27th International Conference
of the Red Cross and Red Crescent

A role to develop

Governments around the world are increasingly reassessing their role as service providers, as many either cannot or no longer wish to bear the burden of health and welfare. For organisations like National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies this is opening up new opportunities and challenges on which they can build and for which they can seek support.

Red Cross volunteer, Kenya

National Societies have a long tradition of providing health care and social services to the most vulnerable members of the community. As the needs of this sector of society grow and governments become less willing or less able to provide direct services, National Societies can look at how they might use the resources they have available or those they can mobilize to fill the gap.

It is a condition for a National Society's recognition by the ICRC and admission to the Federation that it be formally recognized by the government as a "voluntary aid society, auxiliary to the public authorities in the humanitarian field." The meaning of "auxiliary" has, however, changed over time.

The original concept was in relation to the medical services of the armed forces. The need for this dimension of a National Society's work has changed and varies from country to country. National Societies today are also auxiliaries to governments in the provision of basic health and social services, such as ambulances or blood transfusion. In a number of countries, these services are large-scale and financed by the government; in others, the focus is more on volunteer involvement in first aid and community health.

in Bangladesh, a Red Crescent worker serves a hot meal to flood victims

In times of crisis, the need for these traditional programmes is vastly increased. Following the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, Red Cross volunteers worked round the clock for days on end confronting and dealing with tragic scenes at every turn. After the crisis had passed, they helped families who had lost a breadwinner and people suffering secondary effects from the attack. Not surprisingly, the volunteers themselves came to need counselling something that is becoming more common among aid workers and that the Movement is taking very seriously. Trauma counselling is also increasingly being provided as a service for the victims of terrible events and for their families.

The National Societies' role is not limited to service provision; many now advise governments on policy and practice in responding to the needs of vulnerable groups, such as refugees and people suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In many ways, National Societies could take greater advantage of their privileged status vis--vis their governments. By the same token, some governments have yet to recognize the value of Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies as partners. Now is the time to take a good look at existing practices, relevant legislation and National Society statutes so as to develop the respective roles and relationships for the greater benefit of the world's most vulnerable people.

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A formidable challenge

Putting ideas into practice

A conference with a difference

Even wars have limits

No good or bad victims

Weapons: the humanitarian perspective

Disasters have no limits

Fine tuning the response

The worldwide health crisis

A role to develop

Shared principles