Saleh Dabbakeh in Manamah, Bahrain
The largest regular meeting of Red Crescent and Red Cross Societies in the Middle East and North Africa started its deliberations in Bahrain on 15 March after being officially opened by the deputy prime minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalid Al-Kahlifah, who is also the president of the Bahraini Red Crescent.
Under the theme ‘New Humanitarian Challenges and Partnership with the Private Sector’, participants discussed a number of topics during the first day of the conference, the first to bring National Societies in the region together since 2001, when the third Conference of Middle East and North African Red Crescent and Red Cross Societies was held in Tehran.
The Red Crescent Society of the Islamic Republic of Iran began the deliberations by reviewing the progress achieved in the region since the Tehran conference. This was followed by two presentations by the International Federation on the implementation of the Strategy for Change in the region and the Federation of the future.
A lively discussion followed the main presentation of the day on new humanitarian challenges. “The tremendous events that have taken place across the world over the past few years - wars, natural disasters, epidemics, economic and social turmoil - have increased the vulnerability of many, particularly the poor,” said Markku Niskala, secretary general of the International Federation. “It is important that we debate and come to a common understanding of what these vulnerabilities are.”
The following debate focused on consequences of 11 September attacks and its repercussions on the international, Muslim and Arab worlds. “Events have led to a diminishing of Arab and Muslim standing,” said Salah Al-Lawzi, from the Jordan Red Crescent.
Major changes have taken place within the context and environment in which the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement carries out its humanitarian work, both globally and in the region, according to Balthasar Staehelin, the ICRC’s delegate-general for the Middle East and North Africa.
“The space for independent humanitarian action is narrowing in an environment of increased radicalisation and polarisation. The present environment of global confrontation between state and non-state actors entails the danger of being rejected by some and instrumentalised by others,” said Staehelin. “There is a need for ICRC to be totally independent and to have the acceptance of all parties to any conflict. Furthermore, the Movement must project a coherent image of its commitment and action.”
Participants broke into three different working groups to discuss the main topics of the conference including accessibility, new sources of vulnerability and the role of youth in the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. Groups are expected to come up with recommendations on how to deal with new sources of vulnerability and detail best practices to allow the most vulnerable access to services within the region.
In a statement to the conference, which he had officially inaugurated a day earlier, The Bahraini deputy prime minister proposed that participants also discusses “dangers of environmental pollution and its dangerous effects on human life, which would expose our world to many dangers, especially hunger and disease if challenges are not met.”
Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro, president of the International Federation noted that “it is important to maintain a balanced relationship with governments, one based on respect, but one that also preserves our independence and neutrality to act, and access to those who need assistance, to persons affected by disasters, disease and conflict.”
Among the speakers at the inaugural ceremony was Muhammad Al-Hadid, chairman of the Standing Committee of Red Cross and Red Crescent, who said that some of the “new challenges are the linking of terrorism and extremism with Islam and Arab culture, new urban diseases such as HIV/AIDS, SARS and increasing pollution.”
Present at the inaugural opening ceremony of the conference, which will last for two more days, were government ministers, members of the Shura Council (Parliament), UN agencies, NGOs and the diplomatic corps in Bahrain.