Youth; Global crises and their impact on development

Published: 6 February 2009

Statement by Michael Schulz, Permanent Observer a.i. to the United Nations, in the United Nations Commission for Social Development, in New York

Thank you for giving the floor to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in this important debate.

Item 3 of the Commission’s agenda has special interest for us this year – first because it is an opportunity to review plans of action concerning certain social groups, and second because of your wise decision to hold a debate on the impact of the current global crises on development.

This item covers many of the most pressing challenges confronting governments and communities today, and I will not see to address them all. I will however observe that the IFRC continues firmly to believe that the major challenges of today will not be successfully addressed unless stakeholders come together, prepare and plan together, share resources and drive towards commonly agreed objectives.

Our member National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are ready and willing to join their government partners, using their capacity as auxiliaries in the humanitarian field, and help ensure that national planning and implementation is tuned to meeting needs, especially those of the most vulnerable.


The World Programme of Action for Youth (WPAY) is one of the programmes the Commission is analysing today. We continue to find it an inspirational document, but it might help the Commission and other colleagues if we recall that in November 2007, at the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, IFRC delivered a pledge in conformity with the “Call for Action: Children and young people participating in decision-making” which had been issued by the Alliance of Youth CEOs and UNICEF.

Pursuant to that pledge, the IFRC is calling on National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies but also Governments, UN Agencies, youth organisations and the private sector to work together and contribute to the capacity of youth in several different fields and directions:

- Youth volunteers as key agents for social change and economic development;

- Training of youth volunteers in addressing major humanitarian challenges, particularly in such areas as HIV and AIDS, prevention of alcohol and drug abuse, violence, environmental education, rights of the child, respect for diversity, inter-religious dialogue, youth leadership and volunteer management;

- Raise awareness and action concerning issues such as violence, HIV and AIDS, substance abuse, food insecurity, unemployment and more.

When making this pledge, the IFRC also committed itself to organize its 3rd world Red Cross and Red Crescent youth meeting in June 2009. Its objective is to encourage discussions, share knowledge and train hundreds of youth volunteers in major humanitarian challenges of today and tomorrow, some of which I have already mentioned. The meeting will be held on the same site where the idea of the Red Cross and Red Crescent was born 150 years ago.

We intend to provide as much information as possible to the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, as well as to States and other stakeholders, about the outcomes of these important deliberations. We are convinced that National Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies will derive particular benefit from them, but that it is important that others also know of the directions chosen on these issues by our network.

We consider that this approach fits well with the WPAY objectives, but it places more stress on the proactive involvement of youth in decision-making and programme implementation on issues of concern to them – not just issues concerning them. This means that we seek to integrate youth perspectives on matters of national and community concern, not only those which narrowly concern youth themselves.

A step we have taken at the IFRC in this direction, which supports the actions of National RC /RC Societies, is encompassed by the decision of our membership in 2007 to amend the IFRC Constitution and make our Youth Commission a statutory body and its Chair an ex-officio member of our Governing Board. This has made possible the inclusion of a vital youth perspective in all our important policy work, and it is a step which we believe others should also consider.

At the same time, national experiences show that when youth is actively involved in the governance and management structures, traditional activities turn into local initiatives focused on the most urgent vulnerabilities affecting youth, such as youth violence or gender-based violence, but also discrimination and substance use.

At IFRC, our work to include youth in decision-making for the future includes recognising the readiness of youth to make use of modern technology. As an example, we are now using Facebook as a platform to stimulate discussion of issues of strategic concern. See if for yourselves, distinguished delegates, at

Global crises

The Secretariat’s note, in Conference Room Paper 2 covers subjects which have been topics of discussion and priority for IFRC and National Red Cross / Red Crescent Societies for some time. In fact, looking at the declaration “Together for Humanity” adopted by Governments and National Societies at the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in November 2007, I would suggest that there are other crises which could also valuably have achieved reference in this paper.

Nevertheless, we agree that Climate Change presents a defining challenge. We, however, approach the subject somewhat differently: the challenge for us is the humanitarian consequences of climate change. The IFRC’s Red Cross and Red Crescent Climate Centre in The Hague ( is acknowledged by those involved with this subject as one of the world’s leading institutions in this field, and we encourage DESA and other stakeholders, including Member States, to keep abreast of its contributions.

Consultation with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Climate Centre is also arranged in ways to ensure strong youth input, as is evident for planning for the World Youth Camp to be held in Solferino in June 2009 where Climate Change will be a major topic.

Alongside this dimension, IFRC has accepted the role of facilitator of inter-agency positioning on the humanitarian consequences of climate change within the Inter-Agency Standing Committee. This function is geared towards the 15th Conference of Parties of the Framework Convention, but it is already producing papers and conclusions of wide interest.

The crisis which is on all minds and lips today is the financial crisis. IFRC identified this as a major humanitarian challenge in 2008, and our Governing Board addressed issues of particular concern to us in a Red Cross / Red Crescent context.

For example:

- This crisis is already changing patterns of vulnerability. Special concerns are arising in communities not beforehand in a prioritised situation, and some which were seen as particularly vulnerable before are now in an even more fragile situation. Communities in the Horn of Africa are an example of the latter case. Communities in many developed countries are examples of the former.

- This led the IFRC Governing Board to call for solidarity on these issues, with concern for people in their own countries but no lessening of support for people in vulnerable situations elsewhere.

- To achieve these ends, it is imperative that humanitarian and other assistance budgets, including budgets for economic development, are not cut. It would be unconscionable if moneys were available to rescue financial giants at the expense of the most vulnerable people in communities.


IFRC contributed to a debate under this item, the social sector crisis, in 2004. At that time, we were debating a very good paper prepared by DESA on the withdrawal of the public sector from many traditional fields of activity.

That document, E/CN.5/2004/5, made points which are highly relevant to the issues before us today, and we would urge Member States and other stakeholders to pay attention to it as they consider the best action they can take today.

IFRC believes that concerted action will be necessary, perhaps differing from country to country in accordance with local circumstances, customs, laws and culture.

But that action should be coordinated, and the international community has a serious responsibility in that respect. IFRC is ready to play its part, but more importantly, we consider it vital that any national programmes developed to address the vulnerability that stems from these crises should be formed following consultation with the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Our Societies, as you know well from other contexts, are the auxiliaries to the public authorities in the humanitarian field. They all have nation-wide networks of branches and trained volunteers. Their layers of experience contribute a voice built on independence, impartiality, non-discrimination, tolerance and goodwill.

They will work with you, as governments, to find the best solutions for your country, and through the strength of our network they will help you support the needs of vulnerable people elsewhere.

This means that one of the most important tasks for Governments as they take steps to address the financial crisis is to ensure that the capacity of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and other relevant civil society actors to bring reliable information about vulnerability and need to your attention.

This capacity-building is required everywhere in the world, but particular attention is required in the least developed countries most at risk. It is also essential that the capacity-building work prioritises those most likely to make strong contributions to national effort. Gender is vital in this context.

This last point, Chair, completes the circle of this speech. Youth must have a strong place in helping governments unravel this financial crisis and the other global crises on the agenda. The reasons for this are obvious and I won’t repeat them.