On World Red Cross Red Crescent Day, we celebrate 150 years of humanitarian action and a continued commitment to serve the vulnerable in today’s changing world. By Tadateru Konoé, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and Peter Maurer, President of the ICRC.
Since the Red Cross and Red Crescent idea came to light 150 years ago, what has remained constant is the suffering of millions of people that our organizations work so hard to alleviate. What has changed dramatically is the geopolitical, social and technological world within which we work. Adaptability has been the key to the survival and growth of the organizations that we lead and to our ability to serve the vulnerable now and into the future. Today on World Red Cross Red Crescent Day, together with 187 National Societies across the world, we celebrate one and a half century of joint humanitarian action. We look to the future with hope. We look to the people we serve as inspiration.
In the 150 years since our founding, the nature of crisis and war has continuously evolved. Amongst the challenges facing humanitarian action today is an increase in natural disasters and health emergencies, the continuous lack of respect for international humanitarian law, problems of safe access to health care in many countries and difficulties for humanitarian actors to reach people in need in certain contexts. For example, millions of people living in areas such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria receive scarce humanitarian aid because of insecurity or political barriers. The number of natural disasters reported over the last 40 years has increased by nearly 400 per cent.
We work to ensure that all parties in the world understand that we do not take sides. We are only interested in helping those who suffer and we do so with impartiality, regardless of people’s nationality, origin, opinions or beliefs. This is the key for us to reach people who need our help, especially in conflict situations and regions closed to the world.
Whether it is by using new technologies to improve our response, seeking the leadership of young people in our attempts to extend our services or adapting to climate change in the way we carry out our work, we always look for innovative approaches and partnerships. For example, there are six billion mobile cellular subscriptions in the world. Many Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies have developed mobile applications related to disaster preparedness, first aid and emergency response to adapt to changes in how people wish to receive life-saving information.
We are effective in our humanitarian response and grassroots communication because we are strongly anchored in local communities. Millions of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers and professionals, working in close proximity with those in need, are leading the effort to bring about positive change in their urban and rural villages, towns and cities. It is these volunteers and staff on the ground who have been most affected by hardship. They understand their local needs and solutions best and we believe that moving forward, together, they will shape the world humanitarian agenda.
One and a half century ago, a man named Henry Dunant wrote A Memory of Solferino. This book reflected on his experience rallying villagers to treat wounded soldiers on a battlefield in Italy, regardless of who they were fighting for. His instinct to help laid the foundations for the Red Cross Red Crescent as it exists today.
Throughout this year, the IFRC and ICRC will celebrate the historic and unique contribution that the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has made to humanity. We also share a promise to continue to give a voice to millions of people and to strive to address their humanitarian needs.
Congratulations to our members, staff, volunteers and humanitarian partners worldwide in helping to achieve this extraordinary 150 year milestone. We are humbled and privileged to serve with you, now and into the future.