Saturday, 19 December 2009

We spoke warmly about our mentor, Henrik Beer

" How are you Bob ?" he warmly greeted me as he entered the airport terminal in Jakarta last night. With his sharp eyes he had spotted me first. Tadateru Konoe is an impressive man who engages warmly and sincerely with all he meets. His humanitarian track record is equally impressive.

I was delighted when he was recently elected President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the largest humanitarian organisation on the world.

I was also delighted to learn that for his first overseas trip as President of the International Red Cross, he picked Indonesia.

As we travelled by car the one hour from the airport to his hotel last night, we spoke about the various times we had worked together in the past: Bangladesh, Geneva and India. But the bulk of our time was spent on recalling Henrik Beer, Secretary General of the International Red Cross from 1960 to 1982. Mr.Konoe and I worked with Henrik in 1975 when we were based in Geneva, and remained our boss for some years later as we went our different ways in the Red Cross world.

"Henrik was an outstanding leader," said Konoe last night,"and he gave strong leadership for more than twenty years." We shared for many minutes our personal reminiscences of Henrik and acknowledged Henrik's contribution to the environment.

We then had a long discussion piecing together Henrik's contribution to the environment and climate change.

In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, and for the first time united the representatives of multiple governments to discuss the state of the global environment. This conference led directly to the creation of government environment agencies and the UN Environment Program.

Henrik Beer participated in the conference, and was deeply moved by predictions of the earth slowly destroying itself. He left inspired and determined to get the Red Cross Red Crescent involved in environmental programmes in order to stop the environmental degradation that he believed was worsening the plight of vulnerable people.

In 1972-73 the phrase “Climate Change” had not been coined, but Henrik Beer’s vision changed the way some Red Cross Crescent societies thought and acted, as they started undertaking environmental programmes, a shift that set the foundation for an easy understanding of the later, and insidious onset of global warming.

Mr. Konoe reminded me that Henrik encouraged Red Cross societies such as Ethiopia - suffering from drought in 73-74 - to plant trees and to get young people involved. Henrik had similar messages for flood-stricken Nepal and India. He was passionate about reforestation, he understood overgrazing and the need to protect mountain lands and water catchments.

As we drove deeper into the heart of Jakarta, I told Mr. Konoe that in 1975, when I went to Nepal as a disaster preparedness delegate, both Henrik Beer and he briefed me In Geneva and both reminded me of the need to plant trees and make the young aware of the need to care for the environment, especially the fragile Himalayan environment.

Both Henrik Beer and Tadateru Konoe (see photo of him above in 1968) had visited Nepal a number of times in the late 60s, early 70's and collectively gave a lot of guidance and material assistance. Konoe told me about an adventurous trip he had to Nepal in 1968, when he drove an ambulance donated by the Japanese Red Cross to Kathmandu, from India, across rough, and often unformed roads.

I recalled that n 1981, when I was working in India on a huge cyclone preparedness programme, Henrik Beer made his last field visit as secretary general. We were building 230 cyclone shelters and part of the programme was an integrated disaster preparedness programme where young volunteers planted trees to protect the coastline, the shelters, and drainage canals. Henrik was thrilled to see the Indian volunteers active with environmental programmes.

Mr. Konoe visited Southern India shortly after Henrik, and I had the pleasure of travelling with him and we recalled some of our impressions at that time. Today, planting trees for protection along cyclone prone coastlines is an archetypal way of addressing the increased threats posed by climate change.

As we neared the hotel we agreed that Henrik Beer was a great leader of the Red Cross and the humanitarian world at large, and kept abreast of world affairs and especially topics related to humanity and environment.

As we arrived, I told Mr. Konoe I had a fascinating paper on Red Cross and the environment, and this morning I unearthed it, and will share it with him when we meet at lunch today.

From the paper I noted the that words, spoken by Henrik Beer over three decades ago, could have been written yesterday as a rallying call for all civil society and government organisations to come together and safeguard our future:

“Can the agencies and the many INGOs each treat the world network of organizations as an administrative problem when it clearly represents an unstudied social problem? Is it not an unexplored global network of resources — of which the governmental and business worlds are an integral part – which has not yet been effectively related to the peace/population/food/development/education/environment crisis precisely because the functional relationship of all the parts to the social whole is repeatedly and systematically ignored in organizational decisions?

“It is no longer useful to concentrate on the problems of one "independent" organization or group of organizations (as though each operated as an autonomous frontier outpost surrounded by uncharted terrain). Nor is it useful to focus on a single geographical region or subject area -- it is now essential to look at the problems of the network of interdependent organizations and their inter- related concerns ," said Henrik.

Henrik Beer had a vision.

I know that Tadateru Konoe has a vision.

