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
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.