Minister For Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's Keynot...| MENAFN.COM

Monday, 05 December 2022 08:41 GMT

Minister For Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's Keynote Address At The Singapore Red Cross Humanitarian Conference, 10 September 2022


(MENAFN- EIN Presswire)

Chairman of the Singapore Red Cross (SRC) Mr Tan Kai Hoe,

 

SRC Secretary-General Mr Benjamin William

 

Friends from overseas,

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1It is a pleasure to be here this morning and thank you to Marina Bay Sands for hosting us. This is probably, for many of you, the first time you are meeting in person in the last two years. We have seen a pandemic; we see an ongoing war. We are watching an unfolding food and energy crisis, and the world is a much more unsettled and dangerous place.

 

2It is in that context that I express, on behalf of the Singapore Government, our deepest appreciation to all of you at the Singapore Red Cross (SRC) – locally, from our region and internationally. You are on the frontlines of many humanitarian crises, some of them natural, also possibly aggravated by human action and all the other political tensions which sometimes unfortunately result in conflict. Thank you for being on the frontline. I want to thank all the SRC staff, volunteers, and partner organisations. I am looking to hearing from them later today.

 

3It has been a very challenging two and a half years. But as Kai Hoe talked about, (there is) both anxiety and hope. I think the bright spot has been to see the human spirit shine through all these trying times. Therefore, to acknowledge all the volunteers, sponsors, the partners – it is not just a matter of saying thank you. It is also a celebration of the human spirit.

 

4The theme of this year's conference:“Humanitarian Response to COVID-19: Anxiety and Hope” is therefore very timely and most apt. This was not just about complex ground efforts – from social distancing to all the other impositions of COVID-19, and getting things organised. I think we can all acknowledge that Zoom is still no substitute for face-to-face meetings. There is no way to build trust and relationships without direct interactions.

 

5We have been through perhaps the worst pandemic in a century. But this is not the first, this is not the last, and this is not the most severe virus confronting humanity. My own view is that this is a full-dress rehearsal, and there is likely to be worse to come. Therefore, everything that we do now in terms of building networks, mobilising resources, volunteers, and working with each other, is absolutely essential. We cannot afford to take our eyes off the ball.

 

6At the same time, we have other challenges – climate, natural disasters, political crises. Even in our own region, from Myanmar to Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and the war in Ukraine. We are not short of opportunities for things to go wrong.

 

7It is against this backdrop that I express appreciation and pride for the work of the SRC, for being on the frontlines. I was speaking with [Head of Centre for Psychosocial Support, SRC Academy] Carmen [Wong], who is back from Poland and off to Lithuania tomorrow. I asked her to tell me what she has learnt in one sentence. To paraphrase her, she spoke about our common humanity – that we are all in this together, and that we all have a collective responsibility to one another. Whatever happens and however long it takes for our political, economic, and other problems to resolve, we are all human beings. At the point in time of our greatest need and urgency, we need to reach out a helping hand.

 

8The point I wanted to leave with SRC – do not wait for politicians to resolve all problems. Your power lies in your commitment to our common humanity. Therefore, to be there at the point of greatest need, to reach out to victims of both the natural and manmade disasters. It is this commitment to humanity that is your real passport and the source of your relevance and power to make a difference to human beings. Please continue that spirit. It goes beyond neutrality and getting things done. It is the commitment to human welfare. You live once, and every person whose suffering you can reduce or life you can save is what makes your effort so worthy.

 

9It is with this in mind that both MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and the Singapore Government have consistently partnered the SRC in several of these situations. For instance, we worked together with you to provide relief to those affected by the floods in Malaysia, Timor Leste, and the Philippines last year. More recently, we worked with the SRC to assist communities affected by political conflicts in Ukraine and Afghanistan, just to name a few. Just last week, the Singapore Government contributed seed money to support the SRC's public fund-raising efforts toward the humanitarian crisis caused by the massive floods in Pakistan.

 

10Every time something happens in the world, and we need to do something about it, one of my early questions is what the SRC is doing, and how we can support. It is almost a first reflex. I say this in all sincerity so that you understand that your response, plans, and efforts on the ground are appreciated. To the extent possible, we will work with you through whatever happens.

