The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is approaching this item from two interconnected perspectives.
The first perspective connects the issue of sustainable development to risk reduction, and thus to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The second relates to the particular vulnerability of Small Islands Developing States (SIDS), which is due to their remoteness.
There are a number of upcoming conferences, which focus on these issues. The first conference is the 3rd IUCN World Conservation Congress, which is taking place in Bangkok this November. In the context of the global humanitarian debate, its agenda seeks to demonstrate that conservation issues are essential to sustainable development. The conference will take place just prior to the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, which will be held in Kobe-Hyogo, in January 2005. The SIDS International Meeting will also take place in January, in Mauritius.
The IFRC is deeply committed to the issues, which will be discussed at these conferences, and will participate at the highest levels. The President of the Red Cross Society of Barbados, who is also a member of the senior level of our Governance, will participate in the conferences in Bangkok and Mauritius.
For some time, we have sought to bring the following message to the attention of governments, international organisations, and to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs:
"Due to their remoteness, SIDS is particularly vulnerable. This fact should be addressed in any discussion of their economic and social status. This dialogue should involve the Red Cross/Red Crescent National Societies, which are often the only bodies that have community outreach programmes throughout a given country. In addition, our community risk reduction strategies fit well into national development planning, which is aimed at helping address vulnerabilities for the long-term."
The above message has been drawn from a declaration issued by the SIDS' National Societies, which held a special meeting during the December 2003 International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. The meeting was attended by a number of governments including some not themselves SIDS, and by UN agencies.
The following are examples of how the IFRC and its member National Societies can contribute to the debate on sustainable development and related areas:
1. The World Summit on Information Society has special relevance to the SIDS' sustainable development objectives. The IFRC has sought to advance this point, and will continue to do so as the 2005 Summit in Tunis draws closer.
2. The IFRC, Tunisian Red Crescent Society, and other concerned organizations are working on a project, which will help alleviate the difficulties experienced by remote villages in southern Tunisia. In the future, the project's results may be applied to other regions, whether they are deserts or islands.
3. Telemedicine is a rapidly expanding public health asset for remote communities. The Government of Iceland and the member states of the Arctic Council have contributed greatly to this effort in coordination with the National Societies of that region.
Another important issue is the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). The IFRC is committed to working closely with ISDR, as disaster reduction and preparedness are priorities for our National Societies. Following the recent hurricanes, which severely damaged the Caribbean and the southern United States, the work of the Red Cross teams in the field has proved to be vital, once again.
The next phase in our work is to increase our understanding of the relationship between sustainable development and strong communities. The involvement of local communities in the design and implementation of programmes oriented towards the most vulnerable is necessary in order to attain the sustainable development objectives. We also believe that the links between MDG 7 on sustainable development, and MDG 1 on poverty reduction, should be made more clear.
The 2004 edition of the IFRC's "World Disasters Report" will be launched worldwide on 28 October. Its theme is community resilience, and we will have the pleasure to send a copy to each mission and to our UN partners in early November. In this context, we urge all delegations to pay special attention to the theme, as it is the foundation of meaningful work on sustainable development.
As we say in the Red Cross, in times of major disasters, the first eight hours are critical. Regardless the situation, it is always the local community who will be first on the scene.