This emergency item follows tragic events in South Asia and Central America. The work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent is well known in these situations, but on behalf of the International Federation and our member National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies I renew our condolences to and full support for all those who have suffered so much from the disasters.
In our statement to this Assembly on Civil Society relations with Parliaments on 17 October, we referred briefly to the testimony provided on 14 September 2005 by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to the United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The testimony was provided with the support of the office of the International Federation's Permanent Observer to the UN in New York, which has been augmented by a disaster management specialist to enhance our work with the UN on the tsunamis and now the other disasters which have struck the world this year.
This testimony of course followed events which came well after the adoption of IPU's resolution adopted on 8 April 2005 in Manila, on Natural Disasters and the role of Parliaments. But, just as the resolution was motivated by terrible disasters which had struck millions of people in South and South East Asia at the end of 2004, the Senate Hearing followed terrible disasters which had struck the United States.
The emergency item now being debated at this 113th Assembly of the IPU follows yet more terrible disasters which have struck at the lives and livelihoods of innocent and vulnerable people in Pakistan, India and Central America. The United Nations and other sections of the international community are taking stock of the situation these disasters have revealed, and we in the International Federation applaud the IPU for its determination to play its part as well.
As we said yesterday, the International Federation and its member National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world are ready to work with you and with your member Parliaments in whatever way we can to help meet the needs of vulnerable people in these situations.
Our testimony to the United States Senate is equally relevant to your deliberations now. I will not read it all, but some of its points are relevant in considering actions which parliaments might be able to support.
After a disaster
Recovery must be able to link the emergency phase with the long-term development process. During the recovery process, special attention must be given not just to reconstruction of infrastructure, hospitals, schools and homes, but it has to also foster economic revitalisation and belief in a better future. This can be achieved in many ways, through support to small businesses and assistance to the local economy, credit schemes, loans and financial incentives.
The first priority for victims - whether they be a farmer in Ethiopia, a fisherman in Sri Lanka, a waiter in New Orleans or a doctor in Iran - is to re-establish their livelihoods and to regain control over their lives. As such, they should be fully supported in the recovery of productive assets. Attention must also be given to restoring social services and rebuilding local infrastructure.
The recovery process should identify areas for initial impact and seek to support a return to normalcy, while long-term reconstruction is being organized.
Nevertheless, post-disaster recovery should not be a simple restoration of pre-existing livelihoods and infrastructure. Instead, it should be treated as an opportunity to implement better development policies, to "build back better," and to strengthen individual faith and confidence.
• Supporting spontaneous recovery. Within days of even the most devastating disasters, such as those in Bam and Banda Aceh, there is a part - and often a large part - of the population whose natural resilience and positive determination motivates it to return to normal and move on.
The spontaneous recovery carried out by individual communities should be recognised and supported by the recovery process. Regulatory frameworks and recovery efforts should enable and further this spontaneous activity.
Equally important to recognise, however, is that parts of a population can be rendered helpless by a traumatic event -- and recovery must therefore address both these realities.
• Recovery must be inclusive. Populations both directly and indirectly affected by a disaster must be identified and taken into consideration in recovery plans. It is important to not isolate an affected population, as doing so can cause resentment and tension between those assisted and those not eligible for assistance.
Recovery initiatives must be participatory. Headway in the recovery phase can been severely handicapped without the buy-in of communities affected, whether they be contemplating the reconstruction of the World Trade Center in New York City, recovering from a Tsunami in a remote fishing village in Papua New Guinea, or rebuilding shelter following an earthquake, such as in Bam, Iran where a highly centralised form of management might have been anticipated.
Affected communities need to feel a genuine sense of ownership and a role in determining what will become their new community. Just as after Hurricane Mitch, the Gujarat earthquake: in almost all post-disaster communities some form of national consultation, involving community groups and leaders, needs to be included in the recovery process.
• Recovery must be sustainable. Recovery efforts must help build capacity at the local, regional and national level. They should seek to support and strengthen local governance mechanisms and to build the resilience of those affected through activities such as income generation, vocational training, employment and credit.
Post-disaster recovery interventions need to be timely to be effective. Yet, at the same time, recovery efforts - and authorities implementing them - should not be driven purely by the need to "do something fast".
