An enabling environment for early warning, early action and true preparedness for resilient communities is needed

Published: 20 July 2011

Statement by Mr Siddharth Chatterjee, Head of International & Movement Relations and Chief Diplomatic Officer, IFRC, at the United Nations Economic and Social Council, in Geneva.

Chair, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) welcomes the Report of the United Nations Secretary General, which focuses on two thematic issues of current concern: one on “Strengthening resilience, preparedness and capacities for humanitarian response”, and the other one on “Humanitarian financing”.  Both issues are crucial, in particular as we speak 10 million people in the Horn of Africa region are affected by one of the worst droughts. 

As a direct consequence of the drought, the Horn of Africa is experiencing the most severe food crisis in the world today.  The situation is grave in the refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia where refugee numbers are increasing daily.  At country level, the food crisis is particularly severe in southern Somalia, where the United Nations believes that 2.8 million people (32% of the population) require humanitarian assistance.

Why haven’t we seen the crisis coming?  Of course we all saw it – it did not come as a surprise.  It has been a predictable crisis, over the years.  But why it was not addressed in time?

There were seasonal forecasts showing that the rains would fail.  However, the natural cycles of drought are not the sole cause of the current crisis.  There is a complex set of underlying issues, including cultural and political alienation of nomadic peoples, local conflicts and regional power politics, aid agency dependency, environmental degradation and population growth.  These are important factors that have had a negative impact on pastoralists’ traditional coping mechanisms.  Vulnerability has increased, and exacerbates the severity of the drought cycle impacts and the resulting food crisis.

The situation has been on the Red Cross Red Crescent radar for some time.  We have existing emergency appeals for Ethiopia (CHF 30.5 million extended from 2010) and Kenya (CHF 4.9 million from 23 March this year), but there has been limited support for these appeals.  Perhaps this is a result of donor fatigue as well as, the absence of media interest.  But why does a screaming news paper or TV headline have to always be the trigger for an outpouring of support.  Have we not seen these very dramatic images over the last nearly 15 years about the Horn of Africa?  We need to think hard about the chronic issues that mire this complex region.

The Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies have been at the forefront of dealing with this situation for many months.  We note that it is today twenty years since the General Assembly’s resolution 46/182 on humanitarian coordination and much progress has been made so far.  Nevertheless, the international community has not applied key lessons from past crises:  namely the need for early warning, early action and the importance of investing in emergency preparedness.  Fewer people would be in crisis if humanitarian assistance was more timely, well coordinated and with a focus on investing in sustainable solutions.


We must remember that vulnerability to disasters, food insecurity and poverty is reduced where livelihoods are resilient, local coping capacities are strengthened and where people are able to earn sufficient income to meet their needs.  Interventions that aim at increasing resilience of local communities to existing and future threats will ultimately also contribute to regional security, personal dignity and supports communities.  Therefore, livelihood protection and recovery are critical aspects of Red Cross Red Crescent‘s humanitarian and development work.  The approaches that IFRC applies – livelihood provisioning, restoration, strengthening and diversification – also support the communities and their people to face the challenges brought by climate change.

To promote the understanding in related areas, the 2011 World Disaster Report (to be launched in September) provides an in-depth analysis of the causes and impacts of hunger and malnutrition.  It looks at community, national and international levels – both during and after emergencies and over a longer-term perspective.  It examines the challenges associated with the globalised nature of food-related vulnerabilities, and the need to move towards cross-disciplinary approaches.  The report also acknowledges the complexities involved, that the issues of global food security, hunger and malnutrition go to the core of virtually all the major components of the functioning of the international system, including climate change adaptation.


While the current crisis is the result of the complex interplay of various socio-economic and environmental factors, climate change is with us and will increasingly exacerbate existing vulnerabilities.  The Cancun Adaptation Framework has stressed the need for actions on adaptation in developing countries through international cooperation.  The international community must fulfil their commitment to bringing increased financial and technical support for better planning and implementation of adaptation measures.  The adaptation agenda must include its prioritisation on two complementary objectives, if we really aim to reduce by 2015 the world hunger by half: First, to enhance sustainable and climate change proofed food production on the one hand; and secondly, to enhance access to adequate food and nutrition by the most vulnerable on the other.

Last but not least, Chair, allow me to conclude with a call to the international community engaged in the negotiation of the outcome of the High-level Forum on Aid Effectiveness taking place in Busan later this year.  The complexity of the challenges the world faced today requires us – the international community and national governments and all sectors as a whole – to rethink the way we can achieve the internationally agreed development agenda TOGETHER. 

We must move away from focusing solely on disaster response and start to truly include preparedness and risk reduction as an essential component of development.  We must go beyond “aid effectiveness” and move toward “development effectiveness”, which builds up local capacity and addresses poverty, inequality and discrimination, and promotes inclusive sustainable development. 

National systems and institutions, including Red Cross Red Crescent as auxiliary to the public authorities, must be at the centre of the planning and implementation processes.  Capacity must be developed within countries in need, to create an enabling environment for effective service delivery to the people at the communities, and promote an inclusive development process that addresses the needs of the most vulnerable.

The Red Cross Red Crescent places people at the heart of our preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery work and we truly believe that local ownership and capacity building are key for enhanced community resilience.  Only by doing this together, through reducing vulnerability and enhancing capacity, we can achieve ultimately sustainable national development.

Thank you.