I would like to begin by thanking the Agencia Española de Cooperación, the Instituto Complutense de Estudios Internacionales and this University for their invitation to take part in this course.
By responding decisively to citizens' growing shared interest in helping to solve humanitarian issues, initiatives like this course play a fundamental role. As a result of research, training and dissemination efforts in the sphere of humanitarian action, more and more people share the belief that even the gloomiest facets of human relations can be improved.
We know that at this very moment, large-scale tragedies are occurring for which mankind as a whole bears responsibility, albeit indirectly and unconsciously. Now that we are all aware of this, we can and must help to widen and deepen the channels through which the vital and free experience of each and every one can flow and which must lead to a more homogeneous human development model with greater dignity.
The Red Cross and the Red Crescent share the view that we have come to live in a world that is interconnected and interdependent - a world where it is becoming harder and harder to us to ignore the vulnerability of others and to maintain exclusive spheres of prosperity. Today, risks are global in nature, and we must act without overdramatizing but responsibly to tackle them decisively with the unanimous agreement of the international community.
We must realize that these global risks - which, at the risk of sounding a bit apocalyptic, pose a threat to mankind - can only be prevented if the entire community of nations, from the most to the least developed, agrees to join forces to banish violence, poverty, ignorance and environmental damage because this is a shared responsibility.
The evidence is clear: we have sufficient means and knowledge today not only to alleviate the main consequences of vulnerability but also to prevent and avoid its causes to a large extent. What is unacceptable from an ethical standpoint is the persistence and sometimes chronic nature of extremely precarious living conditions affecting practically onethird of the world's population.
At the same time, we must look up from this urgent and immediate humanitarian task as far ahead as we can and provide for a future that offers a reasonable guarantee of dignity and prosperity.
It would be mean indeed to continue to jeopardize the future of coming generations because of the interests we pursue today.
Ever since our organization was founded over a century and a half ago, our shared belief has been rooted in the implementation of humanitarian action: we began with the victims of wars then gradually broadened our voluntary commitment to include those afflicted by all kinds of disasters, by epidemics, exclusion and marginalization.
Throughout this period, we have consistently seen that humanitarian action is never pointless, provided that much thought is given to the methods and means to be used in order to ensure maximum effectiveness. We cannot wait to succour those who are suffering to the best of our abilities, even though we cannot prevent the suffering of all.
Over time, the Red Cross and the Red Crescent have witnessed an increase in the number of persons who, within the many different organizations that share a vision grounded in solidarity, have committed themselves to "action based on solidarity". Through their volunteer work, growing numbers of people are underscoring the pressing need to reach a major world agreement based on solidarity and have decided to start moving in this direction.
As regards such an agreement, many of us are convinced that in the future we have a clear benchmark towards which we should work: the objectives of the United Nations Millennium Declaration which the international community endorsed in 1999, thereby setting goals to be reached by 2015.
In practical terms, the community of nations agreed to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by this year; to achieve universal primary education; to promote gender equality, especially with regard to education; to reduce child mortality; to improve maternal health; to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; to ensure environmental sustainability; and to promote a global partnership for universal and sustainable development.
Just recently, the Secretary-General of the United Nations warned that one in every six human beings still lived on less than one dollar a day and that extreme poverty claimed 20,000 lives every day. Meanwhile, HIV/AIDS has killed over 20 million and infected 40 million others. Over 40 countries have been scarred by conflict; more than 25 million men, women and children have been displaced within their own country, and an additional 11 to 12 million have become refugees.
Yet he also stressed that "the past 25 years have seen the most dramatic reduction in extreme poverty that the world has ever experienced. Spearheaded by progress in China and India, literally hundreds of millions of men, women and children all over the world have been able to escape the burdens of extreme impoverishment and begin to enjoy improved access to food, health care, education and housing".
Likewise, progress has been made in such areas as migration and climate change. However, as Kofi Annan puts it, "overall global wealth has grown but is less and less evenly distributed within countries, within regions and in the world as a whole".
With a view to protecting the lives and dignity of all, the Red Cross and the Red Crescent have always stood ready to help through their active presence at such scenes of suffering or, worse still, desperation and despair.
Their work is one way of demonstrating that inequality, abuse and aggression are real indeed. The neutrality of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, which is not always understood, serves their efforts to protect and promote human rights, alleviate suffering and help to eliminate its causes.
Undeniably, when we speak of global risks, what comes to mind is perhaps the greatest threat to development and world stability - armed violence. Indeed, armed violence is still used frequently to settle territorial issues or impose positions based on views, religion or ethnic membership. Astonishing as it may seem, we have learned very little from consistently harmful efforts to assert authority by force.
First, there is the loss of human life, the destruction of property and infrastructure, environmental damage, and so on. Moreover, lost development opportunities for communities lead to impoverishment. What is more, the resentment felt by the warring parties after the ceasefire indefinitely hampers real prospects for reconciliation, stability, and hence prosperity.
After the Second World War, the international community agreed to regulate the use of armed force with a view to limiting damage and the number of victims to a minimum. This is the content of international humanitarian law, as enshrined in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols.
