It has been three long and nightmarish weeks for those who managed to survive the waves yet lost so much, and so many. We have all poured our hearts and minds into this disaster, and as we look ahead together, we hope that the worst is behind us.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) welcomes the decision of the General Assembly to hold a special debate on the urgency of strengthening emergency relief. It provides us an important opportunity to stress the priority that must be given to disaster preparedness and disaster response, together.
It is well known that the IFRC, working with its network of Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies, is at the forefront of providing emergency relief on the ground following natural disasters.
The point was stressed on 11 January by Mr. Jan Egeland, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, at the Ministerial Meeting in Geneva on Assistance to Tsunami-affected Countries. He spoke of, "the crucial role of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies as the first line of defence against suffering and disease," in disaster situations.
The Asian earthquakes and tsunamis of 26 December 2004 have been followed by a tremendous and unprecedented level of support from private citizens and the corporate sector. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank all governments and all missions in New York, who gave us such strong support. Your contribution acknowledges the immediate response of Red Cross/Red Crescent volunteers and trained staff in the countries directly affected following the disaster. Our volunteers were on the spot and providing rescue and relief services before news of the catastrophe had even reached the outside world.
Our assessments enabled the IFRC Headquarters in Geneva to issue its first preliminary appeal for support just eight hours after the disaster struck. We are now at work in the twelve countries that were directly touched, providing support for the restoration of family links, and assisting the large number of people who have lost relatives and friends.
Details of our work can be found on our website, http://www.ifrc.org, so I will spare you the statistics, facts and figures. I will simply note that it shows what thousands of Red Cross/Red Crescent volunteers, staff, and Emergency Response Units are achieving following the immediate assessments by our Field Assessment and Coordination Teams. To provide just one example: this is the largest Water and Sanitation deployment in IFRC's history.
There has been interest from around the world in the work of the Red Cross/Red Crescent. This recognizes the fact that we are in a unique position. We are the only international organisation with a grassroots presence in virtually every community in the world. We are also a federation of National Societies, which are auxiliaries to the public authorities in their respective countries.
At the outset, the IFRC, its member National Societies, and the ICRC quickly reached agreement on their cooperation in the region. As rescue and rehabilitation efforts continued, we also established close cooperation and coordination with all local authorities and our colleagues from the UN system, especially OCHA.
We have spoken of our actions in many different contexts. We are addressing substantive issues within the disaster risk reduction framework at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction now taking place in Kobe, Japan.
We also addressed the special vulnerabilities of remote communities at the Mauritius International Meeting on Small Island Developing States last week. In addition, we were represented by our Secretary-General at the Jakarta Meeting of ASEAN Leaders on 6 January, and at the Geneva Ministerial Meeting on 11 January.
Our message is simple but vital.
Emergency relief must be built into national programmes of preparedness and risk reduction. Such programmes should be designed and implemented through a national body, which includes the Red Cross or Red Crescent National Society. This has been agreed upon by all States in the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.
Emergency relief cannot be supplied by the international community alone. The first line of defence, as Mr. Egeland has stated, is provided by the communities themselves.
The best possible systems must be in place to provide warning of impending disaster. Yet even the best systems cannot work without the involvement of local communities and their volunteers. Experience shows that a well-trained and well-prepared volunteer base is essential to warning people, and then saving lives. This is exactly what our experience from Bam shows.
Governments must bring their relevant laws and rules into harmony with the international instruments and the necessities imposed by disaster situations. The IFRC's International Disaster Response Laws, Rules and Principles programme is all the more relevant to emergency relief in the context of today's setting - twelve countries directly affected and a worldwide outpouring of generosity.
My delegation has been privileged to offer advice to the cosponsors of the draft resolution now under discussion and before us as A/59/L.58. The resolution makes important references to the need for effective risk reduction and preparedness programmes. It also denotes that focus must remain steady to insure that medium and long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction will be carried out.
The IFRC would, however, have hoped to see a stronger reflection in the draft of the essential place of local communities in providing emergency relief. In other words, there should be a strong international priority for capacity building, especially at the community level.
We will no doubt return to the issues raised in this debate many times in the months and years ahead. It is, however, important that we do not lose sight of the other priorities, which demand increasingly urgent attention from the international community.
I will not detail them now, except to say that we noted with care that nearly all who spoke during the Ministerial Conference in Geneva on 11 January said that their pledges for the Tsunami-affected countries were additional to the assistance funds that they were already providing for other humanitarian purposes.
We hope that this remains true. Despite progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, a great deal must still be done to address the poverty and despair which deprives so many people of basic human needs and dignity.
The price we all paid in this disaster, the tragedy of those who perished - and those who have survived - mandate that we do much more, faster and better than ever before, if we are to avoid another shock of this magnitude in the future.
I sincerely hope that the destructive power in the Bay of Bengal will lead to a new culture and power of prevention.