The Governing Board of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies meets on a regular basis to take strategic decisions concerning the organization’s main areas of action. However, the session to be held from 5 to 7 February departs from the norm in that it will not take place in Geneva as such meetings usually do, but in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Moreover, it is set to reaffirm the high priority accorded to Africa by the Federation in the most earnest and concrete way possible.
Holding this meeting on African soil is therefore not merely a symbolic gesture. “By travelling to the heart of Africa, the leaders of the Federation seek to highlight the ever more central place that it occupies in its concerns, as a continent that has enormous reserves of youth and inventiveness, but is also ravaged by the often combined effect of multiple catastrophes, such as natural disasters, endemic diseases, epidemics and famine,” explains Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro, President of the International Federation.
The Algiers Declaration made in 2004 defined the main directions of the Federation’s work, namely addressing food insecurity, combating HIV/AIDS and improving health conditions. These priorities are strongly reaffirmed in the International Federation’s Global Agenda, which establishes the reduction of the number of deaths, injuries and impact from disasters as one of its main goals and emphasises the need to involve local communities and civil society in the solutions proposed to address poverty and situations of vulnerability.
In recent years, challenges have arisen on new fronts, which concern Africa very closely. One obvious example is climate change, which has major implications for the continent. Year by year, the desert advances a little further, sudden, irregular rainfall causes catastrophic floods with devastating effects on crop yields, which contributes to an increase in famines, diseases, such as cholera, are rampant and the rural exodus to big cities exacerbates poverty still further.
These destabilizing factors breed despair and fuel migratory flows, such as the growing illegal migration from Africa to Europe, which leaves a trail of tragedies in its wake, as thousands of migrants fleeing from the unbearable hardships of everyday life drown in the sea or die of exhaustion before they reach the end of their voyage.
Being better prepared for disasters and thereby reducing the impact of the effects of climate change is therefore an inescapable requirement, if the international community is to have a chance of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, which is, at the present time, far from the case.
By the same token, it is unrealistic to expect to be able to eradicate diseases as devastating as HIV/AIDS without involving local communities.
This is why the meeting in Addis Ababa should confirm that the intensification of Red Cross and Red Crescent efforts must involve strengthening the capacities of African National Societies. Africa has been defined as a clear priority in the International Federation’s Global Appeal for 2007. The launch of a Global Programme for Africa will also be discussed in the Ethiopian capital. It will aim at scaling up coverage, quality and impact of the programmes of African National Societies.
Such development is largely based on the training of volunteers from the community, who are the only ones capable of reaching the most vulnerable people with prevention messages, which will contribute to gradually reversing the current trend. Who could deny, for example, that Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers play a major role in the fight against malaria?
Not only do they distribute thousands of mosquito nets, they also work untiringly, year after year, to ensure that families continue to use them properly and that children are vaccinated against other diseases, such as measles, which can be easily prevented through vaccination. It is largely thanks to their work that the number of deaths from measles has fallen by 75 per cent in Africa since 1999.
Through its efforts to strengthen the means available to African National Societies to improve the work they do, create operational alliances when necessary to avoid duplicating efforts and increase effectiveness and develop reliable, standardized evaluation systems, the International Federation works with the African people day by day to improve the lives of those living on this continent.
“The extraordinary meeting of the Governing Board in Addis Ababa is an opportunity to highlight this situation and intensify mobilization in order to reverse the tide of disease and poverty in Africa,” concludes International Federation President Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro.
More than a slogan, this is a specific priority that the Federation will address with all its vigour and determination in the months and years to come.