One thing is certain: nowadays, many armed conflicts are between belligerents which are unaware of, fail to respect or deliberately flout these international norms. Staff members of humanitarian organizations have often been attacked deliberately, to plunder humanitarian supplies or prevent them from carrying out their relief activities.
Infringements must not remain unpunished. There is a need to support and strengthen, as much as possible, the mission of the International Criminal Court, which the majority of nations have deemed competent to try infringements with the necessary independence.
It is precisely because there are violations of international humanitarian law that we must push for strict observance of such law. Above all, those countries that have adhered to the relevant norms must respect and ensure respect for the limits it places on the use of force.
The results of the work done by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the component of our International Movement that is responsible for promoting and ensuring respect for the Geneva Conventions, clearly show how avoiding human suffering and property damage is a decisive factor in restoring peace and achieving harmony.
The civilian population, which pays the heaviest toll in today's conflicts, is a priority target of the ICRC's activities. For example, during 2004, in a total of 34 countries in conflict the ICRC distributed provisions and household goods; helped local communities to become self-sufficient by means of agricultural production programs and micro-economic initiatives; supplied drinking water, sanitation and other infrastructural services; and provided health care at 250 medical centres. Some 27 million persons benefited from these services.
At the same time, the ICRC also gives priority to persons deprived of their liberty, a particularly vulnerable group. Last year, its delegates visited more than 2400 places of detention in 80 countries, where they made contact with 570,000 persons. These visits provide an opportunity for regular assessment of the treatment of detainees or conditions of detention.
The ICRC also collected and distributed more than 1.3 million Red Cross messages, enabling relatives separated by a conflict or other forms of armed violence to stay in touch. Likewise, it ascertained the whereabouts of more than 6000 persons whose families were looking for them.
Today, when we speak of armed violence, it is only logical to include terrorism as a threat to peace and stability. Despite the horror of such attacks as the recent bombings in London, the only appropriate responses to such atrocities are the ones provided for by the rule of law and international humanitarian law.
One form of violence which we must not overlook is organized crime as a global risk that poses an ever more visible threat to international stability and thus to the life and dignity of many. The greed of criminal networks has led to new forms of enslavement such as forced prostitution, trafficking in illegal immigrants, drugs and arms, underemployment, extortion and so on.
The contempt that organized crime has shown for all types of human values tends to indicate that there are no limits to its aberrant activities. We must therefore act decisively and promptly, in accordance with the rule of law, to dismantle and neutralize such networks.
The point should be made that effective steps to combat illegal trade in arms ranging from light weapons to bacteriological and chemical weapons have proved their worth. Also necessary is tight control of nuclear weapons, which underscores the need for progress towards disarmament.
If there is a global risk that can have a decisive impact on mankind's future, it is poverty. We have all seen how poverty can, depending on the circumstances, be viewed as a cause or a consequence of these armed conflicts and other forms of violence, epidemics or disasters.
Today, the poor are scapegoats owing to their own vulnerability to hunger, insecurity, disaster and disease.
Combating poverty in order to eliminate it once and for all is one of the main tasks of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. Our International Federation, in cooperation with each of its 181 National Societies, helps millions of persons who are victims of disasters, refugees or displaced within their own country and who suffer from extremely precarious situations or other types of socioeconomic hardship.
Today's activities in over 150 countries are guided by the action strategies of the country or region where they are implemented, which always include means to build local Red Cross or Red Crescent capacities. These programs focus on a few essential areas such as disaster preparedness and intervention; health protection and community assistance; and the promotion of humanitarian values designed to consolidate a universal culture of solidarity and respect for human life and dignity.
Activities dealing with natural or man-made disasters account for a large share of the work done by the Red Cross and the Red Crescent through their Federation. All over the world, the impact of natural and technological disasters is steadily worsening.
According to the data at our disposal, some 210 million persons, the majority of whom are very poor, are affected every year by disasters linked to conflicts. Not all disasters are on a large scale - there are also smaller, periodical disasters. One thing is certain: there are three times as many such disasters as during the 70s.
Consequently, there is a need to encourage governments, which tend to focus on emergency response schemes, to start developing disaster prevention and mitigation plans, because disaster preparedness saves lives and is essential for a swift and effective response to emergencies. It is the most important link between response, rehabilitation and programs designed to launch a genuine development process.
The Red Cross and the Red Crescent have accepted one fundamental tenet: we must sweep aside the erroneous argument that the victims of disasters or poverty are helpless beings who passively receive outside help. Because of this belief, much of the work that is done ends up undermining local participation and ownership.
On the contrary, humanitarian intervention is much more effective when it is based on local knowledge and capacities.
As relief organizations, we are accustomed to evaluating needs, vulnerabilities and risks. However, we often underestimate the capacity of peoples to deal with crises, get organized and take action, what they can do for themselves and what they know about setting priorities. We must therefore be mindful of their own capacities in order to build up their resistance and enhance the effectiveness of our aid.
Droughts, floods, earthquakes, eruptions, man-made disasters, epidemics and so on are emergencies which require disaster preparedness and response. Effective planning and preparedness are essential both nationwide and locally, and depend on the involvement and education of the public. At the same time, international coordination may be necessary in the event of large-scale disasters.
