This is an exceptional year for us, the international humanitarian community.
It began as the horrific reality of the tsunami sank in. It continued with a realisation that a food insecurity crisis in Sahelian West Africa was turning into a famine. Then followed the dramatic series of extreme hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and floods and devastating landslides in Central America.
And now we are struggling to provide relief in one of the logistically most difficult operations ever in the northern mountainous region of Pakistan. And looming is another type of natural disaster - the threat that mutations in a virus will turn an epizootic into a global human disaster.
The humanitarian community is a very stretched system today. But this is only the tip of an ice-berg. What the world's public has not seen are the untold smaller scale local disasters and emergencies that affect the daily lives of communities in risky and disaster prone environments across the world.
For every disaster that you will read about or see on TV, there are nine others where local organisations such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent with its volunteers will rescue and assist.
And without exception, it is the poorest of our brothers and sisters who are the most affected, those with no margins, who live in hazardous and exposed environments, who have no insurance to protect them.
This we saw along the coasts devastated by the tsunami, in the mountains of Pakistan and in the Super Dome in New Orleans. And without exception, their poverty will only become deeper and more desperate from these disasters.
This we cannot and should not accept. Every time it happens we ask ourselves, what would have protected the victims from such a tragic fate? What concrete and specific measures would have saved their lives and property, their hopes and dreams?
To underline the seriousness of this question, I would like to quote from the report of the United Nation's Special Representative for the Human Rights of Internally Displaced, Prof Walter Kählin, when he had visited Thailand and Sri Lanka after the tsunami.
He wrote: "Disaster risk reduction is not just a matter of good governance, but is an issue of human rights of populations at risk". "…national law should empower affected individuals to assert these rights, for example, through mechanisms to claim compensation where public officials have failed to take reasonable measures to protect populations and prevent displacement due to disasters."
That is how we should understand this issue - it is about the protection and human rights of millions of people around the world.
And we know what should be done. It is about building houses that don't collapse on their inhabitants. It is about early warning against real and present dangers. It is about knowing what to do when the warning sounds.
But if it is that simple, why still these millions of victims every year? Why these billions of dollars of losses? What is needed to go the extra mile, to make a real difference?
Part of the answer is this: to make buildings withstand the earthquake we need parliaments that legislate and establish building codes, and we need honest and capable authorities that will make sure that codes are enforced, and we need incentives for ordinary people to want and afford safe houses, and we need local people who will encourage and support their neighbours to protect themselves and their children.
In other words, this is not a technical problem. We need advocacy, we need accountability and transparency, and we need the local capacity to act.
In all these aspects the Red Cross and Red Crescent plays a role, at the local, at the national and at the global level. But the whole point is that no actor and no part of society can accomplish this alone.
We must have partnerships between governments, international organisations, the aid community, science, media, civil society and the private sector.
These partnerships must be based on the awareness from each single actor of its contribution to the whole. It is not until we have those partnerships that we can make a real difference. I hope and trust that this Symposium will help us make that difference.
I would like to conclude by informing you of the outcome of the General Assembly of the International Federation, just concluded in Seoul, South Korea.
Against the kind of background that I have described here, the Assembly adopted a Global Agenda, with the primary goal to "reduce deaths, injuries and impact of disasters on peoples' lives".
In order to achieve this, two things are needed. First, we must scale up the many successful community-based disaster reduction projects that we now conduct around the world. We must bring them to another level. Second, we must enter into new partnerships, into new operational alliances.
That is why I would like to invite Munich Re and other organisations represented here to work with us, to scale up and to achieve our primary goal, to reduce deaths, injuries and impact of disasters on peoples' lives.