 

11On the COVID-19 front, the SRC was actively involved in coordinating an international response both domestically as well as externally – the provision of medical equipment to more than 30 countries. The SRC has been a vital partner in our efforts to support response operations across a wide range of countries.

 

12The SRC's Centre of Excellence for Pandemic Preparedness in Singapore was set up just prior to the pandemic. I am glad we did set it up, and it turned out to be very timely, as the Centre facilitated crucial information-sharing globally amongst Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies during the pandemic.

 

 

Evolving Humanitarian Context

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

13Even as we now cautiously emerge from the pandemic – notice many of us are meeting here without masks – it is not completely over yet. There will be more pandemics in the future. The plans, experience, networks, and contacts that you have made, please keep them warm. The world is in a more dangerous and volatile phase. This combination of geopolitics, economic problems, and environmental problems is existential. All these factors are interacting in a vicious spiral, and one crisis makes the next even worse. A stark example is the Ukraine conflict. Not only has it caused a massive humanitarian crisis, it has also led to food and energy insecurity across the world. It has also contributed to inflation, slowing growth, and greater economic insecurity and unemployment. You see these knock-on effects amongst all the crises that we are currently facing.

 

14The climate crisis is an existential threat both to the lives and livelihoods of the people who are currently dealing with the floods and droughts. But it is also a long-term problem. What we have witnessed in the last few months is only an opening chapter of how bad things can get when the issue becomes regional and global. With the frequency, severity, and patterns of the climate-related disasters that we see today, it is obvious that climate change is real, eminent, and a clear and present danger. We have seen what has happened in China and Pakistan.

 

15Although the Glasgow Climate Pact has advanced action in the right direction, the brutal truth is that we are not on track to meet the 1.5-degree Celsius global temperature goal. In fact, we are heading towards a warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius this century. These numbers are averages; temperature, climate and weather extremes go far above and far below these means. But the damage is done at local levels and at specific moments of crisis. Even if all countries meet their 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution targets, warming would still be around 2.4 degree Celsius. What it means is that small and low-lying island-states like Singapore are going to be particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

 

16At the same time, our management of the global commons is deteriorating. It could lead to other crises like water insecurity, ocean degradation, and the loss of biodiversity, both on land and at sea. In the economic environment that we are entering, we are likely to be facing higher, prolonged inflation and higher interest rates. This just makes everyone's lives that much more difficult and a heavy burden on ordinary people and businesses everywhere. It means that many countries, societies, and households will be saddled with higher debt. The cruel irony of life is that those who are most vulnerable will bear a disproportionate share of the problems.

 

17I hope I am not being overly pessimistic. I am trying to give you a realistic assessment of the world. Mix all these ingredients together and what we see are sharper risks for further crises, worsening of current conflicts, emergence of new conflicts and more painful human suffering. The silver lining is the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and the societies and the people that you represent today. You represent our common humanity and common hope that we will get through all these crises together.

 

18One key takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic was that at the end of the day, we inhabit a common planet. Despite our differences, our destinies are inter-woven together. No one is safe until everyone is safe. You cannot close your eyes to suffering. Ultimately, it all comes home.

 

 

Looking Ahead

 

19Let me state for the record that Singapore firmly believes that when the global multilateral order is under stress, it is still possible and more important than ever before to forge a path of cooperation to tackle these shared problems. Kai Hoe mentioned our support for the COVAX Facility. It was Prime Minister Lee who coined the term“vaccine multilateralism” during the initial phase of the pandemic. We knew that in an era of open borders, everyone's safety mattered to everyone else.

 

20That is why Singapore was an early supporter of the COVAX Facility. Together with Switzerland, we started the Friends of the COVAX Facility to catalyse its operationalisation, so that it could deliver on its mission to provide fair and equitable access to vaccines for all countries. Today, the issue is not a lack of vaccines. Today, the issue is to close the gap. Unless well over 90% (of the population) get fully vaccinated, you cannot open up. Without that level of vaccination, there will be a very heavy price to pay, especially by senior members of our societies. In a day and age where we have remarkable technological progress and the ability to produce vaccines so quickly in the volumes that are currently available, it is a tragedy to have excess mortality simply because the vaccines are in a warehouse somewhere and not injected into arms.

