It is my great honour and pleasure to bring a message from the South African Red Cross Society and from the entire Southern Africa Region to this important gathering in my capacity as the National President of the South African Red Cross Society and the Chairperson of the network of the Southern Africa Red Cross Societies (SAPRCS). We appreciate the opportunity to participate in the symposium for sharing and learning.
The South African Red Cross Society - similar to the Libyan Red Crescent Society - is one of the members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement which is composed of 181 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, The International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. We are linked to governments through the Geneva Conventions, and in fact we function in all our countries as the auxiliaries to the public authorities in the humanitarian field.
Our Movement is not just composed of institutions. Our real strength lies in the volunteer base of the Red Cross and Red Crescent world. We are, collectively, the world's largest volunteer network, counting over 97 million volunteers in all parts of the world.
That is why it is so important to be here with you today. Your Foundation is known for its support for volunteers and for volunteer involvement in the search for solutions to human suffering.
The mission of the Movement is to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. In our Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies we concentrate on priorities in the fields of disaster preparedness, disaster response, health and care and the promotion of humanitarian principles and values. We work wherever we are needed, everywhere in the world.
This responsibility is well captured by our joint commitment to mobilise the power of humanity to protect the vulnerable, and to protect human dignity. There are, however, many new challenges confronting organisations with this sense of mission, and this meeting provides an excellent opportunity to discuss them.
The work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement began on a battlefield in northern Italy, at a place called Solferino, in June 1859. At the time, the urgency was the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those suffering in a conflict calamity.
The lessons learned from that terrible experience gave birth in 1864 to the first Geneva Convention and from that to our Movement.
Now, however, at the dawn of the third millennium, international humanitarian needs are very different indeed.
Battlefields as they were known in the 19th century have been replaced by completely different war methodologies. The end of the colonial era has been matched by the growth of new understandings about responsibility for sustainable development and the delivery of human rights.
There have been significant shifts in the understanding of humanitarian needs and of the context in which humanitarian assistance is provided. At the same time, international expectations of the role of humanitarian action have evolved. No longer seen as simply palliative for the worst excesses of man and for the impact of natural hazards, many see humanitarian action as part of a wider agenda of sustainable development and conflict management.
The humanitarian challenges facing Africa
This has special relevance for Africa. Our continent is home to many of those worst excesses, and many of the worst of disasters. Our continent has sought in the past to address these challenges by calling for help from elsewhere, but now things are changing, and for the better.
We now, at last, have our own structures in place which will help us identify our needs and build support for solutions. We are doing this on the basis that our people need to be involved in the search for those solutions. We are building partnerships among governments, among organisations outside government, and between the people themselves with this objective.
We have a long way to go, for presuming to identify trends in humanitarian action is a perilous business. One of our starting points must, however, be to accept the responsibility of seeking to identify those trends.
This is why the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies of Africa, at an important meeting in Algiers in September 2004, decided to take ownership and lead the process of protecting the most vulnerable people in Africa.
They saw four key interventions as critical for Africa in the period ahead: Food Security, Health, HIV/AIDS and institutional capacity-building as a cross-cutting issue. The final documents of that Conference, the Red Cross Red Crescent Plan of Action and the Commitment to Cooperation and Coordination, was placed before the United Nations General Assembly on 2 February 2005 as document A/59/674 through the generous good offices of the Government of Algeria.
A significant element in each intervention is ensuring that each National Society develops a strategic plan which meets the circumstances of its own country, while delivering the humanitarian mission of the Movement as a whole.
This is no easy task. There are many new actors in the humanitarian world, and as the definition of humanitarianism has been stretched, so identifying the actors and their best role has become more difficult.
Suffering is not what it used to be. We in the Red Cross Red Crescent see a world where we need to redouble our efforts on behalf of the vulnerable because of the onset of disease, or because of disasters, or because of seismic shifts in the global political economy which in some quarters have moulded a new generation of violence and misery.
This has happened at a time when the whole context of national security has started moving away from the State-conflict situations which characterised what might be called the threat agenda of the past. This has led to major implications for those of us concerned with humanitarian action.
First, international political leverage over internal situations and conflicts has diminished as international finance has become available from a wider range of sources, including perhaps especially the private sector. As disputation becomes 'privatised', so the sources of violence has become more fragmented. This makes it extremely difficult to identify clearly the different key actors in some situations and to ensure that agreements regarding humanitarian access and relief are adhered to.
Second, the institutional climate within which humanitarian assistance was sought and delivered has changed markedly. While governments consistently claim to represent their citizens, other groups are more and more often seen beyond government control.
These groups do not form into political institutions which can give voice to grievances and to provide the basis for alternative political solutions. This has contributed to both extreme violence against innocent civilians, especially women and children, and to more dangerous and precarious humanitarian access.
Third, international responses to humanitarian emergencies have become less predictable. A few decades ago, when the world was simpler, a disaster generated support from governments because of a general willingness to offer support. Now, however, defining a clear 'target' for intervention has become more difficult, and the strategic interest has come to play a larger role.
These points might help illustrate reasons why there is now an increasingly differentiated humanitarian response, both in the institutional arrangements in place to provide protection and assistance, and in the volume of resources available. They might also help explain why so much time and money is spent analysing the question of why some disasters get a response and others do not.
And, for my continent, why so much time and money is spent on declaring Africa a top priority instead of getting on with the job of helping overcome the problems.
