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The wind in their sails

The French city of Nice was host to the Eighth Conference of Mediterranean Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in May, with 23 National Societies taking part. The three-day deliberations focused on the major issues of water and assistance to migrants. Offshore, the role of young people was highlighted in an unusual way: nine teams composed of young people from 17 Mediterranean countries took it in turns from mid-January to sail around the Mediterranean aboard the yacht Don du Vent, a 1943 ketch, arriving in Nice to coincide with the conference. The 82 young people selected for this exercise had previously experienced insecurity, instability or conflict in their home countries. By taking part in the nautical manoeuvres in sometimes difficult conditions, they had to develop a spirit of mutual assistance and collective endeavour. At each port of call, the crews were greeted by representatives of the local Red Cross or Red Crescent, who introduced them to the activities of their National Society. According to Dr Marc Gentilini, president of the French Red Cross, the exercise showed that "beyond our beliefs and sense of belonging, it is possible to live together and to make the people of tomorrow understand that things are going to change".

A better way forward

Africa's needs and Africa's future in the coming decade in the fields of public health and food security will be at the heart of the Fifth Pan African Conference, due to be attended by the continent's 53 National Societies in September. The meeting in Burkina Faso is expected to approve a 10-year health strategy and related calls for action intended to help reverse the negative public health trends in Africa. Based on the two-year-old African Red Cross Red Crescent Health Initiative, or ARCHI 2010, it will focus on major issues such as HIV/AIDS and childhood preventable diseases.

Commitment to promoting healthy behaviour and community-based health interventions to assist the most vulnerable are at the core of ARCHI 2010's long-term support. "This conference is taking place at the right moment to help National Societies in Africa look at new strategies," says conference coordinator Richard Hunlédé.

"The Ouagadougou declaration will be a response from the African community to Strategy 2010."

The plan of action will include an African food security strategy. "The message is the impact Red Cross Red Crescent activity can have in dealing with food security," adds Hunlédé. "Supplying food and water to the most vulnerable, the provision of seed, capacity building in terms of disaster preparedness - all these come under food security and the Red Cross Red Crescent can make the difference."

Imperial visit

Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan visited ICRC headquarters on 22 May. They were greeted by the institution's president, Jakob Kellenberger, an ICRC delegation and representatives of the International Federation. The ICRC president took the opportunity to thank the Emperor and Empress, their family and the people of Japan for their support to the ICRC's humanitarian activities. Georges-André Cuendet, president of the Empress Shôken Fund, expressed the fund's gratitude for the five million yen donated by the Emperor and Empress to mark their visit. The fund was created in 1912 to promote relief activities in peacetime. Since then it has been financed by donations from the imperial family, the Japanese government, the Japanese Red Cross and the Japanese people.

Violence in Maluku

Thousands of people have fled their homes because of the religious violence pitting Christians against Moslems in the south of the Indonesian province of North Maluku. Tens of thousands are now living in camps that have been set up on the nearby island of Sulawesi and many more are believed to be displaced within the Moluccas themselves. At the beginning of April, an ICRC team consisting of medical staff and relief and logistics specialists opened an office in Ternate, capital of North Maluku. Since May, with the Indonesian Red Cross, they have distributed family parcels containing clothes, essential household items and hygiene products to more than 40,000 displaced people. Medical supplies were also flown by an ICRC-chartered helicopter to various health facilities in Halmahera island in North Maluku.

Licence to kill

It is a daily disaster, a major health problem, and it is getting worse, much worse. "It" is the number of road crashes around the globe, especially in developing countries - they have a third of the vehicles but three-quarters of the fatalities. An alarming estimate now puts the number of injured and disabled worldwide at more than twice previous figures - between 23 and 34 million people per year.

"These statistics are horrific," says Brett Bivans, coordinator of the Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP) which was set up by the World Bank and launched last year to try to improve road safety. "There are known solutions in the West, and while the situation is improving in the OECD countries it is deteriorating in developing countries."

The vast majority of people killed in road accidents last year - up to 85 per cent - were in developing and transition nations. How many deaths? Between an estimated 750,000 and 880,000. "It is unacceptable to see nearly a million lives lost a year and the figures rise over time as motorization continues to increase," adds Bivans.

The GRSP, which is based at the International Federation's Secretariat in Geneva, is focusing on a pilot project covering 15 countries. "The new approach is one of local partnerships including governments, civil society and business."

National Societies are actively involved in tackling the growing menace of road accidents, for example with first-aid training to help the victims and by promoting safe driving through information campaigns. They need to be - unless effective action is taken it is forecast that within two decades road accidents will be the world's third most significant burden on health. Drive carefully!

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