The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and its 181 national members have a profound interest in the subject of 'human settlements'. For us, improving the lives of the hundreds of millions of people who live in slums is a priority of immediate relevance.
The importance of this task is increasingly well recognized by the United Nations system, NGOs, civil society, and by communities as well. It is our priority not just because of the macro-circumstances identified in the Secretary-General's report, but also because of the extreme vulnerability of the people trapped in slum life. Their human dignity is too often violated due to disease and disasters.
Improving the life of people living in slums is closely connected to the achievement of MDG 7 on environmental sustainability. In our view, the aim (Target 11 for MDG 7) to significantly improve the lives of at least 100 million people by 2015 falls short of what governments can be expected to achieve. We believe that successful partnerships within the ambitions of MDG 8 (Partnerships for Development) enable countries to achieve much more than that.
We also believe that the issues derived from slum life and its consequences are just as much a problem in developed countries as they are in the developing world. This is why the European Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, at their regional conference in 2002 in Berlin, recognized the special vulnerabilities of people living in the shadows. Many people in slums are just that: people marginalized into a life in the shadow, far from positive political influence and far from the decision-making centres.
It is difficult to prescribe general solutions that can make a significant difference here at the General Assembly since such solutions should be tailor-made. Our hope is that governments will seize the challenge to work with their national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies - their auxiliaries in humanitarian matters – to jointly address the vulnerabilities of people in human settlements.
The International Federation can share many valuable experiences from its network, such as:
- The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, working with partners, has recently begun an information and education campaign targeting youth in slum areas in order to increase their health knowledge, particularly with respect to HIV/AIDS and communicable diseases.
- The Egyptian Red Crescent has been closely associated with a building project for the poor, which will house 9000 people in what used to be a slum. It will have the cultural and community amenities necessary to emerge from slum life, such as a women's centre, a health centre, a cultural centre, a mosque and schools.
- The Indonesian Red Cross has successfully taken water and sanitation facilities into very poor and deprived areas. It has done so by involving the local community and by making the local community interested to meet their own needs and improve their own lives.
These examples reflect the presentations made by IFRC at the valuable World Urban Forum, held recently in Barcelona. That meeting was generously supported and sponsored by UN-Habitat and the Government of Spain. IFRC was able to elaborate on how the building of community responsibility and community involvement results in a direct and immediate benefit to the communities themselves, in terms of material improvement, pride and psychological strength.
Our organization, following the World Urban Forum, now intends to use its strength in Nairobi, both through our own Regional Delegation and through the resources and knowledge of the Kenya Red Cross and other National Societies, to invigorate a fresh relationship with UN-Habitat. We will take the experience of this relationship to the UN system and other regional centres, and look forward to productive partnerships in this important work.
We will build upon our work in the developed countries as well. IFRC had a valuable learning experience in 2003 at the Healthy Cities Conference in Belfast, which reaffirmed our conclusion that slum life is not just a matter to be addressed in the developing world.
In fact, the deprivation and despair of people living in slums in the developed world has become a breeding ground for a wide variety of other social, economic and political ills. In our view, there needs to be much more cooperation between the developed countries governments and their Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in order to obtain a good understanding of how those issues and the vulnerabilities they exacerbate are to be addressed.
A good example in this context is the Netherlands Red Cross Centre on Climate Change. This Centre aims to raise global awareness about the impacts of climate change through the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and its national societies. The Centre will focus on adaptation to climate change impacts and improving disaster preparedness programs in particular in developing countries.
In preparation for the World Conference on Disaster Reduction to be held in Japan in January 2005, we are concentrating on disaster preparedness and risk reduction and on the human settlements dimension. It is also in this context that we are moving forward with our work on International Disaster Response Laws, Rules and Principles (IDRL), which urgently needs support from both governments and the UN. Furthermore, we are addressing health risk reduction, particularly as it relates to HIV/AIDS and communicable diseases, in our regular relationships with WHO, UNAIDS and other relevant organizations (including People Living with HIV/AIDS).
We believe that the subject of human settlements is only starting to be addressed with the priority it deserves. Mr.
In conclusion, let me bring to mind the tragic pictures from Haiti, Grenada and other parts of the Caribbean basin that were so badly hit recently by a series of hurricanes. Needless to say, it was the slums and all of the poor, badly planned and least protected neighbourhoods that were the most devastated. Paraphrasing the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel, we do hope that the only lesson from history is that – occasionally – we can learn a lesson from it.