by Giovanni Zambello in Rome
Re-establishing community links, creating safe, resilient communities, and building strong Red Cross Red Crescent societies. These were some of the topics touched by Tadateru Konoé, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), in his speech to Italian Red Cross staff and volunteers during his recent visit to Italy at the end of May. The visit came only two days after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake – the second in 10 days - struck the region of Emilia Romagna, north-eastern Italy leaving 19 people dead, 350 injured and more than 15,000 homeless.
Visiting the site of another major earthquake – the one that jolted the town of L’Aquila in April 2009 – with the Extraordinary Commissioner of the Italian Red Cross, Francesco Rocca, and Anitta Underlin, the Director of the IFRC Europe Zone, Mr Konoé mentioned the crucial role of National Societies in keeping affected communities together after a traumatic event, such as an earthquake.
“What I learned in L’Aquila was that the Italian Red Cross Society has been active in re-establishing the communities that were destroyed by the quake of 2009. I was very much impressed by that,” Mr Konoé said in an interview. “In Japan, we have been facing a similar problem, as numerous areas were inhabited by elderly people, many of whom were evacuated to other places where they had to stay with people they did not know at all. They needed a new sense of community, but they were shy when getting to know new people, and our volunteers did play a very important role in facilitating this process.”
The mission of the President has proved important in reaffirming the strong and constant dialogue between the Italian Red Cross and IFRC, particularly in this crucial moment of reform of the National Society, and it marked a milestone in the spirit of togetherness between the Italian Red Cross Society and the IFRC in their shared humanitarian mission.
“In recent years, the Italian Red Cross has undergone profound transformations that have led to a change in attitudes and mind-sets as well as a change in structures,” Mr Konoé said. “This proves its willingness to grow stronger, more relevant, more efficient in responding to this and other humanitarian challenges of the coming years, and to become a truly modern National Society”.
During his mission to Italy, Mr Konoé also had the opportunity to visit the Villa Maraini Foundation, one of Italy's most advanced centres for drug users and people living with HIV, which last month signed a memorandum of understanding with the Red Cross and the IFRC on a Red Cross Red Crescent training and research partnership on substance abuse.
“Visiting Villa Maraini, I was impressed by what the Italian Red Cross Society has managed to build over the years, and by the quality and innovation of its services, which appear to be highly appreciated by the people who use them. The society can be proud of its 35 years of excellent work in alleviating the humanitarian consequences of drug abuse and combating discrimination and stigma of all kinds, which sets an example for the whole Federation.”
Turning his thoughts to the global humanitarian scenario, Mr Konoé casts a light on the future of our Federation and our humanitarian commitment in the years to come.
“We are faced with changing and growing humanitarian challenges,” he said. “As we all know, climate change will be affecting us more and more seriously, and disasters will become increasingly complex, sometimes combined with conflict and security situations. In this frame, addressing immediate needs after a disaster is no longer enough; we need to address the root causes of disasters and commit ourselves more actively to the development side of disaster preparedness, which means strengthening vulnerable populations in disaster-prone areas.”