Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Helping the World’s Most Vulnerable – A Conversation with the Head of the IFRC Delegation to the UN

Time and again when a major disaster strikes somewhere around the world, images of the Global Red Cross network and its volunteers bringing relief to those in need are brought to the forefront. At the heart of each disaster response is the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (known as “the IFRC” or “the Federation”).

Before Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines a few weeks ago, we sat down with Marwan Jilani, head of the IFRC delegation to the United Nations, to discuss the role of the Federation here in NYC and around the world.

Below is an excerpt from that interview which helps put into context the work of the IFRC in the Philippines as well as its ongoing support of the most vulnerable populations across the globe.

First, here is some background on the IFRC:

The IFRC is the world's largest humanitarian network, providing assistance without discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.

Founded in 1919, the IFRC comprises 189 member Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies (of which the American Red Cross is one), a secretariat in Geneva and more than 60 delegations strategically located to support activities around the world. There are more Societies in formation.

Greater NY Red Cross (GNY): What is the role of the IFRC in a large disaster?

Marwan Jilani (MJ): When a large disaster occurs, such as a major earthquake or flood, the Federation intervenes to bring in aid from other Red Cross/Red Crescent National Societies only upon invitation of the National Society in the country or countries where the disaster occurred.

Once this request for assistance is made, the Federation, together with the host National Society, will assess the needs on the ground. Based on this assessment, we will then issue an appeal to all National Societies for assistance.

The National Societies come forward to answer this appeal, when possible, by providing people, funds, supplies, or a combination of all three.

In the affected country [or counties], the IFRC will then coordinate the relief efforts between the different National Societies.

Click here to see how the Global Red Cross Network is working together to respond to Typhoon Haiyan

GNY: What role does the IFRC play outside of disaster response?

MJ: In the absence of a disaster, the IFRC works in what we call the development sector. This relates to issues such as health, water/sanitation and disaster preparedness. The Federation coordinates this work with National Societies, many of which are well known for their programs in these fields.

In many instances, the Federation works with a host National Society to determine the needs and best strategies. We then coordinate with the partner National Societies that are willing and able to provide support and want to help.

The solidarity within the Global Red Cross Network is not just evident when a major disaster occurs, but also in terms of long-term programs like helping combat diseases such as malaria, measles or HIV or helping to build the capacity and infrastructure to respond to future disasters.

This was the case with the American Red Cross disaster mitigation program in Bangladesh.

GNY: Can you explain the IFRC's work in NYC at the United Nations?

MJ: We have quite a privileged status at the UN—observer status. This gives us direct access to the meetings of the UN. It is essentially a direct line to the member countries and provides access to the UN systems, including the Secretary General, his office and his staff.

We speak on behalf of all of the Red Cross/Red Crescent National Societies. We advocate for the issues that are important to us—for example, highlighting silent disasters. The IFRC advocates on behalf of the people who are affected by disasters, bringing the attention of the international community to those disasters that do not garner much media attention.

We also represent the National Societies in terms of our interests and our priorities related to the deliberations in the UN on policies, on standards and on the overall development agenda [i.e., health, water/sanitation and disaster preparedness]. We are very much involved in what is called the Millennium Development Goals and post-2015 Development Agenda.

Click here to read more about the work of the Global Red Cross Network at the UN.

GNY: How are American Red Cross volunteers here in NYC connected to their counterparts in other parts of the world?

MJ: Whether you are working with the American Red Cross or with the Ugandan Red Cross, for example, the volunteers and staff speak the same “humanitarian language.” They share the same principles, they share the same understanding of the tools and mechanisms involved in responding to disasters, and they share the same values.

That power of humanity unites us all, unites all our volunteers, and unites all our staff all over the world. That strong feeling comes into play because we are a global movement, the largest humanitarian network of workers in the world—13 million active volunteers, according to a study that was conducted two years ago. I like to think that there are many more volunteers than these.

What is unique about the movement is not only the number of volunteers and staff but the fact that it’s almost universal, a National Society in nearly every single country.

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