 

21The point here is that global crisis must be focused not only on immediate response but must aim the root causes of these problems and find sustainable multilateral solutions. Ultimately, it must tap into the domestic social capital. Prime Minister Lee has referred to the issue of how countries get through the pandemic. It is not really about the wealth of the country, but a matter of trust and domestic social capital, that we agree on a set of facts, and when new data emerges, we will make the necessary adjustments, and that we can mount a collective and effective response. It is not just about an emergency response but how we cumulatively build up domestic social capital. The other impact that the Red Cross movements have is that in the mobilisation of support and volunteers, you are also building up social capital, mutual trust, and the habit of looking out for one another. You are making a difference not only to the immediate crisis, but also building up a store of social capital, and in a sense a social vaccination that helps us to deal with the next crisis.

 

22We will continue to support your efforts in dealing with immediate crises, but also because I believe that you make a strategic difference for the future. Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam co-chaired the G20 High Level Independent Panel on Financing the Global Commons for Preparedness and Response. This panel devised several recommendations on sustainable financing in pandemic preparedness. The short answer is that the world is not fully prepared. Even today, the world has not allocated sufficient resources to deal with future crises.

 

23Singapore will do our part to alleviate the longstanding under-investment in this area of preparedness. We have pledged US$15 million over five years to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation to support its efforts to accelerate the development of future vaccines against emerging infectious diseases. We will also contribute US$10 million to the newly established Financial Intermediary Fund for pandemic financing hosted by the World Bank. The common thread through all this is preparing for the future and working together.

 

24Closer to home, we have been a strong supporter of regional humanitarian efforts, especially on the ASEAN front. The ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) is a key regional mechanism to facilitate disaster management and emergency response. Since its establishment in November 2011, it has responded to at least 36 different disasters across ASEAN.

 

25I am glad that we are contributing our expertise to the AHA Centre, and our former Singapore Civil Defence Force Assistant Commissioner Lee Yam Ming currently serves as the Executive Director. Under his leadership, the AHA Centre has facilitated the provision of humanitarian aid to the people of Myanmar. Singapore also contributed US$100,000 through the AHA Centre to the people of Myanmar as they face current political and medical problems in the last couple of years.

 

26Southeast Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions to natural disasters. This has been so in the past. Unfortunately, if you accept my somewhat sombre analysis of the world, it means that there will be even more challenges in the future. We will contribute to strengthening our regional preparedness and our resilience to future disasters.

 

27The broader question is how can we urgently reorientate our multilateral institutions to meet the challenges that we will face today and tomorrow? There is no need to reinvent the wheel. We do have multilateral systems, institutions, and habits. But we need to be far nimbler and more networked. Multilateralism must not be just words, but habits that are practised in action. We need to bring different structures and stakeholders together so that we can be far more effective.

 

28Singapore is a strong supporter of efforts at the UN to strengthen multilateralism. We will do our part in terms of ideas, support, and action. SM Tharman is a member of the High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism, which was convened by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, to look at ways to improve multilateral governance arrangements for the provision of public goods.

 

29Besides reforming the multilateral system, we will continue to support developing countries in enhancing their capacity to deal with current and future global challenges. We will do so through our Singapore Cooperation Programme. For instance, we launched the“FOSS (Forum of Small States) for Good” programme in conjunction with the 30th anniversary of FOSS this year. This will focus on areas such as digital transformation, COVID-19 recovery, and will be customised to the unique challenges faced by small states.

 

 

Conclusion

 

30Let me conclude by saying that we are facing a new and emerging set of challenges, built on a world that was already somewhat vulnerable before. We need to express our common humanity, work collectively, and strengthen each other's organisational capacity in a significant way over the next few years. That is the only way of making a real difference on the ground. Thank you to Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies all over the world for your wonderful and sterling work. I am also glad to see the presence of Red Cross Youth in our schools helping to instill the values of compassion, community service and leadership in our next generation.

 

31Coming back to home, I want to thank the SRC for flying the Singapore flag high, and in continuing our partnership for the future. I thank all of you for the wonderful work that you have done. You will be more essential than ever before. So, hope amidst anxiety. Thank you all very much.

 

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