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Saving Lives

Innovating the future of medical aid

Author: Frank Odenthal

It has been half a year since FAIRPLANET last spoke with Sebastian Jünemann, the founder of the Berlin-based non-profit aid organization CADUS, about the deployment of his organization in Iraq and Syria.

In the meantime, a lot has happened. The so-called 'Islamic State' is defeated; Turkey has invaded northern Syria and expelled the Kurdish population in favor of its Arab neighbors; in northern Iraq, the hopes of the Kurds for their own state have been thwarted, while in the rest of Iraq tensions between Sunni and Shiite populations are ever increasing; the US has withdrawn from much of the region that used to be their sphere of influence in recent years, thereby strengthening Russia and Iranian militia; and in southern Syria, new frontlines have been formed, with Israel as another active warring party.

Not easy to keep track here.

Therefore FAIRPLANET asked Sebastian Jünemann and CADUS for the current state of affairs.

FAIRPLANET: When we last spoke to you, Sebastian, CADUS was working in Mosul and in the Iraqi-Syrian border area. How is the situation half a year later?

JÜNEMANN: Well, we have finally crossed the border to Syria. And we have also handed over our truck, the Mobile Hospital, to a local charity, namely 'Heyvar Sor a Kurd', the Kurdish Red Crescent. We now moved into an abandoned hospital in Rakka, the former capital of the Islamic State.

About 250,000 people currently live in Rakka, although the city is about 70 percent destroyed, but there is only one hospital, which is also operated privately, so for the majority of the population it is not accessible since it is not for free.

Lack of blood preservation is a big problem, people would have to travel far too long to get to any blood preservation facility; That's why a blood bank here on the ground would be enormously helpful. The IS is no longer there, but still the security situation is dangerous, because the whole region is covered with non-defused booby traps left by the terrorist militia.

FAIRPLANET: Is the situation in Rakka comparable to that in Mosul half a year ago?

JÜNEMANN: A comparison is quite difficult. In Mosul, we were in the immediate vicinity of the front lines, much international military was present. In Rakka the fighting is over, the military has moved on, but the danger of mines and terrorist attacks has remained.

FAIRPLANET: Why did it take so long for you to move from northern Iraq across the border to Syria?

JÜNEMANN: The problem in situations where rebel groups challenge state sovereignty is that you can not find reliable contacts, since the infrastructure and the whole architecture of authority has collapsed; In fact, you have to stay in contact with all the groups involved, and that's not an easy task. Although Assad remains in power in Syria, he does not control the entire territory. So to ensure a safe border crossing, you must find out beforehand which groups need to be contacted. That can take a few months.

FAIRPLANET: How many employees does CADUS currently have in Rakka?

JÜNEMANN: Well, we opened our station in Rakka just a few weeks ago. And the CADUS strategy has always been to work together with local forces as much as possible. We also do that in Rakka. Some of our local employees are also based in Erbil and take care of administrative tasks there. At the moment we have about ten to fifteen employees in Rakka, which is about as many as we had in Mosul.

FAIRPLANET: What's next? Do you have plans already for further CADUS missions?

JÜNEMANN: We got a lot of praise and recognition for our truck, our 'Mobile Hospital', even though it was only a first attempt. And we learned a lot from it.

The next 'Mobile Hospital' we want to integrate into a shipping container, not in a truck.

We chose the truck back then, because many of these trucks were on site, and most of them were donated from other countries after they had been discarded there. Nevertheless, you always need someone who knows all about these trucks, for example, if a replacement part has to be installed in the event of a breakdown. And if no capable mechanic is available, you're stuck - and so is the whole mission.

This is different with a sea container, we hope. Such a shipping container has standardized dimensions, they are used all over the world. So should a truck break down that has loaded our container, we can simply load the container on another truck and continue driving. It can be transported by land or by water, which widens our range of action immensely.

FAIRPLANET: In Berlin, at the Holzmarkt, you have set up a so-called 'Crisis Response Market Place'. What's it all about?


The 'Crisis Response Market Place' basically is an area of approximately 200 square meters where we want to realize new ideas regarding our equipment.

For example, we want to realize the mentioned 'Mobile Hospital' in a sea container here. We want to assemble it here. But the idea goes beyond that. We want to develop equipment that will then be available to other organizations as a blueprint, ie without royalties or the like. We want to use a wide range of material and technologies, such as wood, metal, electrical appliances, 3D printing - much is conceivable. We called for other groups to provide their know-how. For example, we cooperate with the University of Applied Sciences and the Beuth University of Applied Sciences, both from Berlin. The Crisis Response Market Place is open to anyone wishing to contribute to humanitarian activities in war zones.

FAIRPLANET: Are you ready to reveal something about further projects that could arise there in the near future?

JÜNEMANN: We are thinking about emergency kits that could be dropped from air planes and that may contain medical equipment, but also food or water treatment equipment. We could drop them right from the air over the affected areas in the near future. This would make things a lot easier in remote regions, which would otherwise have little or no access to medical aid.

Such drops are not a new thing, they're actually quite popular when it comes to throwing off food, especially here in Berlin - remember "Luftbrücke" and "Rosinenbomber".

So far, such drops were limited to a load of about 70 kilograms. We want to expand the capacity to 80-120 kilograms. Therefore we cooperate with the Swiss Humanitarian Pilots Initiative ( First test drops are scheduled for August.

FAIRPLANET: That sounds promising…

JÜNEMANN: Another project we are currently working on is the certification of CADUS by the World Health Organization WHO. The WHO has learned from the past that the uncontrolled and unorganized use of many relief organizations is not effective. The example of Haiti in 2010 should not be repeated if possible. There, the chaos after the earthquake was in fact worsened by the many large and small aid organizations that came along. In the future, only WHO-certified emergency medical teams will be deployed with the necessary know-how.

FAIRPLANET: Sebastian Jünemann, thank you for the interview.

Photos: CADUS, Wikimedia