My mind goes back to a misty morning in Bhuj, Gujarat, India, when Konoe and I were having a bowl of soup together outside the Japanese Red Cross tent. That was late January 2001. He was so proud of the work the Japanese Red Cross medical team were doing for the many thousands injured by the earthquake, that killed over 25,000 people.
On that muddy school compound we had over 600 Red Cross staff and volunteers living in tents next to the 400 bed Finnish-Norwegian Red Cross field hospital.

Konoe spoke to me of this wonderful relief operation and how it must be replicated in the future. Rather than pump more money into the Japanese Red Cross, Konoe was the driving force behind the concept of and the Asia and Pacific disaster management unit, which is now well established in Kuala Lumpur, and provides a zone-wide disaster response, coordination and technical support to the whole of Asia and Pacific.
We have a man of vision with a history of implementation at the helm of Red Cross, and I know if Henrik Beer were alive today, he would be very proud that one of his protegees, is President of the organisation he gave so much to. Henrik Beer and Tadateru Konoe have much in common: men of high integrity, men of vision who have given their lives to the Red Cross.

I am looking forward to the three days he is spending in Jakarta, where he will meet the President of the country tomorrow, give an opening speech at the Indonesian Red Cross General Assembly (held every 5 years), visit the programmes of the PMI, and as he loves to do in each country, meet the volunteers who are the backbone of our Red Cross movement.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Fresh fortune in wake of tragedy

It's been a hectic last few weeks as we begin to edge near a completion of our Tsunami work in Aceh. Tomorrow I head back to the tsunami affected province of Aceh where I have another panel interview with Al Jezeera. The media is showing a lot of interest in the 5th anniversary of the Tsunami on 24 December, 2009, and I must say the two NZ Zealand journalists I have met recently in Indonesia, Tim Hume and Damian Christie, are outstanding professionals who are as good as any other top journos I have met over the years. Below is an article published in the Auckland Heral last weekend.

Foreign aid has eased the struggled for survival. Photo / Chris Skelton

Banda Aceh was destroyed by the Boxing Day tsunami, five years ago this month. Now, reports Damian Christie, it has rebuilt on a foundation of international aid and tourism.

On the main road between the airport and the small Indonesian city of Banda Aceh is a field. Maybe the size of two soccer pitches. It's unremarkable.

An undulating low concrete wall and gate separate it from the passing traffic; towards the back, bamboo scaffolding surrounds a half-completed sculpture of a large wave. Beneath the unkempt green grass lie some 45,000 bodies. The exact number will never be known, but it's one of the largest mass graves in the world.

On December 26, 2004, Banda Aceh was rocked by a massive earthquake. At 9.3 magnitude it is the second-largest earthquake ever recorded by a seismograph, and the third deadliest in recorded history. The earthquake itself might have killed as many as 20,000 people. Minutes later, the tsunami came.

A wall of water up to 30m high swept kilometres into the low-lying city. By the time the water cleared, almost one in three of Banda Aceh's inhabitants were dead - more than 60,000 people. Maybe 100,000 more died in the surrounding province.

Of all the places hit by the Boxing Day Tsunami, Banda Aceh was hit first and hit hardest. Phuket, which many associate closely with the tsunami, saw just 259 official deaths.

This small Indonesian city at the northwestern tip of Sumatra lost more lives than all other countries combined. Virtually everything was destroyed - lives, homes, businesses, society.

What followed was one of the biggest reconstruction efforts in the world. A total of $8 billion was contributed by governments, NGOs, charities and individual donations for reconstruction in Aceh.

The New Zealand Government gave $68 million - $24 million more was given by ordinary New Zealanders to rebuild the stricken areas literally from the ground up.

But with many dozens of organisations involved (more than 30 NGOs from New Zealand alone) in a country rated among the most corrupt in the world, how much of that money was put to good use, and how much found its way into the pockets of officials and irrelevant vanity projects?

BOB MCKERROW, a New Zealander, is head of the International Red Cross delegation in Indonesia. When the tsunami struck he was first sent to India, Sri Lanka, then the Maldives, and has been overseeing reconstruction in Aceh for the past 3 years.

The Red Cross has contributed $1.5 billion to rebuilding Aceh, second only to the Indonesian Government.

Having worked on such projects internationally for decades, Bob says Banda Aceh's reconstruction has been brilliant, not least because it has also ended three decades of conflict.

A brief history lesson: From 1976 until 2004, Aceh was locked in a protracted civil war, between Acehnese Separatists (the Free Aceh Movement, or GAM) and the Indonesian Government.

Aceh was closed off, travel by foreigners largely forbidden, and a series of crackdowns - the most recent only months before the tsunami - resulted in an estimated 15,000 deaths, mostly civilian.

When the tsunami hit, both sides realised the fighting needed to end.

The Government opened up Aceh to allow aid and NGO workers the access they needed, while the rebels promised a safe environment on the ground.

This ceasefire resulted in the Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding, signed in 2005. Aceh received a degree of autonomy; its Governor is a former GAM rebel spokesman.

