Humanitarian relief for the victims of natural disasters or armed conflicts is one of the Order of Malta’s traditional tasks. It was taken up again in the mid nineteenth century and carried out during the First and Second World Wars. In the second half of the twentieth century these commitments increased. Over the last fifty years, the Order’s main relief actions have been: relief for refugees during the Hungarian crisis in 1956; setting up and running a field hospital during the Vietnam war; relief service in Thailand over many years; medical assistance during the civil wars in Lebanon and El Salvador; refugee relief during the Kurd crisis; refugee relief in the Great Lakes district of Africa; various extensive actions during the Balkan crisis (1999); earthquake relief in Italy in the late 1970s in 1997 and 2009; El Salvador in 2000; repeated flood and hurricane catastrophe relief in the Ukraine, Hungary and Romania, in Honduras and in Poland.
From the start of this century, refugee relief in Afghanistan (2001-2007); refugee aid in the Democratic Republic of Congo (2003); earthquake aid and reconstruction aid in Bam, Iran (2004); refugee relief in Darfur, Sudan (2004); tsunami relief in South- and South-East Asia (2005); help to the starving populations of Niger and Mali (2005); aid for hurricane victims, New Orleans, USA (2005); help for earthquake victims, Pakistan (2005); medical assistance for earthquake victims Java, Indonesia (2006); relief for earthquake victims in Peru (2007), emergency aid after the flooding in the Mexican state of Tabasco (2007), humanitarian relief after the cyclone in Myanmar (2008), emergency relief measures for earthquake in Haiti and Chile (2010).
Many of these actions were carried out by Malteser International, the Order’s worldwide relief service, which provides emergency support to victims of natural disasters and civil conflicts. It also runs rehabilitation and reconstruction projects, often in partnership with United Nations (UN) agencies, international organisations and local entities in the affected areas. On many occasions, the Order, through Malteser International, has taken over the medical care of UN peace missions (in Central America, Kuwait, East Timor, Balkans, Afghanistan).
The Order’s neutrality and its impartial and non-political nature make relief actions possible in situations where access by other organisations is difficult. The Order’s diplomatic representatives give much valued support in the countries concerned.