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Blog takeover - International Programs and Movement Relations teams

11 June 2020

Blog takeover- International Programs and Movement Relations

Hi everyone,

This week I have the pleasure of taking over Judy’s blog and, together with the International Programs and Movement Relations teams, take the opportunity to share the work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. In December last year the Movement came together to reflect on and prepare for the future humanitarian challenges we will face. At the time we were unaware that our commitment to tackling epidemics and pandemics, and addressing mental health and psychosocial needs of people affected by natural disasters and other emergencies, would be as critical to the core of our humanitarian action as it is today. Our global response to COVID-19 is the largest collective response of the Movement with 150 National Societies working alongside IFRC and ICRC in humanitarian action.

Looking beyond COVID-19, the IFRC 2030 strategy identifies climate change as one of the five major challenges to be addressed in the forthcoming decade. The strategy covers action related to mitigating the increase in global temperatures as well as community preparedness and adaption. Our engagement will be driven by the work we are undertaking to embed climate action in our approach to address the future of vulnerability in Australia and Asia Pacific.

The International Response to COVID-19

Supporting those affected by Tropical Cyclone Harold whilst adhering to COVID-19 restrictions. Photo: Vanuatu Red Cross

Since the onset of COVID-19, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has been supporting National Societies across the globe to prepare for and deliver services to respond to COVID-19. The revised IFRC appeal now stands at 1.9 billion Swiss francs. The ICRC have also launched an appeal in conjunction with IFRC, seeking 1.2 billion Swiss francs.

Australian Red Cross has been actively engaged in supporting the Movement’s global operation since its launch in January 2020. As the pandemic and its impacts continue to evolve, the Movement are committed to sustaining their response, leveraging its local to global capacity, collective reach and ability to mobilise communities across the world. Challenges as the response progresses include the impact of the response on the allocation of development and humanitarian funding, and the need to ensure sufficient support to National Societies to carry out both COVID and non-COVID related activities.

Red Cross relief supplies being flown from Australia to Vanuatu by Australian Defence Force in April 2020. Photo: Australian Defence Force 

Australian Red Cross has increased our support to our nine National Society Partners across Asia and the Pacific. 

While some countries have had remarkable success in stopping the spread of COVID-19 (notably many of the Pacific Island Countries), others are now still only at the response phase (Indonesia, Bangladesh, Myanmar). How we work in the region therefore differs according to differing national experiences and capacities. Several countries in the Pacific have also experienced the double impact of COVID-19 and Tropical Cyclone Harold. With support from Australian Red Cross, both Vanuatu and Fiji Red Cross were able to leverage their auxiliary role, volunteer base and widespread presence across their territories to support around 35,000 people (10,000 in Fiji and 25,000 in Vanuatu) impacted by the cyclone – whilst adhering to the COVID-19 restrictions. This experience was captured here ABC Radio Australia and Pacific Beat).

How COVID-19 is changing the role of Australian Red Cross Delegates

Libby Bowell is one of Australian Red Cross’ health delegates whose role as part of the IFRC pandemic response was meant to be performed from Geneva, but has instead been working remotely from Australia. Due to the change in location, Libby’s role shifted to a focus on developing field-ready tools to support rapid deployment of National Society staff to spread important health messaging concerning safety and preparedness against COVID-19.

The tools have included communicable disease, water and sanitation and maternal and child health modules for community based health and first aid (CBHFA) courses. These are widely used materials, as first aid training is mandatory for all volunteers in many African National Societies. Libby has also run webinars to support these tools, and has written materials on the Coronavirus for volunteer training on epidemic control. Libby has also helped develop materials for National Societies with clinical staff, concerning basic ward and clinical care utilising the more basic facilities available to developing National Societies.

Click here to see Libby’s intervention at the World Health Assembly on behalf of the IFRC.

Australia’s international response to COVID-19

The Australian Government recently announced a new development strategy (Partnerships for Recovery) to address the health security, stability and economic recovery concerns of COVID-19. At the heart of the strategy is a commitment to working in partnerships in the region and globally to protect the most vulnerable, especially women and girls. Australian Red Cross welcomes this approach and the government’s strong focus on broader economic and social impacts to help protect the progress made towards the Sustainable Development Goals (the World Bank estimates that COVID-19 will push 40-60 million people into extreme poverty, under US$1.90/day).