Most agree the civil war is now a thing of the past. One of the greatest tensions - a sense that the wealth from Aceh's natural resources was being unfairly distributed by Jakarta - was no longer relevant with the billions of dollars being poured in to reconstruction. New roads, new houses, a new airport - Banda Aceh is better than ever before.

As McKerrow points out: "You go into a village today in Aceh, there's a school, there's a clinic, there's electricity, there's roads, houses that have toilets, running water, and the people are very well off compared to other parts of Indonesia, and that's why the peace is holding.

"And when I talk to women, I say, 'What would you do if your husband picked up a rifle and went to join one of the factions', and she would say, 'I would hit him on the head, because we are so well off today compared to what we were five years ago'."

"MONEY DOES everything here," says Muhsin, who has rebuilt his small grocery store, completely lost in the tsunami.

As well as rebuilding his own life and business, Muhsin has dedicated his spare time to working with orphans. He says while most Acehnese are happy, there are still problems.

There are those who have missed out and those who are homeless, sometimes simply because they weren't educated enough to fill out the required forms.

And as the reconstruction winds up, and the NGOs withdraw (only the UN and the Red Cross still have delegations in Banda Aceh), Muhsin fears the vacuum could be filled with a return to old grievances. "I think the problem can happen again in Aceh, like a snowball."

Worryingly, there have been three incidents of shots fired at Westerners in the past month, events unheard of in immediate post-tsunami Banda Aceh.

If there is hope for Banda Aceh, it is that the new livelihoods established under the reconstruction will continue to grow.

McKerrow points to a fisherman, who was already struggling with diminishing catches before the tsunami destroyed his boat. He now has land and is making a good living growing cocoa.

"We were given the conditions to build back better," he says.

For four years the Indonesian Government had a dedicated Tsunami Ministry, unprecedented for containing an anti-corruption unit.

While I had heard figures of up to 30 per cent "leakage" of funds, McKerrow says he would be "surprised if it was over 5 per cent". Of course, even that is still $400 million.

McKerrow also confirms Muhsin's story: people have missed out on houses, in some cases by putting their name forward, moving away to stay with relatives and returning too late and finding their house reallocated.

On the other hand, he says, "there were those people who got two houses, there were people who put their name down and got three houses ... there was a bit of thuggery going on".

Other projects have been ill-conceived from the get-go. About an hour's drive from Banda Aceh is Jackie Chan village, a settlement built from the millions of dollars raised by the Hong Kong action movie star.

It's too far for residents to drive for work, or supplies. Despite many being homeless, Jackie Chan village isn't an option, and at least half the settlement lies empty.

In the centre of Banda, the Tsunami Museum officially opened last month.

I have my own misgivings about it, not the concept but, at a cost of $10 million, the scale of this four-storey behemoth seems out of proportion to the lives of those around it, particularly with hundreds of families still living in squalid barracks.

On the other hand, if the museum and the Jackie Chan village are the worst examples of questionable management from an $8 billion aid project, it's not hard to see why McKerrow could say it's been brilliant.

Another explanation for the Tsunami Museum might be Banda Aceh's bid to become something of a tourist destination.

For the first time in its history, Banda Aceh has an international airport, officially opened this year - even if the only international arrivals at present are two budget airlines from Malaysia.

And the event which wiped Banda Aceh from the map is exactly what they hope will put them back on it.

THE PLTD Apung 1 is a diesel power generation plant. It's a ship, 2600 tonnes, more than 50m long and a few storeys high, all hulking steel.

What makes the Apung 1 different from most ships its size, is the fact it's in the middle of a field, kilometres from the nearest coast. It's a popular attraction for visitors, the site now complete with a small memorial garden and children's playground.

Once you've seen "boat in field" as local tourist operators call it, you can visit the much smaller "boat on house" - which is everything its name suggests.

It seems hard to believe people might plan an overseas trip around a few such attractions. Not only is it rather mawkish, there simply aren't that many of them.

However, at the same time as I am internally voicing my concerns, I meet a young family across from Malaysia for a few days, for exactly that purpose.

"Aceh is beautiful," says Rahmadhani, of the Aceh Culture and Tourism Agency. But when I ask him to expand, he struggles: "We have a lot of potential to show," he offers, before again talking generically about culture and beauty. "Aceh is safe, Aceh is convenient, Aceh is attractive," he concludes.

Putting aside the fact there's not a lot to do here, another impediment to attracting Western tourists will be more difficult to remedy: Aceh is the most conservatively Islamic province in Indonesia.

It's seems fairly relaxed compared to say, Afghanistan, but there's no beer to be found in Banda Aceh, and you can't wear your togs at the beach.

And rather than relaxing, Aceh's Sharia law provisions have recently been strengthened by the regional legislature to include the likes of death by stoning for adulterers.

One true attraction, the nearby island of Pulau Weh, has long operated as an exception to many of these rules.

