Some 250 delegates of 49 National Societies are attending the 6th Regional Asia-Pacific Red Cross Red Crescent Conference, which gets under way in the Philippine capital, Manila, on Monday 25 November.
In addition to the 36 in the Asia-Pacific region, National Societies from the Middle East and a number of sister donor societies are taking part in the statutory conference, which runs until Thursday 28 November.
The conference is expected to commit itself to an action plan setting out how the main issues should be dealt with over the next four years. Regional conferences of this kind are held every four years. The last one in Asia-Pacific was held in Hanoi in 1998.
The main topics to be discussed during the four-day conference are population movement, public health emergencies and the alarming spread of HIV/AIDS in the region, and the escalating cost of disasters to lives and livelihoods in the world's most disaster-prone region.
These issues are threatening the future development and security of the Asia-Pacific region. The region has the world's highest number of refugees, accounts for 20 per cent of the 40 million people with HIV/AIDS across the world and suffers 60 percent of the world's natural disasters. Two-thirds of the world's population lives in Asia-Pacific.
The Manila conference is hosted by the Philippine National Red Cross, and the country's president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will deliver a keynote speech on the opening day of the conference at the Malacanang Palace.
With more than one million new infections in Asia Pacific this year, HIV/AIDS is the most pressing public health challenge. It is spreading faster than the ability to contain it.
'Social evils' campaigns and discriminatory attitudes in some Asian countries have led to people with HIV or at high risk, being singled out as deserving punishment. This approach fuels the epidemic and drives the unsafe practices of injecting drug-users underground.
"Asia is likely to suffer the next big wave of the pandemic," says Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro, President of the International Federation. "Unless we act now, the region will experience socio-economic devastation where family structures break down, the number of orphans rises dramatically and development is put back by decades."
The scale of population movement in Asia is also having major repercussions, with communities increasingly vulnerable to human rights violations, poverty, ill-health and xenophobia.
There are four million refugees – as well as another four million internally displaced people – in Asia, yet this is the region that has done the least with regard to the ratification of conventions protecting the rights of refugees and migrants.
"Both HIV/AIDS and population movement have the capacity to threaten social stability and development. We cannot afford to let this happen," says Governor Mario R. Nery of the Philippine National Red Cross, co-chairman of the conference's organizing committee.
"The Red Cross and Red Crescent is already working hard to prevent this, but we and others have to step up our activities if we are to have a greater impact. This conference is an important forum for finding ways of doing that effectively,' he concludes.
World Disasters Report 2002
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VIth Asia and Pacific Regional Conference
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