The International Programs team is also working alongside our colleagues in other humanitarian and development organisations and with the industry peak body, ACFID (where we hold a number of elected positions), to advocate on issues of common concern. A key area for advocacy is to encourage ongoing funding and engagement by the Government to those regions experiencing the double impact of protracted crises and COVID-19 and have huge and unmet needs. See this story on the double impact of COVID-19 on the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Committing to climate action

While the International Programs team and our partners have been busy responding to COVID-19, there has been increasing interest across the Movement to explore the intersections between the pandemic and the systemic risks of climate change. (See this article on the dual threat of COVID-19 and natural disasters in the Pacific.)

The Movement’s commitment to climate action – renewed at the statutory meetings in Geneva (December 2019) – will be showcased in the IFRC’s 2020 World Disasters Report (WDR) due for publication in September. The WDR will be primarily focused on the humanitarian consequences of climate change, and will consider how both COVID-19 and climate change compound many of the existing challenges faced by the humanitarian sector.

Australian Red Cross, with funding from DFAT, is a major contributor to and funder of this flagship publication (the previous edition can be found here) and we will invite the Australian Government to help us launch the report in this region. Coinciding with the release of the WDR, the Movement will be convening a virtual climate summit (9-10 September) to scale up our collective climate action and define the requisite changes for ensuring a future fit way of working.

Innovation - where IFRC is heading

The Movement response to the COVID-19 crisis has brought to greater prominence the work of the Solferino Academy. The Solferino Academy was established in 2017 by the IFRC in partnership with Italian Red Cross and with support from a group of National Societies including Australian Red Cross. Its purpose is to support the IFRC network to anticipate new trends concerning our work and to help National Societies adapt and become more innovative and agile organisations. Throughout the COVID-19 response, we have been amongst hundreds of Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and volunteers attending Solferino Academy facilitated “thinktank” discussions over zoom. The Academy has extracted from a number of these discussions useful summaries and also provided platforms for staff and volunteers to share their innovations and experiences.

An example of innovations supported by the Solferino Academy includes innovative financing models for humanitarian action, such as the recent volcano catastrophe bond, which triggers rapid disbursement of funds to deal with urgent needs arising from volcanic eruptions. Bond disbursements are based on the column height of the ash plume erupting from the volcano, rather than on slower processes such as damage assessments. The effect of the bond is to transfer the risk associated with volcanic eruption to capital markets and to make funds available much more quickly.

Humanitarian Diplomacy

A first-hand perspective from Anna Bowen - Adviser, International Advocacy and Communications

Since the role of Humanitarian Diplomacy (HD) delegate was first incorporated into the response to the refugee crisis in Cox’s Bazar – with our very own Louise McCosker inaugurating the role in early 2018 – the HD function in emergencies has become increasingly valued by Movement partners.

By the time I arrived in Cox’s Bazar (October 2019), the Rohingya were fully reliant on humanitarian aid, with vulnerabilities and trauma compounding in the third year of their displacement from Myanmar. Despite the improving conditions in the camps, it was clear that a longer term humanitarian effort was required with links to wider development for the host community of Cox’s Bazar District.

Tensions between the refugees and the local community were rising, the Government of Bangladesh was getting more and more frustrated with the lack of international pressure on Myanmar, and the context in which I was working was becoming increasingly politicised. I was playing a conduit role between what was happening operationally, on the ground, and the discussions that were taking place at the policy table; gathering intelligence to inform programmatic decisions and promote collaboration for greater outreach and influence.

It was a privilege to take on this role, which provided so many learning opportunities both professionally and personally. I am still connected with the work in Cox’s Bazar, through a part-time, regionally-focused role with the IFRC, and I am watching with great interest and admiration the work of my Bangladeshi colleagues during this particularly challenging time.

See my mainstream article (Herald Sun) and live TV news interview (ABC’s The World).

That's all for this blog takeover. I hope to share more about our work with you soon.

Michael