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Before joining the International Federation, I served as Secretary General of the Sudanese Red Crescent. My understanding of vulnerability comes from my experience of assisting millions of refugees and displaced people fleeing a famine that killed hundreds each day; it comes from developing educational programmes for mothers on how to keep alive a child with diarrhoea until medical help can be reached; it comes from building up the capacities of the Sudanese Red Crescent to provide for the most vulnerable. Basically, my understanding of vulnerability comes from the daily realities that exist in Sudan and which confront the National Society.

The concept of vulnerability, and in particular the Federation strategy to “improve the situation of the most vulnerable”, has enabled National Societies, particularly in the developing world, to redirect programming not only to provide assistance to those most in need, but to take what is learned from each response to a disaster and develop programmes to reduce the devastation caused and prevent suffering and loss of human life.

In a sense it has been much easier to apply the concept of vulnerability in Sudan, Tajikistan or the Philippines. It has proven more challenging for National Societies in the industrialized world to ask the questions: who are the most vulnerable in our cities, towns and villages, and what can we do to improve their situation? The homeless, single mothers receiving government support, unemployed men caught up in a cycle of violence, these are perhaps some of the most vulnerable groups in the developed world. What are we, the Red Cross and Red Crescent, doing to help these individuals? The British, Finnish and Danish National Societies have taken the first step and done some innovative work in vulnerability assessment. But it is clear that the next step from study into practice is more difficult.

With this in mind, Red Cross, Red Crescent chose vulnerability as its cover story theme. As the word vulnerability becomes very much a part of the vocabulary of the humanitarian arena, its meaning seems to have become less obvious. The article proposes to remind us of what vulnerability is and what it is not.

Today the challenge to “improve the situation of the most vulnerable” has enabled us to target our resources effectively in an environment of reduced budgets. It initiated a dialogue among National Societies and the Federation on the role of the Red Cross and Red Crescent within the community. And it has started a very important thinking process to establish the priorities and direction of the Movement into the 21st century.

Ibrahim Osman
Under Secretary-General
National Society Cooperation and Development
International Federation of Red Cross
and Red Crescent Societies

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