Friday, 28 December 2007

A Shade of Green - Johan Schaar's paper

Here is a lengthy extract from Johan Schaar's (pictured above) paper A Shade of Green: Environmental Protection as Part of Humanitarian Action that was published by the Institut Henry-Dunant Geneve.It highlights Henrik Beer's pioneering work in involving Red Cross and Red Crescent in environmental activities.

Accordingly, the League’s Health Committee, chaired by Dr. Domanska of the Polish Red Cross, presented a report to the League Board of Governors’ in Mexico in 1971.

In describing the environmental problem, the report focuses on the effects of industrial society on ”the physical and mental health of mankind”. It finds that not only is the influence of noise, air and water pollution on man’s physical well-being of concern, but also the impoverishment of social life in the large industrial towns.

Regarding the Red Cross/Red Crescent role in dealing with environmental problems, the report emphasizes the potential of its voluntary workers, with their “dedication, zeal, generosity and good will”. These should be engaged in action coordinated with other voluntary agencies and – in particular – with the authorities. The auxiliary role of the Red Cross/Red Crescent should not exclude, however, the exertion of “some sort of pressure” on the authorities to undertake measures found necessary by the Society in question.

The Board of Governors responded to the report by passing a resolution (no 29) on The Red Cross and the problems of the Environment. The resolution recognized the responsibility of the Red Cross to Contribute to the protection and improvement of human living conditions, especially in the medico-social field, and concluded by charging the Secretary General to continue the League’s contribution to the preparation for the UN Conference on the Human Environment in 1972 in order to clarify the Red Cross environmental role. It also identified the need for “concrete planning and leadership within the Red Cross” as regards its participation in environmental improvement. (The resolution’s request that the coming reappraisal of the Red Cross, later known as the “Tansley report”, should take the environmental issue into serious consideration seems to have passed largely unnoticed).

The League’s Secretary General at this time was Henrik Beer. In a personal capacity he had been appointed of the advisory panel to the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in June 1972. The report to the League’s Executive Committee in September 1972 on the follow-up of the Board of Governors’ 1971 environment resolution is, consequently, mostly a report from the Stockholm Conference.

In its conclusion, the report states that, unprecedented in terms of UN conference history, all main Red Cross concern had been discussed: hygiene, health, urban development, population, war, poverty, education, youth, development, disasters etc, demonstrating the intersectoral and interdisciplinary nature of the environmental issue. It concluded that, given the great diversity of environmental problems, priority should be given to the special position of National Societies in developing countries, in order to strengthen their role as government auxiliaries.

In view of the prominent role played by Beer personally in the Stockholm Conference, it is interesting to hear his views as reflected in his statement to the Conference on the Red Cross role and the environmental issue. Beer stated the Red Cross belief in universality as the basis for all humanitarian efforts, implying thereby its relevance for dealing with the issue at hand. He then refers to the traditional role of the organization in counteracting the effects of war which may “be regarded as something aiming at ameliorating one of the worst man-made threats to a decent environment”. Special mention is then made of the work on what came to be the Additional Geneva Protocols, which had just started at that time, and include articles on the protection of the natural environment in war.

According to Beer, the basic tasks of the Red Cross had already been re-defined as a broad effort to improve the human environment. A list of practical examples of environmental action is then given. These include environmental health campaigns, urban social programmes, pre-disaster planning, prevention of accidents and family planning. Beer concludes by saying that the most important task ahead is to create awareness and pressure for reform at all levels of society. In this undertaking, an organization like the Red Cross, with its almost “professional optimism” has a special role to play.

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