IFRC Secretary General keynote address at IFRC's 2023 Asia Pacific Regional Conference


11th IFRC Asia Pacific Regional Conference,
Hanoi, Viet Nam, 21-23 November 2023

Excellencies, HE Vice Minister for Natural Resources and Environment, ladies and gentlemen, friends, colleagues, and distinguished guests,

It is a pleasure and an honour to be here today at the 11th Asia Pacific Regional Conference of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in lovely Hanoi.

Thank you to the Viet Nam Red Cross President Madam Bui Thi Hoa for your generosity and kind hospitality. 

Over the years, this gathering has promoted cooperation, networking, and partnerships among our National Societies, helping us address common humanitarian concerns and strategies for implementation.

Today, I stand inspired by the incredible dedication of all the National Societies from the Asia, Pacific and Middle East present here.

Your resilience in serving communities is truly commendable.

Thank you for your impactful work.

Tremendous achievement and progress in Asia, Pacific and the Middle East:

In the last decade, this part of the world has witnessed tremendous economic growth, infrastructure development, increased investment in health and education, and poverty reduction primarily driven by China and India.

Economies have diversified and there has been unparalleled progress in technology and innovation, including a massive increase in renewable energy. 

This has firmly put this region as the growth engine of the entire world.

We are especially proud of the leadership role of the Pacific countries in championing the climate agenda.

However, gaps still exist and are widening:

Some countries in these regions still struggle with high levels of poverty and significant income disparities between different social groups.

Rapid population growth, technological advancements, and limited job opportunities contribute to high unemployment rates and underemployment issues.

Despite progress, access to quality education remains a challenge for many people, particularly in remote and disadvantaged areas.

Gender disparities persist in various aspects, including education, employment, political representation, and access to resources and opportunities.

Several countries in these regions experience political unrest, conflicts, and tensions that hinder sustainable development and economic growth.

Our World Disasters Report shows that the Asia Pacific region experienced the highest number of disasters of any region in the world in 2020-2021 while the MENA region is becoming increasingly more vulnerable to natural hazards like floods, heatwaves, and droughts.

Countries such as China, India, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Iraq suffered intensely, with more than 100 million people affected.

Of the countries with the highest rate of affected population per capita, the most affected were Pacific Island States.

Barely one month ago, I personally witnessed tropical cyclone Lola in Vanuatu, which left a trail of destruction and left many communities inaccessible to humanitarian assistance.

The climate crisis not only threatens lives and livelihoods but also has severe implications for public health.

It is a top strategic priority on the global agenda, with COP28 set to take place less than two weeks from now.

In this region, exposure to climate-related events is increasing at an alarming rate, with heatwaves endangering lives and air pollution negatively impacting public health.

We also see how the climate crisis is uprooting people.

Seventy percent of global disaster-induced displacements occur across Asia and the Pacific in 2022.

More than 22 million people were internally displaced in this region due to climate induced disasters in 2022 alone.

While the majority were able to return home, 4 million remained displaced at the end of the year.

We are all watching with heartbreak and horror the nightmarish number of displaced people, injuries, and fatalities across Gaza Strip.

The humanitarian needs in these areas are staggering and devastating. Respect for Geneva conventions has been a major challenge.

Magen David Adom is continuing their response to support the affected populations, often from bomb shelters. The situation of hostages remains heartbreaking.

Palestine Red Crescent is working around the clock without electricity, fuel, water supply and basic shelter for people displaced directly.

Hospitals have been damaged.,

Patients including children are not getting the care they need. The situation is unimaginable.

I personally witnessed the incredible work of the Egyptian Red Crescent last week in my visit to the Rafah border.

Our National Societies are responding with urgency and compassion as the primary provider of humanitarian delivery to Gaza through the PRCS. In these difficult times, we must remain united and work as a collective Movement.

I reiterate my call on all parties for safe and unhindered humanitarian access, protection and assistance across the Gaza Strip and respect for international humanitarian law.

Civilians, hospitals, ambulances, and humanitarian workers must be protected at all times.

What this Conference can do?

These are massive challenges that we cannot tackle in isolation.

This conference is a unique opportunity to draw inspiration and learn from one another at a time when the world is facing increasing adversity and calamity.

Today, let us summon a renewed spirit of Unity, Trust and Principled Humanitarian Action that defines who we are as a network and that help us to make a meaningful contribution to the people and communities here in the region and around the world.

First—Unity— this is paramount in addressing these challenges.

The Asia, Pacific and the Middle East regions are vast, culturally rich, and beautifully diverse.

