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Crime, violence, epidemics and disease are all part of the grim picture of the urban environment in Asia, as cities swell with the migration of people from the countryside. A breakdown in law and order and traditional social structures, exacerbated by separation of families, unemployment, overcrowded shantytowns, absence of sanitation and potable water, and lack of health services, is contributing to high vulnerability in the megacities of Asia — those more often portrayed as the economic powerhouses of the new world order.

The generational swing from a rural to an urban Asia, with world-beating economic growth and wealth on the one hand and life-threatening poverty on the other, creates an enormous challenge to Red Cross and Red Crescent innovation and strategic planning. More used to rural vulnerabilities and natural disasters that mainly affect the countryside, National Societies are confronted today with urban populations which provide a breeding ground for new social and health emergencies.

Imaginative programmes have been adopted by some National Societies already dealing with the scourge of HIV/AIDS and other health threats, the problems of street children, drug abuse and life in slums. This experience is being shared but more needs to be done if Red Cross and Red Crescent programmes are to remain relevant, reaching the most vulnerable as vulnerabilities change.

The problems for the poor in the megacities will only grow in the new millennium. There may also be important changes in demographics that need to be taken into account. In the meantime, diseases once controlled are re-emerging and the new dangers are life-threatening. Red Cross and Red Crescent programmes will play a key role in confronting the challenge, but we must act sooner rather than later.

Finally, this issue featuring Asia requires a domestic footnote. It will be the last to involve Barbara Geary, the Federation’s editor. After six years in which she has seen the magazine through a change of face and helped bring it widespread respect from the Movement, she is moving on. Her fine writing and skilful editing will be missed but we wish her every success in her new direction.

Jeryy Talbot
Former Director, Asia/Pacific Department
International Federation of Red Cross
a nd Red Crescent Societies

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