To prevent displacement due to natural disasters should be a priority for the humanitarian community

Published: 3 November 2010

Statement by Ms Anne Christensen of the IFRC Delegation to the United Nations, at the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York

Mr Chairman,

On behalf of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) allow me to thank the High Commissioner for his presentation and for the subsequent dialogue with the Third Committee.

Mr Chairman,

As was addressed in the statement made by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement adopted a collective policy in November 2009 to strengthen the protection of and assistance to persons affected by internal displacement. This policy complements the IFRC’s policy on migration, also adopted in 2009. In line with these policies, the IFRC and its member National Societies continue to provide assistance to vulnerable people on the move, including displaced persons, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and victims of trafficking.

I will focus my remarks today on two issues: addressing displacement caused by natural disasters and the humanitarian challenges posed by rapid urbanization.

Mr Chairman,

The increasing frequency of natural disasters, coupled with a number of emerging threats and trends, are leaving more people vulnerable to the effects of disasters; and inflicting greater damage, loss, and dislocation on vulnerable people worldwide. The recent disasters affecting the Southeast Asia region, the ongoing flooding in Pakistan and other countries, and the hurricane which recently hit Barbados, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines remind us of the devastating impact weather-related events can have on lives and livelihoods.

In responding to such disasters, the IFRC adopts a needs-based approach, to ensure that the most vulnerable receive assistance, taking into account gender, age, and disability, and regardless of what the legal entitlements of these persons are, if any. In this regard, we welcome the attention paid to the needs of persons with disabilities in the UNHCR Executive Committee meeting last month.

To prevent displacement due to natural disasters should be a priority for the humanitarian community. However, when displacement does occur, it is essential to immediately provide relief and care to the displaced and their host communities, and to work towards early recovery. As local first responders, Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies carry out this prevention and response work through a range of initiatives such as addressing food security and livelihoods, and through efforts to build community-based disaster preparedness and risk reduction.

Mr Chairman,

Allow me to highlight food insecurity as a significant challenge linked to displacement. Approximately one billion people are undernourished and do not have access to sufficient food, seventy-five per cent of whom reside in rural areas. Without adequate interventions, such food insecurity may prompt people to migrate to the outskirts of towns in search of better conditions. This year, IFRC’s annual World Disasters Report focuses on urban risk and highlights the many challenges which await vulnerable migrants in urban settings.

For the first time in the history of mankind, in 2010, more people live in an urban environment than a rural one and in just 20 years, over 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities and towns. Many urban dwellers are faced with precarious conditions, indeed between one-third and one-half of the population of most cities in low- and middle-income nations lives in informal settlements where infrastructure and essential services are often lacking. The report warns that 2.57 billion urban dwellers are exposed to unacceptable levels of risk fuelled by rapid urbanization, population growth, poor health services, poor local governance and, in many instances, the rising tide of urban violence. Much of this vulnerable population is also particularly exposed to climate change and the threat of urban disasters.

Collectively, we need to do much more to keep pace with these developments, and to build safer and more resilient communities in rural and urban settings alike. In the coming years, IFRC will work particularly to improve its preparedness and response in complex urban environments. In doing so, we will draw on lessons from recent disasters affecting urban settings, and we will work with city leaders, civil society and other relevant partners to reduce risks in urban environments and to address root causes of vulnerability.

I thank you, Mr Chairman.