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  2. The Third Reference Group Meeting>
  3. Opening Speech by Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General of the IFRC
Opening Speech

Opening Speech by Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General of the IFRC

At the beginning of the Reference Group Meeting, Mr. Tadateru Konoe, President of the IFRC and the JRCS and Mr. Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General of the IFRC, gave opening speeches. Mr. Sy mentioned in the speech that more than one-third of all disasters in 2013 were of technological disaster and that we have to co-exist with such a situation, and hoped for fruitful discussions after a field trip to the affected area.

  1. |
  2. President|
  3. Secretry General |

Dear guests, colleagues and friends,
I’m very pleased to be here not only to this meeting but in Fukushima, which is a practice of our motto to be always there on the side of communities to face together with them their challenges of the odds and to accompany them to respond to those challenges.
I’m very pleased that I will have tomorrow the opportunity to visit the affected areas. It is simply to put in practice what we all stand for, to reassure our communities that we care, to reassure our communities that we will always be on their side, but also to learn about coping mechanisms, to learn about responses, and to learn about resilience in this particular setting. It is also to learn to bring back those lessons how we can dig into our continuous work of preparing for hazards to make sure, if we are successful, that those hazards will not become disasters, and if they happen to be, because of their complexity scales, then we respond to our best, responding in terms that we protect those on the frontline, our own volunteers and people that should always be there to support. And also we respond to protect those on our communities.
As you all know, when this accident happened, the whole world including the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement mobilized, and international solidarity wanted to give back to Japan a little bit of what Japan used to give to the world. The movement including their members that means staff and volunteers, among them, some of the poorest in the world, collected together 600 million US dollars to support Japan to respond, even though this was not enough. Think about it. There are so many crises in the world. Here happening in countries with very few resources. It was like they just happened one after the other. The majority of them are hardly funded even with emergency appeal from the IFRC, up to 50%. Here was the situation for Japan where without any IFRC’s appeal, drivers from Red Cross in Afghanistan, beneficiaries from Kenya, collected resources alongside many other partners that amounted to 600 million dollars to help and support. But I think this gesture was more than to help, because just to use an unfortunate situation to express solidarity, care, support and come together in what is to bring us together, which is our shared humanity no matter we are and where we are, and no matter we may feel that we are far away from the epicenter.
We are not experts in nuclear technology or accident or even prevention. We are maybe experts in general disaster preparedness and management because of the unfortunate situations that we have to face so many times in so many parts of the world. That is the experience that we want to leverage on as Movement. But we realize that we are not alone. I am very pleased that we are also joined by others at this meeting, as I understand that colleagues from the International Atomic Energy Agency are here and I want to recognize them and welcome them. Also, I understand colleagues from the International Commission on Radiological Protection are here. I would like to welcome them and thank them. It is maybe the combination of those two expertise always be there to respond, always be there on the frontline, capitalizing on what we know happen during disasters, how to prevent it, and then leverage on your fine technical expertise to help us all to prepare, because we must prepare.
I have read that in 2013 more than one-third of all disasters were of technological nature. I must say I was very surprised myself. We keep on referring to the big ones: Chernobyl 28 years ago, Fukushima Daiichi Plant 3 years ago. We are projecting ourselves from a very difficult situation to know the differences and consequences to make sure that what happened will be the integral part of whatever the future humanitarian agenda might be, will be taken care of about the hazards and ask them that we may face, also be the integral part of our preparedness and our response. And it is to be even more critical because hundreds of happenings every year which are not at a scale of this big accident, but major consequences. These consequences, most of the time, are measured in economic impact. I read, by 2030, you are talking about over 225 billion US dollars in economic impact due to the multiplicity of such hazards that you will be facing.
But the social consequences are not measurable: the consequences that it has on individuals who will witness in such seconds that they have to live with for the rest of their lives; the consequences that it means for communities not to be so close yet so far from their villages, homes and places of origin that they cannot visit again to be able to live in. Of course, as you know well, this is the situation like that: the consequences to live with those invisible scars of having loss of so many friends, classmates, teachers, their own doctors and people who used to care. And that being another humanitarian challenge and direction that can follow us.
For those reasons, I am very pleased we are coming together here today with humility to learn, to come together to also support each other and to project ourselves into the future in the design for an agenda that will prepare us better. For the future, I hope that will never happen. But this is a situation that we will have to live with. As our President says, so much of our own lives on a daily basis are also related to the various technologies that sometimes can turn into our biggest challenge. How to strike a balance is something that we have to learn permanently.
Let me welcome you all. Think this is for me beyond the substance of the work, very symbolic of your presence with all of us here. I look forward to participating to some parts of the meeting. After coming back from the field visits tomorrow where I will spend a day, I look forward to fruitful exchanges and wish you a very fruitful week together here.
Thank you very much.