While thousands of people descended on Durban, South Africa, for the 17th annual meeting on the impact of climate change, a no less significant gathering took place in Busan, South Korea for the fourth high-level meeting on aid effectiveness. As one of the first to arrive and last to leave when disaster strikes, the worldwide Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is in a good position to assess and understand the issues surrounding how aid can be efficiently used for both immediate and long-term relief.
Dr Mukesh Kapila, Under Secretary General for National Society and Knowledge Development at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the Red Cross Red Crescent had become a household name through its disaster response activities, but that it was also increasingly active in a development role. “This comes naturally from our permanent presence in communities. We are there before disasters and long afterwards,” he said. The scale of this work is significant, Dr Kapila said, with between US$20-30 billion going through the movement each year.
In his address to the Busan delegates, Dr Kapila said that there were four key messages that needed to be highlighted. Firstly, he said that while government aid was important – and more could always be used – effective development needed more than just funding. “This is the International Year of Volunteers and Volunteering. We estimate that Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers alone add over US$6 billion to global GDP through their freely given labours and skills,” he said. When added to other voluntary contributions, these figures represented a massive investment of time and energy, but governments needed to make it easier for people to participate. “Volunteering creates good citizenship, fosters local ownership, and promotes the accountability of governments. These are other vital principles for aid effectiveness,” he said.
Secondly Dr Kapila said there had to be more flexibility in how aid was earmarked. “Bridging the relief-development divide is still unfinished business,” he said. “Will the Busan outcomes move us forward? For the Red Cross Red Crescent, we do this every day through two interconnected areas of our routine business: building resilient communities and building community capacities. That is why we now invest at least ten percent of our relief spending on risk reduction.”
While welcoming the forum’s commitment to engaging with fragile states, Dr Kapila said that it may be more effective to focus on ‘fragile people’ living not just in conflicted countries, but also in conflicted communities in both rich and poor nations. “We know them well through our work on social inclusion which tackles the neglect, marginalisation, and discrimination that can breed violent grievance.”
Finally, Dr Kapila said that while previous initiatives such as the Millennium Development Goals had provided much needed focus for those involved in aid provision, the time had come to put people at the heart of policy. “We must go beyond cobbled-together compromises,” he said. “This is because our world is changing so fast, and people – everywhere – need new hope and want a sharp vision. This calls for a new development model, at the heart of which are communities.”
In closing, Dr Kapila said those present should aspire that Busan would be celebrated for giving voice to the people and communities who feel it most when development and relief are delivered effectively, allowing them to be heard so as to shape the future of our shared planet.