Health, poverty and conservation

Published: 20 November 2004


It is an honour for me to be able to be with you; IUCN members and other delegates at this Session. The challenge of identifying the best linkages between the work of the World Conservation Union and the humanitarian agenda of the international community is, however inspiring and I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with you as the issues are unfolded.

I very much hope that the work being done at this Conference will be helpful to IUCN members as they make their own decisions on the best ways of linking their work to the work of other organisations at global, regional and national levels.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is in many ways concerned with similar issues to those which are priorities for you. We are an organisation built on the need to promote respect for fundamental principles. Our fundamental principles, and perhaps especially the fundamental principle of humanity, sit comfortably with your mission to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature.

Your "Green Web" of partnerships is strikingly similar to the International Federation's array of partnerships, and the description of the Green Web as providing partnerships, knowledge, innovations and action shows how useful it could be if our organisations could build their cooperation and share more experiences and mobilisation opportunities.

This, of course, presupposes that our purposes link in an action sense as well as in broad goals. Let me explain how we see this action relationship as having real meaning.


The International Federation is not just a member of the international community with - like IUCN - Observer status at the United Nations General Assembly. It is also a federal body with member national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in almost every country in the world. Very importantly, the member National Societies are themselves built from two distinct but complementary bases. One is their base as voluntary aid organisations recognised by their governments as the "auxiliaries to the public authorities in the humanitarian field, and established by legislation. The other is their community base, provided by members and volunteers working with branches and chapters in all parts of their countries.

There are now about 97 million trained and dedicated Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers within the International Federation fabric. In many ways these volunteers parallel, through their work on behalf of the vulnerable people in their communities, the work that conservation volunteers do for vulnerable species and vulnerable eco-systems.

In many ways this work is so similar that I hope at least one outcome of my chance to speak here today will be new dialogue and cooperation possibilities, everywhere.


The International Federation views the issues of Health, Poverty and Conservation through several different lenses, and then links them into a prioritised agenda. We also link that agenda to the work of our partners in and beyond the United Nations system, and at regional and national levels. One starting point for this which might be relevant today is the work we do to support the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals - the MDGs.

The MDGs set what some see as an ambitious list of things to be done by 2015. Our view is that the Goals are achievable, but that Governments will not achieve them, or will achieve them unevenly, unless they work closely with their communities. This is particularly important because the MDGs are in many respects about vulnerability and need. This is why the linkage to the International Federation's work is so close, and why so many UN and other agencies are now turning to the International Federation in the hope that this will help them build the community linkages they need if they are to do their work well.

All of the MDGs have a direct relationship to Health. They are also broadly covered by the wish of the Heads of Government who signed the Millennium Declaration in New York in September 2000 to set forth a program aimed at the alleviation of poverty. The Heads of Government also recognised that it is not possible simply to alleviate poverty without building substance into the work of governments and others on sustainable development.

Sustainable development includes, of course, issues vitally related to conservation, including safe drinking water and sanitation. These two points are built into the targets and indicators supporting Millennium Development Goal 7, on Environmental Sustainability. They are also very relevant to MDG 1 on poverty reduction, the Goal which in some senses is the umbrella covering the entire MDG package.

Your work on water governance in West Africa, and the publication you issued after the IUCN Environmental Law workshop in Ouagadougou in 2002, points in the same direction. It shows very clearly the relationship between water management and human health, and also relates effective water management to human development in the widest sense.

The International Federation's view is similar. It is that none of the MDGs can be seen in isolation, which is why the title of this segment of the World Conservation Forum is so appropriate. Environmental sustainability must be seen as part of a wider agenda which includes the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger (MDG 1), as well as the need for the populations of the world to be equipped to understand the importance of protecting themselves and their environment. Straightforward issues like that are the outcome of the successful achievement of MDG 2, on Universal Primary Education.

Other MDGs, and especially those directly related to health, are of central concern to the International Federation. Some have been well identified as relevant to environmental concerns, and the International Federation has worked over the years to elaborate on those linkages for a variety of different audiences and partners.

