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Heat and the laws of war

23 January 2019

Hi everyone,


I’m sure many of us touched base with family and friends over the past weeks in the heat. I did.

The impact in even my small circle of family and friends was pervasive: a gardener friend trying to earn a living having to cancel jobs, another friend fainting due to the heat and her late stage pregnancy, elderly family members facing isolation and loneliness because they stayed inside to avoid the heat and, for almost everyone, the lack of sleep.

I’m also conscious of Red Cross people out doing their humanitarian work in these conditions and that, while there has been a short reprieve in Melbourne, for much of the country the heat has been relentless and is returning with more intensity.

Our heatwave got us into the global headlines along with the unusually crazy winter weather in the northern hemisphere – “Australia swelters through record-breaking heatwave - The country has just experienced five of its 10 warmest days on record, meteorologists say.”

During the week, the World Economic Forum named extreme weather events, natural disasters and water crises among its top risks. Back home we also saw heat records broken including a recording of the highest overnight minimum of 35.9 degrees in Noona in Western NSW.

It was good to see us kicking into action – responding to the SA Government’s ‘Code Red’ (see below), checking in on those living alone through our Telecross calls, providing good guidance to all Australians on social media and other local initiatives.

There is more to come over the next few weeks. Please take care of yourselves and those around you.

Code Red in South Australia

During this heat the South Australian government triggered their ‘Code Red’ activating staff and volunteers from Adelaide, Port Pirie, Port Augusta, and Mount Gambier. We made thousands of calls people alone at home to check on their health and wellbeing during the heat. We also escalated close to 300 responses where we had concerns to ensure follow up by family or, in some cases, ambulance and hospitalisation.

Thank you to all involved – hundreds of hours of many volunteers supporting those in the community through the heatwaves.

Summer kit bag

The other initiative underway in Adelaide is Out of the Storm – it's about ensuring people experiencing homelessness can prepare for extreme weather.

Peer workers complete outreach activities, and preparedness kit bags are distributed during extreme weather.

Since November, peer workers engaged with over 160 people experiencing homelessness in the city area, discussing the impact of extreme weather and how people can plan ahead, look after themselves and their mates this summer.

Preparedness kits include items to help keep cool and stay safe in heatwaves.

Those experiencing homelessness find the kit bags helpful and relevant, and the poster material and city guide map helping them feel connected and aware of what is in Adelaide to assist them.

The laws of war - great minds, passion and commitment

What do the foreign editor of one of Australia’s largest newspapers, a public health and infectious diseases physician who founded a Nobel Prize-winning organisation to ban nuclear weapons, a former supreme court judge, an air force lawyer and the CEO of One Girl all have in common? They are all members of our new Victorian International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Advisory Committee! This is part of our revitalised network of groups in each State and Territory who work with us on the ‘laws of war’ otherwise known as International Humanitarian War.

This group of passionate volunteers met for the first time last week to get the ball rolling for what is set to be an exciting year.

VIC IHL Advisory Committee first meeting; WA IHL Advisory Committee met for an informal dinner last week prior to their first meeting

These amazing volunteers will support us as part of a nation-wide network of State based IHL committees. As part of this process we have recruited 70 volunteers across seven Committees and seven thematic groups, including over 50 new volunteers. All adding to existing members and volunteers who already devote their time and energies to IHL.

We are also welcoming seven representatives from the Australian Defence Force appointed by the Director General of Defence Legal, seven representatives from the State and Territory Divisional Advisory Boards and seven representatives from the State and Territory Youth Advisory Committees.

In Victoria, the Committee is now composed of an impressive line-up of individuals, each bringing diverse experiences, perspectives and interests.

•         Carrie McDougall, Chair
•         Beth Eggleston, DAB member
•         Molly McCaffrey, Secretary
•         Michael Bachelard, Media member
•         Tilman Ruff AM, Medical sector member
•         Rebecca Barber, Humanitarian sector member
•         Sarah Ireland, Humanitarian sector member
•         Jonathan Kolieb, Academic sector member
•         Michelle Lesh, Academic sector member
•         Dallas Mazoori, Legal sector member
•         Rebecca Dodd, General member
•         Hon David Harper AM, General member
•         WGCDR Roger Halford, Australian Defence Force representative
•         Lori Vullings, CSN Convenor
•         Aneta Paretko, CEN Convenor
•         Hareesh Makam, VYAC representative

This is an enormous step forward in terms of creating meaningful opportunities to engage with and leverage the expertise of a diverse set of dedicated and highly-skilled volunteers in our IHL work. Stay tuned for more information as they kick off State-based and nation-wide stakeholder-based meetings around the country in the coming month.

Congratulations to all involved in this exciting initiative – our Divisional Advisory Boards, the volunteer recruitment team and the IHL team. And well done to Isabel Robinson, Carrie McDougall and Beth Eggleston in establishing this amazing Committee in Victoria – I can’t wait to meet the rest of the Committees across the country!

To give you an idea of the type of issues we are grappling with in IHL here is an interesting article - The weaponization of artificial intelligence.

Grappling with ethical issues
You might remember that we offer an Ethical hotline service to anyone who might be grappling with an ethical dilemma or wanting advice on how best to tackle an ethical issue.

Last week I talked to two people who were grappling with different issues. Both of them were anxious and not able to see a clear way forward.

I encouraged them to call the Ethical hotline service. I called it a while back to help me with an issue I was grappling with. It is highly professional, confidential and really, really helpful. They ask you to set aside an hour in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. With the help of good questions and ideas on different ways to think about the problem, more often than not you will finish the call with a plan of action and feeling much better.

If you find yourself grappling with an ethical issue and are not quite sure what to do, remember you have the option of calling Ethical - 1800 672 303.  On the other hand, if you have an ethical issue that you want to report, and don’t feel you are able to raise your concerns within Red Cross, then please report it via our confidential and independent hotline: 1300 304 550.