When Aceh province was closed to all foreign visitors during the civil war years, it was still possible to arrive in Banda Aceh and be delivered to the Pulau Weh ferry by police escort.

Beer is available on the island courtesy of the local police chief, though not cheap by Asian standards, and it is possible to swim without being covered from head to toe - just don't expect the locals to join you. Boasting pristine dive sites among the best in the world, Pulau Weh attracts a steady stream of foreign visitors.

Ben Stokes and his partner Sarah Kemsley have started bringing groups of intrepid divers to Pulau Weh. Stokes says the Sharia law angle is played up by Western media, and while a special unit of Religious Police patrols Banda Aceh enforcing dress standards, particularly for young women, the rules don't apply to visitors.

"We have to be respectful but essentially as far as the Acehnese are concerned, Sharia law is not applicable to Western tourists," he says.

Totok, a local tourist operator puts it simply: "Aceh is majority Muslim. But our Muslim is different from Taleban."

While talking to Totok over another cup of strong Acehnese coffee - usually taken with condensed milk - I'm struck by how far the residents of Banda Aceh must have come in the past five years.

I ask about his experience with the tsunami itself and, again, he says it plainly. "When the tsunami came, everything was gone. My son, my daughter. It left two, me and my wife only. My office was also broken. Everything was lost."

Totok says the first couple of years after the tsunami, people "lost the spirit of life". But, he says, as more and more aid workers arrived from overseas, and the city was rebuilt, so were its people. His eyes fill with joy as he speaks of the new Banda Aceh, and how it has allowed people to once again "make the spirit of life".

"I think the kids are the most scarred," says McKerrow. "In the first year the kids had recurring nightmares of another wave coming in and wiping out their family, they survive and go to an orphanage - it's amazing how many nightmares are the same. But after 18 months, they subside, it's just a process of time ... And life goes on."

It's impossible to imagine how any of us would cope with what the Acehnese have been through in the past five years - an entire city destroyed, then rebuilt, unrecognisable.

Entire families killed, their whereabouts unknown.

An end to decades of bloody conflict, a restless peace. I'm in awe of the resilience of spirit I see everywhere.

"We have to be optimistic," says Rahmadhani, summing up in his hyperbolic fashion.

"We enjoy the peace today. Everyone is very busy. The economy is booming. Everyone is smiling."

Friday, 4 December 2009

A protegee of Henrik Beer- Tadateru Konoe

Tadateru Konoe, the new President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

I was just 26 when I went to Geneva to work for the International Red Cross, in 1975. It was a snowy January when I arrived. Fresh from climbing in New Zealand, one of the first things I tried was a winter ascent of Mt. Blanc, in a weekend. I almost died as a huge storm came in and dumped almost 2 metres of snow in late January 1975. I remember struggling in white out conditions to find the tel-cabine on the summit of Aguille du Midi. My first month in Geneva was a difficult time as I struggled to adapt after working four years in the field, to an international headquarters where a suit and tie were the rigour de jour.

I was fortunate to be working with Tadateru Konoe who was Deputy Director of the disaster preparedness bureau, where I was assigned. Our immediate boss was Sverre Kilde a former Norwegian Army Officer. Henrik Beer was secretary general and a most inspirational leader, that Konoe and I had the utmost respect for.

I first met Konoe in Bangladesh in 1972 when he was leader of the Japanerese Red Cross medical team on the island of Hatia, and I leader of a New Zealand Red Cross team at Nilphamari in northern Bangladesh. This was a joint ICRC or LORCS ( Federation) operation and there were about 15 medical/refugee teams from all around the world.

So when I met Konoe in Geneva in 1975 we were no strangers. We worked well together and after about a year, he returned to Japan. I recall meeting him the next time on a field trip in Southern India, in 1981, when he had just become Director of the Disaster Preparedness Bureau in Geneva. When he visited, I was supervising the construction of 225 cyclone shelters along a 2000 km stretch of coastline in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. We travelled some days together visiting remote villages. He was a pleasant companion with an eye for detail and a strong sense of curiousity. From the Royal family in Japan, I was impressed by his gentleness and the way he displayed such courtesy, humility and respect for the culture. Then I recalled one of his colleagues in Tokyo telling me that in the olden days his family were scholars, poets, and calligraphers. Konoe had an aura about him and I enjoyed his company so much.

In late Match 1975 I was assigned to work in Nepal and I recall getting a briefing from Konoe as he had visited Nepal some years early. It was a thorough briefing. Recently I found a photo (above) depicting his visit.

We lost contact until I visited Osaka in 1987 as a guest speaker at the International Syposium on Outdoor Education and Youth Development Towards the 21 st Century which was organised by Kansai Television and Osaka School of Physical Education. There I heard people speaking of Konoe in hushed tones and with great respect. He seemed to have an aura of a living God. Some leading Japanese academics told me how Konoe was in the process of setting up and Outward Bound School in Japan.