One such, which I mention now because it is also an organisation deeply concerned with the environment, is the International Olympic Committee. The International Federation has a partnership agreement with the IOC, and National Societies are starting some significant programs with counterpart National Olympic Committees, particularly in fields relating to health, HIV/AIDS and disaster preparedness. I can see good opportunities for some of the work being done at this Conference resonating in that cooperation atmosphere, especially if it takes account of the contributions made in these fields by volunteers and civil society.

I won't go through all the Millennium Development Goals now, for they should be well-known. What is important now, though, is to link the resources of the International Federation and the IUCN to ensure that as governments prepare to consider the MDGs and the work remaining in the ten years left before 2015 they understand the basic principle that achievement will depend on strong and effective links to the communities which live in the poverty, despair and environmental degradation which the Goals challenge and which we seek to address.

To show how important this is, permit me to use the example of my own country, Barbados, and the Caribbean region.

Our region is tormented by disasters every year. Hurricanes regularly travel through our islands and destroy lives and livelihoods. The threat to livelihoods for humans is matched by the destructive power of hurricanes for flora and fauna, in fact for the entire ecological balance of our islands.

Right now, in the Caribbean, people are trying to rebuild their lives and their life systems after one of the worst hurricane seasons on record. For the Red Cross, this means not just trying to restore livelihoods, but preparing for the next assault. It means learning the lessons from this year, adding them to the lessons learned last year and beyond, and assuring people that water and sanitation facilities will be able to cope in the future. It means working closely with our governments, in our auxiliary partnership, to help them best identify where need is greatest.

It means working with you. With the conservation community to understand how best to build an alliance between humanity and nature secure a balance which benefits not just the people in need today, but also their grandchildren and then theirs. It means harnessing nature's wonderful gifts and assets so they can participate in our joint work to preserve the planet in prosperity and dignity.

There are many examples of how this can be done. One in particular, which relates Health, Poverty and Conservation well, comes from this south-east Asian region.

Vietnam's geography makes it one of the most disaster-prone countries in the region, with typhoons attacking the coastline every year and doing great damage to lives and livelihoods. The work done by the Vietnam Red Cross, with the strong support of the Japanese and Danish Red Cross Societies and others in our network, has been successful beyond the imagination of almost anyone. It has involved the planting of mangrove trees in over 18,000 hectares in eight provinces covering 110 km of coastline. The cost after nine years has been less than $4.5 million dollars, but the estimated return so far is many many times higher.

The Vietnam Red Cross hopes eventually to extend the project to cover all 3200 km of the sea dyke system which runs along the coastline. It has seen that the mangroves do not just protect the dykes themselves, but they significantly reduce the impact of the typhoons, reverse 50 years of deforestation caused by shrimp farming, end the local practice of taking sand and soil from the dykes, and dramatically increase local incomes and prosperity.

The project has been so successful that the Government of Vietnam has now decided that the mangroves themselves should be protected by law.


The experience of Vietnam is also interesting for the link it shows between conservation, health and poverty. Before the introduction of the mangroves, the impoverished people of the coastal region has little option but to fend for themselves as best as they could, often at the expense of the environment.

This is a common problem in many countries, and our experience is that legislation and criminal penalties alone cannot provide the answer. The solutions have to involve an holistic approach to the twin problems of poverty and conservation, and the associated problem of the health of the communities themselves. We are encouraged to see that this is now identified by some as the approach which needs to be taken to such issues as the threat to endangered species of animals and fish in various parts of the world.

We are also encouraged to see that this kind of holistic approach is also seen as vital to the work we all need to do in the face of the threat of global warming. In this respect, it is perhaps interesting that I, the President of the Barbados Red Cross Society, should have found common cause on this subject with the Icelandic Red Cross and the Red Cross Society of the Russian Federation.

This is because the warming of the Arctic ice cap, which is already starting to change life patterns for people living in remote settlements of the arctic north, could ultimately threaten the very existence of some of the small island states of the world, perhaps especially the island states of the Pacific Ocean region.

Climate Change provides, potentially, one of the strongest linkages between the different types of vulnerability we are addressing today. This is why the International Federation is so proud of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Centre on Climate Change and Disaster Preparedness. This Centre, housed and facilitated by the Netherlands Red Cross, is a key element in the provision of community expertise to international debates and negotiations on climate change .