Together, they constitute 65 percent-- more than half of the world's population, a powerful representation of humanity.

Diversity is our strength and is what unifies our IFRC network.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said: ‘Unity in diversity is the highest possible attainment of a civilization, a testimony to the most noble possibilities of the human race."

Our task as humanitarians is to see beyond the numbers and focus on the individuals and communities that make up this dynamic and colorful part of the world.

Regardless of their background, gender, age, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, people and communities have their own unique humanitarian needs and aspirations, and we must strive to address them in all their complexity.

I am reminded of a Vietnamese proverb which beautifully captures the essence of mutual help and unity: "Good leaves protect torn leaves."

Let us be inspired by this spirit as we work together to alleviate the suffering of those in need.

The focus of this 11th Asia Pacific Regional Conference on becoming "disaster ready" is both critical and timely.

Our network has the experience and tools needed to prepare for and handle disasters.

Now we need to unite our efforts and scale up.

IFRC Strategy 2030 and the Agenda for Renewal is our blueprint to navigate the changing landscape ahead. 

We must focus on how we work together, how we take lessons from our history to apply them to the shifting trends of the present so that we can make the changes we want to see for the future.

Informed decision-making and risk management will be the key to our continued relevance as an IFRC network.

We've committed resources to expand digitalization, enhance risk management, and implement new funding models to increase agility, accountability, and impact for community reach.

We cultivate knowledge and fortify the capacities of National Societies, positioning ourselves as leaders not only in humanitarian response but also in resilience building, data utilization, influence, collaboration, and innovation.

We continue to advocate on behalf of National Societies and influence governments and public authorities to remain committed to humanitarian action and financing.

Through innovative financing, we are unlocking new donors and sources of funding.

I am very pleased to note that this Asia Pacific Conference is entirely self-financed from the region, a significant milestone.

When I meet Asia, Pacific and ME National Societies and volunteers, I see how young people in these regions are engaging in entrepreneurship and exploring innovative ideas for addressing climate change risks.

We need to shift our investment to these young people.

Let’s harness their innovative ideas, their entrepreneurial spirit, their technological skills.

They are the leaders of today and our gateway to a safer and more equitable world. 

Second--Trust remains the cornerstone of our work.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the devastating effects of a lack of trust in institutions and governments.

Misinformation continues to fuel unrest and instability and exacerbate geopolitical divides.

"In trust, we find the deepest wells of strength and integrity."

This ancient Persian proverb serves as a poignant reminder that trust is the vital bridge connecting our potential to the tangible impact of our humanitarian action.

We must be trusted by the communities we serve.

Our duty is to provide humanitarian assistance of high quality that positively impacts people's lives, mitigates their risks and vulnerabilities, and augments their capabilities and potential.

All of this is contingent upon our unwavering commitment to our Fundamental Principles.

These principles form the bedrock of a fair and inclusive society.

They are our moral compass.

These principles fortify resilience, encourage stability, and nurture the prosperity of current and future generations.

Let us incorporate them into our endeavours, discuss them in our conversations, embody them in our actions, impart their significance, and ensure understanding among populations, partners, and donors.

Third – Neutral, Impartial and Independent Humanitarian Action:

All over the world, National Societies are striving to fulfil their auxiliary role in often politicized and polarized environments, emphasizing the need for humanitarian action to be rooted in independence and neutrality.

The tensions between our principles of independence and neutrality and the National Societies Auxiliary role are of increasing concern and puts our collective mission on the line.

A National Red Cross and Red Crescent law serves as a passport to engage in dialogue with public authorities in a way that respects the fundamental principles.

I encourage you all to explore how to strengthen National Red Cross and Red Crescent laws in your countries.


Across this region, there are communities in dire need of our assistance and the locally led actions of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The challenges may seem complex and insurmountable, but, as an Afghan proverb wisely tells us, "There is a road to the top of even the highest mountain."

Let us work together with dedication, unity, and the unwavering commitment to our principles to bring relief, hope, and resilience to those who need it most.

Before I close, listening to some of the presentations from our young colleagues I want to share a thought about the future.

We spend time, energy, and research to define what the future should look like.

But while we do that there are a lot of people in parallel working to shape the future.

They are not waiting for what the future may look like. They are working hard to shape it now. 

I believe that if we harness the power of young volunteers, we can be on the side of creating the future we want, rather than waiting for the future to happen and constantly responding.

This is my call to all of us. Let us be on the side of creating our future. We can contribute to shaping the future if we listen to our young colleagues.

Thank you.

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