We met many times after that and I recall in Seville in 1997 at the International Red Cross conference, having a long talk to him about outdoor education and Outward Bound. He had a real passion for giving youth opportunities to build character and self reliance. It was during the conference in Seville that I noticed a marked change in Konoe. In a tense debate where two strong opposing factions had reached an impasse, the ever maturing Konoe took to the floor and made a wise and eloquent intervention, breaking a very tense situation. That day in December 1997, an elder Red Cross statesman emerged. I knew that very moment that here was a future President of the International Red Cross. Having travelled with Konoe in the field in India on two ocassions, he really has a deep concern for the welfare of children and has done much work in Japan as a Councillor of the Japan Committee for UNICEF.

He is a born and career Red Crosser. Born on "Red Cross and Red Crescent Day" of 8th May in 1939. Joined the Japanese Red Cross Society (JRCS) in 1964, initially as a volunteer. He has visited many countries in Pacific, Africa, America, Europe, Middle East and Asia where he had witnessed the suffering caused by ideological, religious, racial and ethnic differences and conflict. He has dedicated his whole career to the Red Cross and Red Crescent work, both at home and abroad.
As a staff member of the JRCS he has worked mostly at its International Department where he built experience in supporting National Societies in the implementation of relief operations and of development projects, in settling the pending humanitarian issues of the post-war years with National Societies of the countries who had no diplomatic relations with Japan, and in representing the JRCS at different international meetings, He worked at the Secretariat of the International Federation as a staff-on-loan between 1972 and 1975 and as Director of the Disaster Preparedness Bureau between 1981 and 1985. During these periods he represented the International Federation in relief operations in different countries. His first experience with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) relief operation was in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1972 when he headed a JRCS medical team to look after the cyclone and the conflict victims. Ever since, as a representative of one of the major supporting National Societies to ICRC, he has visited various sites of the ICRC operations in different countries where JRCS provided services.
After returning to Japan, he was elected Vice President of JRCS in 1991 and to the office of President in 2005. In these capacities, he has been overseeing the Society's sizeable domestic activities, including medical services, blood transfusion services, disaster management, nurse training and social welfare services, as well as the Society's support for international activities.

As of 1 April 2009, the Japanese Red Cross Society (JRCS) is run by over 56,000 paid staff, mostly involved with Medical Services and Blood Services, both of which are two of the major auxiliary functions to public authorities. Total budget of 2008 fiscal year reaches around 2.37 billion USD.
JRCS is currently running 92 hospitals and 6 clinics. These Red Cross medical institutions have a capacity of more than 38,000 hospital beds in total and treated more than 11 million in-patients and 19 million out-patients in 2008. From its Red Cross nursing schools, including 6 nursing colleges, over 1,300 nurses and 60 midwifes are graduated every year. Such continuing efforts of JRCS in the training of nurses results in the fact that 4.2% of nurses in the country are now educated by the Red Cross. 34 Social welfare institutions for elderly, children, and the disabled are also run by JRCS.
JRCS is the only supplier who is providing blood for transfusion in Japan. In 2008, more than 5 million people donated blood to JRCS which was utilized for the transfusion of 1 million patients in Japan.
More importantly, JRCS is supported by over 2 million community Red Cross Volunteers in the country. Moreover, more than 11,000 schools are members of the Junior Red Cross which promotes Red Cross youth activities.

He also served as a member of the Finance Commission of the International Federation between 1985 and 1993, as a member of the Standing Commission between 1995 and 2003, as a Governing Board member of the International Federation between 2001 and 2005 and as Vice President of the International Federation between 2005 and 2009. He has also been a member of the ICRC Finance Commission since 2003.
In his different management and governance capacities within the JRCS and the Movement, he has made field visits to about 90 National Societies on all continents. This has enabled him to gain a special insight into the challenges faced in the conduct of Red Cross and Red Crescent relief and development programs. It has also underlined for him the unique role played by Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers in fostering the spirit of humanity and protecting human dignity.

With his wealth of experience in various humanitarian fields, Mr. KONOÉ serves in different capacities at various public, non-governmental, academic and social organizations including the Central Disaster Management Council for the Prime Minister of Japan, Councillor of the Japan Committee for UNICEF, Advisor of the Japan Campaign to Ban Landmines, Advisor of Japan Center for Conflict Prevention.
Wife and one son. The KONOÉ house is the senior of five houses of the Fujiwara family whose members were eligible for the post of regent. It was established in the late Heian period (794-1185) in Kyoto. Family members served for generations as regents and grand ministers of state. Many were also scholars, poets, and calligraphers. After the Meiji Restoration (1868) and the establishment of a new peerage for the family, the head of the family was given the rank of prince.

