The world has turned its attention to Africa this week, giving the continent a priority which the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies applauds. We have been particularly impressed by the energy and vigour of the awareness-raising campaign in the Live 8 concerts, and by the determination of the G8 Heads of Government to address African issues with such a clear sense of purpose.
The International Federation and its member National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have been working for years to bring to the world’s attention the daily battle the African National Societies are fighting to save lives in their continent.
The challenges are so numerous that I will not detail them here, but it is important to say that we work for African solutions to African problems promoted by the African National Societies, and the building of partnerships for results.
One of our key contributions to meeting Africa’s challenges is in the battle against HIV and AIDS.
This disease is now robbing some African countries of a second generation of people, and we, with the resources and know-how of our African National Societies are focussing on three main priorities – prevention, care and work against stigma and discrimination.
Africa’s HIV/AIDS challenge is all the more difficult to meet because of the poverty cycle in which the pandemic spreads. Our National Societies confront the same poverty-related challenges when faced with other communicable diseases, most of which are easily treated in more affluent countries.
Malaria, tuberculosis, polio and measles are much more serious problems in Africa than they would be if poverty were not part of the challenge.
One of the great strengths of the Red Cross and Red Crescent approach to these challenges is our ability to mobilise communities at the most local of levels, using our huge network of volunteers. Our experience is that even with the best of intentions, governments cannot take effective action against disease and poverty without the understanding, support and involvement of the local communities and their volunteer contributions.
In our opinion, solutions designed at strategic summits, like that of the G8, need to be matched by action at the local level which proactively includes the local communities in the design, implementation and monitoring of programs developed for their benefit.
Poverty in Africa, and elsewhere, is something which surrounds the lives and livelihoods of people. Debt relief and increases of aid can make a difference to levels of poverty if the needs and interests of the people themselves are mixed into a livelihood equation which governments themselves must all respect.
Livelihood is for all people. Including those millions in Africa who survive from one day to the next as refugees or displaced persons. Including those for whom food insecurity deprives them of even the most basic of needs. Including those whose lives are prejudiced by an absence of clean water and basic sanitation needs.
This is why the International Federation and its National Societies support the work of governments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals set in 2000. It is why we are actively forming partnerships with organisations at work with Africa to find and implement solutions, bodies like the African Union, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the Tokyo International Conference on African Development.
It is why we have recently concluded new cooperation arrangements with the World Food Programme and the World Health Organisation, to add to other arrangements with agencies such as UNICEF and UNAIDS.
This is why we welcome Live 8 and the intentions of the G8 leaders. There is an old African saying “It takes many fingers to plug the holes”, and our hope is that every available finger will be brought into action for Africa now.