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International alert series: The BIG Issues

Beyond Tsunami - Australian Red Cross response

Robert Tickner, Australian Red CrossMr Robert Tickner, CEO, Australian Red Cross

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you tonight.

The Boxing Day Tsunamis destroyed families, homes, villages and livelihoods on an enormous scale. They continue to affect many thousands of lives across an entire region as I saw clearly in my visit to Indonesia less than one month ago.

But the Tsunamis also changed the way Australian Red Cross delivers its core operations beyond tsunami and our response will shape the way emergency and long-term disaster relief will be administered by Red Cross into the future.

Tonight I am not going to take up your time by only simply detailing the many projects we are undertaking in response to the tsunami, but also will focus on some broader strategic issues as well. I have asked to be distributed on your seats some written information about the detail of those specific projects we are undertaking in addition to our contribution to the earlier emergency response. They include diverse and critical initiatives ranging from: a massive clean up project in the Maldives; public health, water and sanitation, and a housing project in Sri Lanka; housing construction, blood service and ambulance projects in Indonesia, and tracing and family reunion projects throughout the region.

Understandably, tonight I will be speaking as I was requested to do from the Australian Red Cross’ viewpoint and from the perspective of the global humanitarian response of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Clearly other agencies will also have their own important perspectives on many of these issues.

Australian Red Cross has, with other aid agencies, played a constructive role with ACFID in working towards greater cooperation between agencies, a joint reporting process led by Minister Downer, and in supporting an open and transparent accountability framework. We will continue to champion these cooperation objectives.

Australian Red Cross is, however, a part of a unique global humanitarian movement which has its own distinct way of operating and a set of principles which are, in their totality, unique and which underpin all our work.

We wear these principles as a badge of honour and they are essential for the performance of our work.

They are:

Additionally, Red Cross has a unique mandate as an auxiliary to government recognised under the Geneva conventions and by all signatory governments to those conventions.

You may not know, that at least as far the global Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is concerned, our global tsunami response is one of the largest operations our staff and volunteers have ever undertaken in the 146 year history of the Movement.

Let me share just some of the figures with you:

You may ask yourself “How did they achieve all that”, and the answer is very simple – the - Red - Cross - was already there! What is unique about our organisation is that we are a network of over 180 Red Cross and Red Crescent organisations with grassroots presence. Our staff and volunteers are in fact a part of the communities they serve throughout the tsunami affected region and throughout the world.

So we are there, on the ground, providing aid and support from the very first minute after a disaster strikes, and sadly, so many key Red Cross people from Aceh and elsewhere lost their lives in trying to help their fellow human beings when the tsunamis hit their communities. As a movement we rely on our grassroots colleagues to be our eyes and ears and help us provide immediate and appropriate assistance in any emergency.

The key to our Red Cross Movement past, as well as our future beyond tsunami success in responding to disasters and long-term development issues is this very grassroots presence, unparalleled in the aid world today. For the Red Cross was there, is there, and will be there, when the disaster is long since over.

Well before the tsunami disaster ‘opened the doors’ of Aceh to many aid agencies, one of the very few organisations with a presence there was the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), carrying out its role as stipulated in the Geneva Conventions where it worked there alongside our colleagues from the Palang Merah Indonesia, or PMI, the Indonesian Red Cross.

The same goes for Tamil-controlled areas of Sri Lanka, where the ICRC has been working for over 20 years. Such long term operational experience, existing contacts, intimate knowledge of the local environment and situation, and most importantly, an understanding and commitment by local stakeholders to our mandate helps us respond in the most effective manner.

But what was new even to us in the tsunami scenario was the sheer scale of destruction and its geographical spread and it was the response to meeting this catastrophic event which will drive us to change some of the ways we will work in the future.

One of the elements that helped us overcome the challenges of the initial emergency response was the deployment of the Red Cross Emergency Response Units – ERUs. The concept of ERUs has been developed to enable rapid response to natural disasters and other emergencies as part of an integrated disaster management system. ERUs enable a coordinated and targeted response while ensuring quick and effective delivery of emergency aid.

In the tsunami disaster, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement sent 18 ERUs to the region. However, only one of those Emergency Response Units came from the region itself, and the remainder came from the northern hemisphere. Australian Red Cross has the expertise and knowledge to develop this type of a disaster response mechanism as a permanent feature of our first response to disasters in the region, and I am determined to do that with support from the public, the government and our corporate partners.

I also want to flag today, really for the first time, another new strategic direction for Australian Red Cross’ future post tsunami. It is my intention as CEO to not only to boost our emergency response capacity in terms of hardware associated with Emergency Response Units but to significantly lift our human resource capacity in this area. ARC is an organisation which has as one of our foundations the work of volunteers in supporting our work within Australia, additionally we have a sound reputation for the training and quality of delegates we send overseas. However we have not until now brought these two modes of response together to build the capacity of our emergency overseas work force to the extent we need to in order to be able to comprehensively respond to the increasingly prolific emergencies in our region. I believe that there is a rich resource of skilled and talented Australians who are able to make a contribution in this area. In years to come, we will be reaching out to build alliances with doctors and other health workers, water sanitation and engineering experts and a diverse cross-section of other Australians with practical skills and know how and who want to work with Red Cross in responding to disasters.

Finally, I believe that ARC must also look to initiate new and creative ways of working in the aftermath of the tsunami.

We are rapidly developing ways of working with small and different partners to ensure quick and appropriate aid goes to those most in need.

I personally witnessed a great example of that type of activity when I visited a community project on the Indonesian island of Nias, where ARC is supporting a small Australian NGO called the Zero-to-One Foundation. This Foundation was set up by an Australian businessman, Geoff Thwaites, in memory of his son Robert who tragically lost his life in the Bali Bombings.

This is a good example of Australian Red Cross finding new ways of working for vulnerable people. Zero to One had undertaken the ground work required, they sorted out the issue of land ownership, they carried out extensive community consultation, and they engaged the local community in their solutions and their projects.

Recently I had the pleasure of seeing those houses and handing over the keys to the first family that received a new home courtesy of the Australian public. This young couple, Joshua and Rosinta, and their three small children, had been living in temporary accommodation.

Together with the support of the Australian people, we are truly in a position to make a difference to their lives!

The tsunami appeal and the unprecedented generosity that followed also challenges us to do everything in our power to ensure the maximum possible amount of donated funds are used to assist those in need and as little as practically possible on any overheads.

The not-for-profit sector has an obligation to the people we serve not only to champion high ideals but to also be pacesetters in good management practices that ensure the highest level of resources are available to benefit people on the ground.

I am fully committed to ensuring that Australian Red Cross continues to be a leader in the not for profit sector, insisting on transparency and accountability in all the work we do both in Australia and overseas.

To this end, Australian Red Cross takes a very conservative approach to the tsunami appeal, as it has done in other recent appeals when it comes to allocating costs. Our approach to these issues is set out in the joint reporting process with other aid agencies.

In terms of accountability too, the Red Cross is paying particular attention to making sure we keep all our stakeholders fully informed about what is happening with the tsunami funds. We are making a concerted and planned effort to inform our donors, corporate supporters, relevant government departments, and the public at large (via our website) about all our activities and expenditure.

All of this friends, is to one purpose only…to ensure that we fulfil the principles of our Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement of bringing humanitarian assistance to the vulnerable and the suffering.

Our Vision remains that of improving the lives of vulnerable people by mobilising the power of humanity.

Thank you

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