Before finishing, I would like to quote Konoe himself were he reflects and talks of his vision for the Red cross movement.
Our Federation has a proud history of achievements over the last 90 years and rightfully has established the claim today to be the largest worldwide humanitarian network. To sustain and substantiate further this proud humanitarian record we must be better prepared to address the escalating needs of those suffering from the humanitarian consequences of climate change, physical and social insecurity, health emergencies and the world's financial crisis.

"I am firm in my belief that the member National Societies of the Federation possess great capacity and even further potential to better serve the ever growing number of vulnerable people. To reach our full potential, I believe, the Federation leadership has a key role in reinforcing the shared vision so necessary to deliver much needed services through unity of action. We need to strive to be even more efficient, not only for those who depend upon our support but also because competition and market forces in today's world demand efficiency if we are to remain relevant and a humanitarian force for good over the next 150 years and beyond.

National Societies are diverse in their history, relationship with their governments, humanitarian environments, activities and capacities.
So are their expectations of the Federation. I regard this diversity as a strength, so long as we can retain unity in our action. We need to share the "Spirit of Togetherness" by fostering the culture of working as a Federation.

In this regard, the President of the Federation must be a good listener to diverse views, particularly those within the components of our Movement.
He needs to be a consensus builder, resolving conflicting views and interests where he can. He needs, then, to be able to articulate and advocate the Federation's views to the outside world.

Having been born on the Red Cross/Red Crescent Day of the 8th May, perhaps it was my destiny to devote my whole professional career to service within the Movement. I have rich experience in management and governance, both at the national and the international levels.
As you will find in the attached personal profile, my career has allowed me to build a deep understanding about the realities faced by many National Societies.

The General Assembly in November will become a closing event of this commemorative year and also an opportunity for us all to pledge new commitments. As I proceed with my presidential campaign, I hope to meet as many leaders of National Societies as possible, including yourself of course. I look forward to a frank exchange of opinions so that I may benefit from these in shaping the aspirations I have to serve our membership as President of the Federation.

Coming as I do from one of the five founder members of the International Federation and the first ever candidate from the vast and the most populous Asia/Pacific Region, I look forward to your positive consideration of my candidature, taking into account my personal history and professional career as a born Red Crosser.

I am proud that Moriteru Konoe is President of the International Fedeartion of Red Cross for he will provide the vision and direction we need at this juncture in history. He has an exceptionally able secretary general in Bekele Gelata and together they will lead us to tackle the increasing humanitarian challenges the world is facing.

My mind goes back to a misty morning in Bhuj, Gujarat, India, when Konoe and I were having a bowl of soup together outside the Japanese Red Cross tent. He was so proud of the work the Japanese Red Cross medical team were doing for the many thousands injured by the earthquake, that killed over 25,000 people.
On that muddy school compound we had over 600 Red Cross staff and volunteers living in tents next to the 400 bed Finnish-Norwegian Red Cross field hospital.
Konoe spoke to me of this wonderful relief operation and how it must be replicated in the future. Rather than pump more money into the Japanese Red Cross, Konoe was the driving force behind the concept of and the Asia and Pacific disaster management unit, which is now well established in Kuala Lumpur, and provides a zone-wide disaster response, coordination and technical support to the whole of asia and Pacific. We have a man of vision with a history of implementation at the helm of Red Cross, and I know if Henrik Beer were alive today, he would be very proud that one of his protegees, is President of the organisation he gave so much to. Beer and Konoe have much in common: men of high integrity, men of vision and have given their lives to the Red Cross.

Check his website
Spirit of Togetherness.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Henrik Beer's team

Hre are two photos I recieved in a round-about way. Chantal Pellaton gave them to Jerry Talbot to give to me.

From left to right; Jurg Vittani, Dr. Kingsley Seevaratnam, Dr. Zielinski, Kaj Bertelsen, George Bolton, Jose Gomez, Slobodan Popvich, Shirley Robertson, Eugene Kirchoffer, Pierre Burtin, Jean-Pierre Robert-Tissot, Jacques Meurant, Muralti, george Gordon-Lennox, Oskar Steinbrenner, Nick Ohillips, Ted Akerhielm. I suspect this photo was taken in the late 1960s.

Can you identify this photo of Henrik Beer ?

An old colleague of mine from Geneva,Chantel, sent me this photo of Henrik beer without a caption. I am wondering if anyone out there can identify whp Henrik ( r) is talking to ?

Thursday, 9 April 2009

An outstanding leader retires

Some months back I wrote an article on leadership and said there were a few great leaders I have worked for over the decades. One great leader I have written about on this blog is Henrik Beer. Another leader with similar characteristics to Henrik, retired on Monday, 31 March 2009. Jerry Talbot the special representative to the secretary general for the tsunami operation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Jerry knew Henrik in the 70 and 80s. Jerry was deputy secretary general of the New Zealand Red Cross when Henrik Beer visited New Zealand in 1974. I will never forget that visit as the headlines in the New Zealand Red Cross monthly magazine read WE WANT MORE BEER. When Henrik's career was finishing in 1981, Jerry had established himself firmly as the SG of the New Zealand Red Cross. The two men had regular contact and had mutual respect for one another.