The opportunity to review existing laws and policies, and improve risk reduction, disaster preparedness, response plans, hazard and risk mapping, and emergency training is critical. In fact, the need to do so will never reach a more aware public than at this stage. Communities should be rebuilt to be more resilient to natural hazards, and previous environmental, industrial or social risk factors can be mitigated or even eliminated thanks to heightened political support.
To rebuild communities and lives without addressing the underlying causes of the devastation - whether weak construction, unplanned urbanisation, or unprepared populations - would be tantamount to humanitarian malpractice.
• Recovery must be needs-based. Recovery must take into account the specific vulnerabilities of certain populations and the specific challenges faced by particular groups (i.e. those left handicapped after the earthquakes in Iran and Turkey).
Natural disasters primarily and most critically affect the poor and vulnerable, and can further entrench poverty. Recovery must avoid creating the same inequities that existed before.
In most situations where Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies work, it is clear that a gender dimension must be mainstreamed into recovery plans. Sensitive issues around cultural, tribal, racial or ethnic divides further complicate the process - but cannot be ignored without reinstating or even aggravating previous inequities.
Some other thoughts:
• Ensuring a Coordinated Response: Establishing a coordinated effort in the midst of a disaster is difficult, and often seemingly impossible. However, when achieved, coordination lays the foundation for effective response by authorities at local, regional and national levels.
Coordination involves building long-term relationships and sharing information platforms between humanitarian operators, public authorities, funding institutions and donors, and above all the very public and communities affected.
• Building Back Better: Regardless of how devastating, every disaster offers a unique opportunity to build back better homes and schools, and to bring in new livelihoods, opportunities, and hope.
Ironically in some cases, the disaster itself helps break the cycle of poverty through improved infrastructure. In Afghanistan and Angola, better schools have meant not just new buildings, but also green space, play areas, and less crowded classrooms. In countries impacted by Hurricane Mitch, IFRC efforts helped improve living conditions, and in Bangladesh and Vietnam, our coastal mangrove planting projects improved the environment and strengthened resistance to cyclones.
"Building Back Better" also means more trade opportunities - such as the possibility proposed by former President Clinton in his current role as the UN Special Envoy for the Indian Ocean Tsunami - to invigorate the housing construction business and trade conditions through the rebuilding of Tsunami-affected communities.
• Relocating Displaced Populations: The relocation of affected populations - from and to devastated areas - is fraught with sensitivity. Some of the displaced will never return, while some will never leave, and both extremes must be managed during the recovery process.
The man in Bam who refused to leave the pile of rubble that was once his home and under which his family lay is no different from the resident of New Orleans who refused to leave his flooded house.
The process of relocation is often knotted in security issues, evacuation dilemmas, land rights and titles, and feelings of threat and jealousy from host populations. Public authorities can be challenged by the simultaneous need to find new land, assess environmental and other disaster risks, and assure a source of work and transportation.
Transitions from sudden homelessness, to temporary, semi-permanent, and finally permanent accommodation are very sensitive and must be handled with care.
• Involving the business and private sectors in disaster management: The Indian Ocean Tsunami has demonstrated, more than ever, that the business and private sectors have a significant role to play in post-disaster recovery. While this may seem natural in developed countries, in those less developed it is a new and promising source of aid. Opportunities exist for logistical, material, technological and technical support from the private sector.
The provision of financial and human resources can be an important input in the context of broader and longer-term cooperation and partnership.
Chair, we close this intervention with a suggestion to parliaments.
In our view the disasters which have struck this year have underlined the need for all countries in the world to examine critically the disaster preparedness of their own populations. To this end, we suggest that it could be a good idea for all parliaments to hold Hearings, or the equivalent, on the state of national - not international - preparedness.
One item for consideration by parliaments could well be the state of national laws and regulations relating to disaster response. The International Federation leads international community discussion of this issue (known internationally as IDRL). We were therefore very pleased to hear such an elaborate description of the need for careful work on international and national disaster response laws rules and principles from the keynote speaker for this item, Mr Thomas Peter of OCHA.
I know our National Red Cross and Red Crescent Society members would be keen to support such a valuable process, and that it could lead to significant savings in terms of lives, property and livelihoods.
This is one way we can work productively with parliaments to help address the main problems before the disasters strike, which experience shows is when the most effective disaster response is done.
We look forward to continuing to contribute to your important deliberations on this topic, in any way we can.