Catholic-inspired NGOs Forum Rome, 30 November 2 December 2007
Catholic-inspired NGOs Forum
Rome, 30 November – 2 December 2007
Lesley-Anne Knight, Secretary General, Caritas Internationalis
At its General Assembly in June, Caritas Internationalis adopted a new strategic framework for the next four years that identified three priority areas in humanitarian assistance:
1. Responding to emergencies;
2. Integral Human Development; and
3. Building Sustainable Peace
Under each of these three headings, I will examine some of the key issues as they relate to engagement with inter-governmental organisations.
Responding to emergencies
Our ability to respond effectively to emergencies, particularly in conflict situations, is dependent to a large degree on the provision of 'Humanitarian Space', in other words, the freedom and ability to safely access disaster regions in order to assess and meet humanitarian needs. It is essential, particularly in areas where there is armed conflict, that all parties comply with international laws on the protection of humanitarian workers and allow them unimpeded access to people in need.
Closely related to this issue is the need for recognition and protection of the independence and neutrality of humanitarian aid from foreign policy and political influences. In particular, more consideration needs to be given to the relationship between humanitarian aid and the military.
Disasters frequently affect the world’s poorest peoples and there is an urgent need for greater investment in prevention and disaster preparedness. Local people in disaster prone areas need to be trained in contingency planning and risk reduction strategies in order to mitigate the effects of disasters and make recovery efforts more effective.
Building sustainable peace
There are more than 30 armed conflicts raging in the world today. More than a trillion dollars every year goes on military spending and in Sub-Saharan Africa more than a third of the population lives under some form of armed conflict.
With statistics like these, the need to work towards building sustainable peace is self evident. This is an area where faith-based organisations can and should play a leading role. In particular, there is a need for greater commitment to inter-faith dialogue aimed at peace building.
Pope Paul VI urgently reminded us that there is no peace without justice, and all too often, conflicts flare up again when the root causes have not been addressed and there has been no sustained development effort following on from the cessation of hostilities. Sustainable peace means more than the absence of violence – it means a continued commitment to long-term development.
Integral Human Development
It will be evident from my comments so far that for large Catholic networks like Caritas and CIDSE, the issue of poverty lies at the heart of all the major humanitarian crises we face today. Integral human development and the eradication of poverty are therefore of paramount importance.
We are now more than half way towards the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and if current trends continue, we are going to fail. Let me give a brief outline of where we stand today:
· On poverty and hunger: The proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day has declined by about five per cent over the past seven years, but if we are to achieve the MDG target of halving extreme poverty by 2015, we need to double the current pace.
· On education: There has been progress towards universal primary education, with enrolment increasing from 57 per cent in 1999 to 70 per cent in 2005 – but a gap of 30 per cent remains, and the number of school age children is increasing daily.
· On child mortality: We have only managed to reduce under-five mortality rates from 185 per 1,000 live births to 166 per 1,000 – hardly making a dent in the objective of a two-thirds reduction by 2015.
· On maternal health: This remains a global scandal. The odds that a woman in sub-Saharan Africa will die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth are 1 in 16, compared to 1 in 3,800 in the developed world.
· On environmental sustainability: Without adequate preparation, the impact of climate change will be devastating to rural economies and the livelihoods of the poor. Just this week the United Nations Human Development Report warned that ignoring climate change will lead to an unprecedented reversal in human development and that the least-developed countries will be hit the hardest. "The poorest countries and most vulnerable citizens will suffer the earliest and most damaging setbacks, even though they have contributed least to the problem," the report says.
There are clearly many challenges ahead, but faith-based humanitarian organisations face two in particular:
Firstly, we have to ensure that we are a credible and coherent voice in the international community. While our Catholic identity may sometimes earn us a seat at the table, we must make sure it doesn’t mean that people switch off as soon as we open our mouths.
In an increasingly secular world, this means being doubly careful about what we say, and what we don’t say. It also means being doubly professional and competent in everything we do. We need to win respect for our technical expertise in the field as well as the quality of our research and advocacy. Then we will be listened to and taken seriously. And then we can speak with confidence of the faith that inspires us and the teaching that guides us. Then we can engage with international institutions alongside other leading international Non-Governmental Organisations, confident in our Catholic identity and the particular contribution we have to make.
The second challenge is to make governments and international institutions aware of the vital role that faith-based organisations have to play in delivering humanitarian assistance and promoting human development. For instance, in many African countries the Catholic Church is the primary, if not the only, healthcare and education provider. Schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure provided by Catholic and other faith-based organisations are second to none, but international donors are not taking advantage of this valuable resource as a conduit to deliver aid.
The United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that between 30 and 70 per cent of the health infrastructure in Africa is currently owned by faith-based organizations, but there is often little support for these organizations from mainstream public health programmes. One-fifth of all organisations engaged in HIV programming are faith-based, but they receive just two percent of international funding.
Faith-based and civil society organisations also have a role to play in ensuring good governance and transparency in development spending. Given adequate support, they can successfully hold governments to account. Donors need to use their influence to ensure that governments open up to civil society.
I would like to finish with a brief look at perspectives for the future. It is not all bad news. The combination of development aid and commitment on the part of developing country governments and people can make a huge difference. Here are some examples from Africa:
A voucher programme for fertilizers and seeds in Malawi led to a doubling of agricultural productivity during the 2006/7 growing season.
Ghana is successfully implementing a national school feeding programme using locally produced foods.
Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and many other countries have abolished fees for primary schools, resulting in dramatic increases in enrolment.
Zambia cancelled fees for basic rural health services in 2006 and Burundi introduced free medical care for mothers and children.
These and other success stories demonstrate that aid can, and does, work.
There are also signs that the world is waking up to the potential of Catholic and other faith-based organisations in delivering humanitarian aid. The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has emphasised his commitment to involving faith organisations in a global partnership for development. I recently met with the UK government's Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for development, Baroness Shriti Vadera, during her visit to the Vatican City, and she reiterated her government’s belief that the G8 can help in achieving the Millennium targets by involving faith-based organisations in its aid planning. Next week the British Ambassador to the Holy See will host a lunch discussion on this theme with our president, Cardinal Rodriguez, and other ambassadors to the Holy See.
Next year there are a number of key opportunities for revitalising the MDG agenda, starting with Pope Benedict’s address to the UN in New York in April and followed by the G8 summit in Japan in July and the UN General Assembly in September.
This means developing specialist expertise in priority areas – not trying to do everything. It means recognising centres of excellence and expertise in other organisations. And it means establishing strategic alliances where appropriate.
The international community, and the G8 nations in particular, need to be left in no doubt: it will be unforgivable if the Millennium Development Goals are missed because the rich nations of the world fail to deliver on their financial commitments.
We, as Catholic organisations, are ready to play our part – and it will be equally unforgivable if the international community does not take full advantage of the unique and precious resource that we represent.
Secretary General – Caritas Internationalis
30th November 2007
Documents Secretary General's Annual Report (June 2008) Caritas Europa 5th Migration Forum UNHCR High-Level Side Event on the Mexico Plan of Action Caritas Internationalis 18th General Assembly Catholic-inspired NGOs Forum Rome, 30 November 2 December 2007 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering International Plenary Speech by Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Deus Caritas Est The Church's Charitable Work and the Active Helpers