Jerry has been an outstanding leader for he had excellent vision, took a long-range perspective on the big things and was able to develop concepts. He focused on people and inspired trust in all he met. He was gifted with a strong intellect and made a huge contribution for over 40 years to global humanity.

Bill Clinton with his arm round Jerry Talbot (far left) in the Maldives. The leadership qualities of Bill Clinton are renowned, but Jerry Talbot hid his light under a bushell, during a Red Cross career that spanned 41 years.

Jerry comes from a large family who still farm In Onga Onga in the Hawkes Bay. Above is a photo of a cattle farm in Onga Onga.
Not surprisingly with his farming background, his first assignment for the New Zealand Red Cross in 1968 was taking some bulls for breeding in Western Samoa. I often joked with him that he was an impressive bull-shipper. The next year he spent one year in Vietnam working on livelihoods programmes for displaced people. For 14 years he was Secretary of the New Zealand Red Cross and under his leadership, it developed into a very well functional organisation. Next he moved to Geneva in 1990 where he became head of the Asia Pacific Region for the IFRC. Jerry is married to Jen, a very lively and intelligent women, and the have three married sons. During his red Cross career he spent time helping his sister run the family farm and when possible, he would slip off to a quiet stream or river, where he indulged in fly fishing. There, like on Thoreau's Walden Pond, Jerry would reflect on the troubled world and come back more motivated to change the world.

In January 2005. Jerry moved to the Maldive Islands where the IFRC built thousands of houses, put in new water supplies, restored livelihoods and assisted many thousands of families. One on the greatest tributes to Jerry Talbot is through his leadership and vision on Dhuvaafaru Island in Raa Atoll, where the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has created new homes for more than 3,700 people who were displaced from their original island after the Indian ocean tsunami struck in 2004.

At the opening ceremony on 2 March 2009, His Excellency Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives paid tribute to Jerry Talbot for his leadership in making the dream of a new village on Dhuvaafaru possible.

His Excellency Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives and Jerry Talbot at the opening of the settlement on Dhuvaafaru Island.

Work began in April 2006 when the 40-hectare coral island was uninhabited. In just under three years, and at a cost of 32 million US dollars, the island has been transformed into a thriving community that boasts 600 houses, three schools, an island administration block, an auditorium, a health centre and a sports stadium. IFRC has also built amenities including the island’s power plant, sewage system and roads.“Developing a whole uninhabited island into a ’safe island’, which is now home to almost a 4,000-strong population, is indeed quite a feat,” says President Mohamed Nasheed. “The government appreciates the generosity and humanitarian work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in the Maldives and throughout the world. I’m sure all Maldivians are very grateful for the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s partnership with the Maldives in rebuilding the country following the tsunami.”
This is but one of hundreds of Jerry's success in improving the lives of vulnerable people. I remember visiting villages in the central Highland of Vietnam with Jerry in 1973 where he showed me thriving agricultural projects he had started with a New Zealand Red Cross Welfare team in 1968.

Last Monday in Geneva, there was a farewell party for Jerry. I couldn't be there. So I sent a few lines to be read out. here they are.

Dear Jerry
It was 1971 when I first met you. You were a veteran having started working for the New Zealand Red Cross in Samoa in 1968. That was 41 years ago. I remember flying to Bangladesh with you in 1972 in a New Zealand Air Force C-130 with a Land Rover, from Wellington-Auckland-Sydney-Darwin-Singapore-Calcutta-Dhaka. I recall the pilot of our plane almost hit an Indian plane coming in to land in Calcutta. The pilot told us later, the air traffic controller shouted “ O my God, that was a near miss, it seems I am going to have another day like yesterday.”

Jerry Talbot (l) talking to Red Cross volunteers on the remote Tsunami affected island of Nias, Indonesia.

Then the next year we did a 3 week assessment in South Vietnam looking for an appropriate location for the NZ Red Cross to work.

When you were head of Asia and Pacific we travelled through the battlefields and storehouses of sorrow in Afghanistan together. Then in early 2005, the boot was on the other foot, I line-managed you in the Maldives. I remember you almost drowned me in the Maldives an hour out from Male when our boat sprung a leak. The next year you were line-managing me when you became Special Rep. to the SG for Tsunami.

Jerry Talbot (l) and myself on Laamu Island, Maldives

Jerry. it has been a joy working with you, for you. Your leadership has been outstanding and inspiring. I think this quote is apt:

Be tough yet gentle
Bold but humble
Always swayed by beauty and truth.

I will miss you, the Red Cross will miss you.

Forty-one years of dedicated services you have given. Something to be proud of.

The Federation team in Indonesia thanks you from the depth of their hearts for the superb leadership you have provided, the example of integrity and humility you set, and the calm way you dealt with crises.

