International community must commit to sustainable development in 2012

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As world leaders gather in Davos, the Red Cross Red Crescent will be present to promote humanitarian values and the importance of development to the social and economic wealth of nations. A delegation led by Bekele Geleta, the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), will urge governments and others to help bridge the divide between aid and development, and discuss the ways in which private enterprise can play a more active role in disaster preparedness and response. Mr Geleta will also call on governments and donors to reduce the structural divides between relief and development funding and invest in disaster risk reduction.

Mr Geleta said the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement was ideally placed to understand the needs of vulnerable communities, and to deliver development assistance in an effective and efficient way. “We are there when disaster strikes, but we also have a permanent presence in communities through our network of 13 million volunteers,” he said. “These volunteers contribute an estimated US$6 billion of economic value through their efforts, and can have an enormous impact on their communities.”

Disaster risk reduction (DRR) and prevention are becoming an increasingly vital part of the IFRC’s work. Studies suggest that, with the cost of disasters increasing, DRR is often the most sustainable way to use funds. For every US$1 spent on prevention and risk reduction, for example, an estimated $10-$15 is saved in economic losses from disasters. The Davos delegation will urge governments and other donors to increase funds for prevention, and direct at least 10 per cent of disaster response funding towards reducing the risks from future catastrophes.

As well as promoting the concept of volunteerism and disaster risk reduction, Mr Geleta will highlight innovative programmes where the IFRC is engaging with populations and technology, and changing the ways in which humanitarian organizations respond to both new and existing challenges. “Women and children are often the most vulnerable in society, and face the greatest risks when disaster strikes,” he said. “But women are often best placed to help prepare for a disaster, and to respond with creative ideas. Moreover, assistance invested in women often provides a return for their communities as well as their families.”

Mobile technology can change the way humanitarian organizations communicate with vulnerable communities, allowing people on the ground to identify those most in danger and rapidly assess the effectiveness of interventions such as aid distribution and health promotion. “While the complexity of political, economic and physical environments increases, mobile technology can cut through because it has become simpler, cheaper and more widely available even in isolated communities,” Geleta said.