Climate change is, of course, a question that is handled within the processes of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. For many of us in the islands, it will be also be of high importance in January when the United Nations convenes the International Meeting for Small Islands Developing States in Mauritius. I will be representing the International Federation at that meeting, and look forward to attending it enriched by the debates which are taking place here.

I also look forward to learning more from New York and the United Nations about what we can do together in planning for the Mauritius Meeting, having noted the important IUCN statement made to the UN General Assembly's Second Committee on 19 October, covering sustainable development and the Caribbean region. We will look for ways of linking those concerns to those expressed by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies of Small Islands Developing States in a declaration they signed in Geneva in December 2003. That declaration is available in the International Federation website at, and I commend it to you.

There is, in fact, a succession of international conferences and events in the months ahead which are relevant to our theme of Health, Poverty and Conservation. Immediately after the Mauritius Meeting the United Nations will convene the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, in Kobe, Japan. The central theme for the International Federation at this conference will be community resilience, which was the theme for the 2004 World Disasters Report issued by the International Federation last October 28.

We will be stressing the interactions between community resilience and risk reduction in Kobe. Taken together, as the examples I have offered show clearly, risk reduction involves the inclusion of disaster preparedness into national development planning. This in turn helps build resilient communities which are much better protected against the impacts of disasters or diseases.

Community resilience, as the examples I have offered from the Caribbean and Vietnam show, is also a key to our understanding of the conjunction between the work of the International Federation and IUCN.

I urge all members of the World Conservation Union to continue to give priority to integrating communities into their work, and to engaging governments in the task of supporting and promoting community involvement in conservation work.

This will be a further theme of the International Federation's work in the next of the forthcoming events which relates to this work. It is EXPO 2005, to be held in Aichi, Japan for six months beginning in March 2005. Its theme, which ought to be of great interest to IUCN and its members, is "Nature's Wisdom".

The International Federation, together with member Society the Japanese Red Cross and its sister organisation the International Committee of the Red Cross, is planning to exhibit its work on disaster preparedness and community resilience at that EXPO to underline the relationship between disaster preparedness and nature's various wisdoms.


Much of what we do, and much of what we can do together with your members and associates, is done at the national level. We can, however, work much more systematically together at the international level too, in support of the critical needs at the national and local levels.

IUCN, like the International Federation, has Observer status at the United Nations General Assembly. It is my hope that the identification of common cause which this Bangkok Conference is promoting will lead to closer institutional links between our two organisations, both at headquarters and in New York. This could also extend, potentially, to the disaster-related law links which might prove to exist between your work in West Africa on environmental law and water governance and our work on International Disaster Response Law, Rules and Principles (IDRL).

I believe we can also work together more effectively as we develop stronger relationships with the private sector. Our experience in the Red Cross Red Crescent is that the private sector - generally speaking - places a premium on contributing to the economic and social objectives that underpin our work.

One example of this which could be relevant in the context of Health, Poverty and Conservation is the International Federation's role in the International Network to Promote Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage.

This network, which is based in the World Health Organisation, has a large number of members from around the world - including the Asian Institute of Technology here in Bangkok, a number of environment organisations like the Kenya Water for Health Organisation, as well as big business like Proctor and Gamble.

One of its activities of particular importance to the International Federation provides another dimension of the importance of the connection between Health, Poverty and Conservation. It involves the need, which is well-known, for 2 litres of safe drinking water per day for persons receiving anti-retroviral therapy because of HIV/AIDS. The network is now promoting various products which help purify water at household level, especially among those who are particularly vulnerable to water borne disease, particularly people living with HIV/AIDS. It is a sad fact that many of these people will perish if they do not gain access to a minimum safe water supply.


My undertaking to you and other delegates present is that I, as a member of the Governing Board of the International Federation, will take back to my colleagues impressions of this Congress and its debates which suggest that we should find ways of strengthening our work with IUCN globally, and with your member organisations at the national level. I personally have been in contact with the relevant people in Barbados in preparation for this event, and I would like to see our work in the Caribbean stand as an example to others.