The head of BRR Kuntoro Mangkosubroto holds you in the highest possible esteem, and has greatly enjoyed working with you. I attach a photo of you both at the Tsunami Champions meeting.

Jerry (r) talking to Kuntoro Mangkusubroto Photo: Bob McKerrow

You are a Champion Jerry, and I am losing an outstanding boss, we are all losing a great leader and boss.

Happy fishing in those beautiful NZ rivers.

Ni sa Moce
E noho ra
Malo le lei
Tera Makasi


Goodbye in Fijian, Maori, Samoan and Indonesia

Jerry Talbot wrote with passion and conviction. Here is an article he wrote late last year.

Tsunami response strengthens community coping
30 December 2008
By Jerry Talbot, the special representative for the tsunami operation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

In mid November in 2008, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake shook the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, taking four lives, damaging bridges and roads, and forcing 1,000 families from their homes.

Most people around the world didn’t hear about the quake and its aftershocks. It just wasn’t big enough to make the headlines.

Nevertheless, trained Indonesian Red Cross Society volunteers immediately went into action in Sulawesi. They evacuated people from collapsing houses, distributed medicines, blankets and baby kits, and assessed the situation to see what else people needed.

Thank goodness for those local volunteers. Damage to the roads meant they were on their own during the critical first few hours after the disaster. But even if the roads – and ports and airports – are clear, outside aid always comes later. And the funds available always depend on the generosity of donors.

The Sulawesi disaster reminds us that the most important resource in disasters is not money. It is people, people who are trained and committed, people who are prepared to respond when the unthinkable happens. The spirit of volunteerism from within communities at risk means being on the ground before a disaster strikes and being trained to leap into life-saving action at a moment’s notice.

A catastrophe like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami draws an immense profile, billions of dollars of aid, tonnes of relief items and hundreds of foreign aid workers.

With those resources, the Red Cross Red Crescent has been able to run the biggest disaster response operation in its history, with a budget of Swiss francs 3.108 billion and programmes across the Indian Ocean.

The achievements are remarkable, given the diverse range of challenges and complexity thrown up by the disaster. Four years after the disaster, 97 per cent of planned houses have now been completed or are under construction; more than 500,000 people now have access to an improved water source; and 375,000 have been reached by community-based health services.

Yet the tsunami operation is far from normal. Business as usual is responding to a variety of localized, daily shocks that have the potential to undermine years of painstaking social and economic development, and cumulatively affect far greater numbers of people with suffering and hardship. Business as usual in many contexts is dealing with multiple minor disasters, sporadic unrest, outbreaks of disease, ever-higher prices for food and fuel, or creeping climate change.

The best response to these daily shocks is not headlines and donations from afar. The fastest, most appropriate response comes from those who live and work alongside the people affected. It is finding solutions and engaging at the grassroots level.

In the immediate aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami, trained Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers – who had often lost loved ones themselves – went to work to help those around them.

Jerry Talbot (l) and Bob McKerrow centre with a member of the French Red Cross on Laamu Island, Maldives.

That same spirit is alive in Indonesia today after the Sulawesi earthquake. It is alive in the food crisis in the Horn of Africa. It emerged in May 2008 after the Sichuan earthquake and in Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis. And in the ferocious hurricane season in the Americas.

Our work begins long before disaster strikes. Our approach is to reduce the risk of disasters through building a culture of prevention labelled “early warning, early action”. Early warning means proactively analyzing real and potential risks, and preparing communities for the expected - and unexpected - threats that may emerge. Early action means addressing structural vulnerabilities to mitigate those risks and to prevent devastation and suffering.

Acehnese fisherman Zainal Abidin lost his house in the tsunami. He asked the Red Cross Red Crescent to build him a traditional-style wood-frame house on stilts. “I chose this house because I am afraid of another earthquake and tsunami,” he told the Red Cross Red Crescent. “We are afraid of living in a brick house because of earthquakes, but we feel safer in this wooden stilt house because it doesn’t shake when there’s an earthquake.”

Red Cross Red Crescent programmes build the capacity of the community to cope – and ultimately to strengthen development. Our programmes to enhance disaster preparedness and the capacities of our member National Societies change ways of life, attitudes and mindsets at the grass roots level. They encourage people to work together in peace across ethnic, religious and class lines under common Red Cross Red Crescent principles.

Because of the catastrophic nature of the tsunami, the reality is that many people and places will never fully recover. Tragedy cannot be erased with houses, schools and hospitals, jobs, fishing nets or clean water.

The outpouring of generosity after the tsunami, however, has enabled the Red Cross Red Crescent to invest in enhancing communities’ ability to cope with future shocks such as disaster, disease, conflict, inflation or climate change. By building realistic capacity in communities and in local Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteer networks, we work to bring sustainable improvements to people’s lives before, during and after disasters.