red Cross. I visited several of its warehouses. Well guarded, with wax seals on the door, we found everything there: from French sleeping bags to Austrian clothes to pears from Uzbekistan. Tons of materials were not used; thus, some field hospitals (like that of the Finns) have not even been unpacked. Fortunately, all is not lost… unused or surplus aid will be used for reconstruction and disaster relief preparations. »

Reconstruction and Disaster Preparedness

« Reconstruction works — according to the Deputy Chairman of the Soviet Council of Ministers, Yuri Khadjmarian —, will require 8,5 billion rubles and last two years”. Emergency preparation is necessary in this region, which regularly experiences telescoping from the different land plates of Asia, Europe and Africa. The usefulness of such measures was also demonstrated a few weeks later... The “Spitak column”, a relief team of the Armenian Red Cross formed from unused stocks of international aid, was triggered to carry relief for victims of an earthquake in a neighboring Soviet republic.


Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).