The trends in humanitarian assistance in the 21st century
This century began with the United Nations Millennium Declaration and its follow-up, the Millennium Development Goals. Together, they were meant to herald a new approach to the delivery of humanitarian assistance for sustainable development. Alongside this, the United Nations and many other bodies began processes of reform and structural adjustment with concentrations on the purposes of assistance and accountability for its expenditure and delivery.
It's very dangerous to predict where these processes will go, but it is safe to say that the 21st Century is likely to see an expansion of international community activity in many development and relief areas.
This will be partly to ensure commonality in the policies adopted and standards applied at the national level. It will also, however, be aimed at ensuring greater coherence among those who support objectives related to economic, social and humanitarian affairs.
But the real impact will be between these bureaucratic lines. The reality is that communities everywhere are demanding a greater say in programs designed for their supposed benefit. Community involvement is now the name of the game, with the Millennium Declaration as the top-level inspirational document.
Governments are now being called upon to work much more closely with civil society and communities in their countries. They are finding themselves needing to accept a much more substantial role for community-based organisations like the Red Cross Red Crescent, civil society and the private sector in their work at the multilateral level as well as in national-level implementation.
This is a major point of advocacy for the Red Cross Red Crescent Federation and its National Society members, and includes agreeing to form civil society and business community partnerships at the national level, and supporting similar arrangements at the multilateral level.
As Governments build their own partnerships with Civil Society, they frequently find that they get particular value from strengthening their relationships with their National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies.
This is because the National Societies are already in a strong dialogue relationship with their governments on matters of high national priority - they are, after all, designated by international treaties and the decisions of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Conference (in which Governments take part and vote) as "auxiliaries to the public authorities in the humanitarian field".
Multilateralism in the 21st Century is likely, in our view, to see a regrouping of the way the international community addresses major world issues. One of the most important documents now in consideration by the United Nations on this regrouping is the Report of the Panel of Eminent Persons on UN - Civil Society Relations, known as the Cardoso Report.
This report, which was submitted to the UN Secretary-General in June 2004, makes many important points, but one which is particularly relevant to this meeting is the conclusion that multilateralism no longer concerns governments alone but is now multifaceted, involving many constituencies.
The Cardoso Report is about the way the world will work with new human agendas and new ways of determining humanitarian priorities. We are still far from a clear idea of where the debates will end, but it is already clear that the 1945 United Nations lines separating international peace and security on one hand from economic and social issues on the other are breaking down, and this process will accelerate.
I shall illustrate this point with just a few examples highly relevant to our International Federation and its member Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies:
• The UN Security Council has recognised that HIV/AIDS presents a threat to international peace and security.
• Poverty - the underlying major emphasis in the UN's Millennium Development Goals - also has an important place in the consideration of issues related to peace and security.
• Population Movement, or Migration in its widest sense, has been identified by many different organisations and groupings, in and out of government, as one of the major priority issues which will have to be tackled coherently in the 21st Century.
• Disasters, both man-made and natural, have acquired new recognition from the UN and the wider international community as a source of poverty, despair and tension.
• International debate about human rights and humanitarian values has moved out of the economic and social confines in which it was placed in 1945, and there are now plans to create a new Human Rights Council in the United Nations.
Can Africa provide 'home grown solutions?
In the International Federation we take the view that work at the global level must be matched by work at the regional and national level which brings together the capacities of those affected by humanitarian challenges and those with a responsible wish to help.
For Africa, this saw in 2004 the establishment of an exciting initiative - NEPARC - the New Partnership for Red Cross Red Crescent Societies in Africa. It is supported by the Fritz Institute, and stands as an example of the way operational and private sector expertise can advance a shared agenda of effective local relief.
NEPARC is an example of how we seek to build institutional capacity for our National Societies. It will also help them build their strength as the auxiliary partners of governments at the national level.
In the same light, we have watched with great interest of the development of the African Union from the seeds sown in the Organisation of African Unity. We see the AU as the logical and best base for African decisions about African needs for the meeting of Africa's challenges.
We also see subregional action as vital, especially in a continent with the diversity of Africa. That is why we hope to be able to give much more attention in the future to international representation and advocacy, and through that to develop meaningful people-focussed relationships with bodies like SADC, ECOWAS and the others which are now working to build a new and bright future for the people of Africa.
At the community level there are other developments which are naturally and excitingly connected to work at the national, regional and multilateral levels. The most exciting of all these developments will be visible to all from Tunis in November when the second phase of the World Summit on International Society convenes.
In the view of the International Federation this is where governments and establishment institutions need to be brave. It is in this nearby future, when Information Society will be an everyday reality for most of the world's population, that the challenges I have mentioned today will be seen in their starkest detail.
One word the International Federation is now using which encapsulates that future, and which says volumes about the ability and capacity of today's institutions to meet these humanitarian challenges, is e-preparedness.
I will not go further on this word today, except to say that e-preparedness is about a world where every human being will be able to share responsibility for the protection of the vulnerable in his or her community. It is about the need for every community to reach out to each one of its members so their sharing of knowledge and experience can contribute effectively to safety and livelihoods.
But we have a daunting task, which is why I must repeat my gratitude to the Ghadaffi International Foundation for Charity Associations for inviting me to take part in this session on Humanitarian Assistance.
Your work with volunteers and for the vulnerable provides lessons for us all, and the exchange you have made possible today should be of world-wide benefit.