Acclaim for Manama Declaration

Published: 18 March 2004 0:00 CET

Saleh Dabbakeh in Manaman, Bahrain

A year after its postponement because of the war in Iraq, the Fourth Conference of the Red Crescent and Red Cross Societies in the Middle East and North Africa region, held in Bahrain from 14 to 17 March, came to a triumphant end, amid cheers and applause from participants and guests, as the Manama Declaration was read out by Dr Taher Sheniti, president of the Tunisian Red Crescent.

"The participants in the Conference are determined to bring assistance and support to all victims of conflict, violence, intolerance and discrimination, natural disasters, disease, uphold the rights and human dignity of each and every human being, and build the capacity of our own National Societies," the declaration stated.

"The real impact of our decisions will depend on staying engaged with our communities, governments, organizations and institutions that share our concerns and seeking partnerships with the private sector and civil society."

The bi-annual conference, which was held under the theme New Humanitarian Challenges and Partnerships with the Private Sector, identified five key areas on which National Societies should focus in the coming two years: accessibility, new sources of vulnerability, partnership with the private sector, resource mobilization and youth.

Access to the victims of disaster or conflict was identified as the first priority. Noting the importance of adhering to the Movement’s Fundamental Principles and the needs of vulnerable people, the conference outlined actions to be implemented by National Societies and the International Federation in the two next years.

These included the establishment of national disaster management plans in all countries of the region, the identification of clear roles of National Societies and the inclusion of accessibility in times of disaster in their management plans, with increased technical support from the International Federation.

“In order to achieve the necessary flexibility for access to victims and fulfilling the humanitarian objectives of the National Societies," the declaration emphasized, "interventions should be based on International Humanitarian Law" in addition to developing and using "international law as the legal basis for interventions in natural disaster situations."

Another practical action was identified in the field of resource mobilization and the creation of partnerships with the private sector. Working groups highlighted the need for the Red Cross and Red Crescent to diversify funding sources to avoid dependence on "a few funding sources, especially governments and institutional donors". The declaration called for the development of a multi-country approach and opportunities for private corporate support.

National Societies pledged to "identify opportunities to improve communications in the region, including the development of the Arabic Federation website and the FedNet extranet," said the declaration, adding that this should be done through "best use of expertise that exists in the region."

Perhaps the most innovative recommendations were those related to youth participation in National Societies. The Manama Declaration stated that National Societies will ensure that their “leaders are informed about youth, volunteering and gender policies approved by the General Assembly of the Federation,” and called on them to use them “as policy that can guide the work of National societies to manage volunteers”.

It called for the creation of “space to let young people participate in the decision making process”, establishing systems for rewarding youth and volunteers and exploring opportunities to establish a regional youth network.

"We are passing through an extremely sensitive period of competition as globalization dominates our world," said Sadeq Al-Shahabi, secretary general of the Bahraini Red Crescent during the closing ceremony. "Hence, there is an urgent need to raise awareness of investors and businesses in this region, and increase, their involvement in our humanitarian work."

Dr. Ali Said Ali, head of the Federation’s Middle East and North Africa department told participants that the importance of the conference stemmed from the fact that it was able to succeed in making communication between generations a reality, coming up with practical actions for implementation, and focusing on the use of regional expertise and capacities as a vital area of cooperation among National Societies and the Federation.

The four-day conference was attended by nearly 30 National Societies, including 16 from the region, as well as representatives from the International Federation, the International Committee of the Red Cross, UN agencies, civil society organizations, government ministries and over 100 other participants, including, for the first time, youth representatives.

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society did not attend due to the present situation in the country.

On the sidelines of the conference, a meeting of the Organisation of Arab Red Crescent and Red Cross was held with a view to outlining a new working strategy.

“We are seeking to revitalise this organisation,” said its general secretary, Dr Abdullah Al-hazaa. “There is a need for Arab National Societies to come together and devise the best ways of dealing with new challenges.”

He said the meeting looked at how relations with the Federation could be improved and how Arab National Societies and the federation could better support each other.