The tsunami in South-East Asia is a case in point. There was excellent coordination between our Federation, the different National Societies, ICRC (some of the disaster-stricken countries faced internal conflicts) and the United Nations system.
The Red Cross and the Red Crescent collected more than 3.5 billion Swiss francs, making it possible to improve the living conditions of millions of vulnerable persons through programs scheduled to run over the next ten years at least.
The governments in the area expedited the delivery of international aid. The public expressed its solidarity with the disaster victims by maintaining the flow of aid by means of donations, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers began work right away.
The Federation will keep on consolidating disaster preparedness as it supports the efforts spearheaded by the local Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to rebuild communities and restore their means of subsistence.
Yet along with the undeniably serious effects of these disasters, which focus world attention owing to their tremendous scope, we must find a means of ensuring continuing priority for other more devastating disasters which, owing to their persistent nature, are no longer in the headlines and no longer touch people. Here, I am referring for example to the AIDS pandemic, which I am used to calling a daily disaster.
According to available data at the International Federation, the number of AIDS orphans could rise from the present total of 12 million to 24 million in 2010. As a matter of fact, we are concerned about the future viability of some countries if no support is forthcoming for orphans and other children, especially in Africa.
I believe that this situation clearly illustrates the impact of poverty - a disaster of epic proportions - as well as the global risk it poses for future generations.
Today, efforts to combat poverty and promote sustainable development for the most vulnerable communities must address the grave problem of environmental damage, which is undoubtedly the most threatening global risk for mankind.
There is hard and fast evidence that we are exhausting our natural resources and depleting biodiversity, and this has already had a direct impact on the most vulnerable, as always. Poor harvests, lack of drinking water and desertification aggravate famine and disease and intensify the consequences of natural disasters.
A Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report conducted under UN auspices warns that over the past 50 years, we have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, wood, fiber, and fuel.
"This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth" says the report. The degradation of ecosystem services could grow significantly worse during the first half of this century and is a barrier to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, which I mentioned earlier.
Although this environmental exploitation has resulted in progress for humanity, this has come at the cost of environmental damage that has aggravated poverty and could well jeopardize the future well-being of mankind as a whole. Protecting the environment is the duty that best underscores the need for a global approach to the issue. Each nation must realize that failing to act promptly to avert the risks of climate change will only guarantee temporary benefits.
As I said at the beginning, our success in avoiding these global risks will depend on the commitment of the most advanced societies to sharing their resources with the least developed ones, which must coincide with internal, proactive efforts by communities that need to start moving towards prosperity.
What we need is for world society as a whole - governments, civil society, corporations, productive, intellectual and scientific sectors, etc. - to accept the "ethical emergency" of working actively to ensure that the notion of strict respect for the rights, life and dignity of persons becomes a reality. And here I would venture to say that as far as I am concerned, mankind's proven lack of shared will and inability to live in peace and prosperity is the main global risk to our future and that of our descendants.
Consequently, the Red Cross and the Red Crescent - in their efforts to "make their way as they go along", as the poet Antonio Machado put it - are endeavouring to take steps and encourage others to follow suit, thereby helping mankind to fulfil its destiny - its own dignity.
The developed countries must step up their development aid: by guaranteeing market access for goods for the least developed countries, by becoming collaborators, not creditors, and by transferring the organizational and technological resources that will enable the least developed countries to develop as fast as possible.
Yet there is no doubt but that the least developed communities and regions must themselves lead the way. It is obvious that progress depends to a large extent on the existence of a common goal. However, many countries still face corruption and a lack of participation by the majority and minorities, leading to confrontation and disagreement with those in power.
Accordingly, there is an urgent need for these societies to recover their sovereignty in order to decide their future; their governments must represent their real aspirations in this regard, take the initiative for their development and give those they represent fresh hope. Food, health, means of subsistence, women's key role in the social structure, protection of natural resources and the environment must all be national priorities and must enjoy the firm support of the international community.
To sum up, I would like to stress that world society must view humanitarian action for development as a right and a universal duty - a common responsibility that must transcend our beliefs, opinions and interests.
Second, the causes and consequences of disasters and conflicts cannot be separated from the situation of vulnerability caused by poverty. I therefore feel that when we speak of world security, we should of course mention a lack of conflict but also the elimination of poverty.
I would like to reiterate that we cannot view humanitarian action as the expression of our will to help. On the contrary, we should engage in such action as an ethical commitment to the dignity and freedom of others. We must work together with the most vulnerable so that they may start down the road to prosperity, yet we cannot map out the route for them.
Current interest in humanitarian issues assures us that we are on the right track. In this connection, even though they represent small steps forward, commitments like the EU's pledge with regard to development aid and the agenda of the recent G8 summit which highlighted such topics as fair trade and poverty in Africa and the rest of the world, clearly show that world society is prepared to move in this direction.
From 14 to 16 September of this year, the United Nations General Assembly will review progress in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. I believe that this world summit offers the community of nations a unique opportunity to ensure that States assume once and for all the responsibility to create a viable future for all.
At the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, we are anxious to reach this goal as soon as possible, because we know that things are not moving as fast as they could.