A little note on why I have phrased the sub-headline in the manner I have: “humanitarian consequences of the crisis”. Should we not say something like “Red Cross Response to the Economic Crisis”? The reason I try to avoid that is, at least partly, a matter of deliberate modest on the part of the International Federation. We have to be better at distinguishing between phenomena that are important and require action – by somebody, and phenomena that are important to us, and that we can act on. The Red Cross and Red Crescent cannot act on the economic crisis: it is something beyond us. We understand how important it is, we understand – perhaps better than most – how it affects ordinary men, women, children. We can’t do much about the economic crisis, as such. What we can do, is to observe the humanitarian consequences of the crisis, and use our combined experience, knowledge and energies to do something about these consequences. Some will think that we should address the root causes, or try and eliminate the vulnerabilities involved. Some think that we are afraid of confronting what they say are the “real issues”. Personally I don’t think so. Personally, I think that the strength of the Red Cross is that we see needs, and try to meet those. Let others deal with the root causes – it is very necessary, and a good thing to do. It is just that I think what the Red Cross and Red Crescent is about is this: when someone is in a bit of trouble – physically, psychologically, socially or otherwise – we are there to give them a hand. We cannot solve all their problems, but we can give them a hand when they need one. I think that is a very respectable thing, and something to be proud of. That is my personal opinion, and the spirit in which I work on a day-to-day basis. Now, let me say a little about what I plan to present to you today.
An American lay preacher who had a great deal of success once explained the method he used: First I tell them what I am going to tell them; Then I tell them what I have to tell them. Finally, I tell them what I have told them. I hope I will not be quite as formulaic as that, but at the same time there might be some value in saying a few words about what I think I am doing here today. Before doing so, let me also say that I am acutely aware of speaking in English to a Spanish-language audience, and that my own habits of speech, a tendency to make things up as a I go along – having new ideas in mid-presentation – is not only going to be a challenge for the interpretation, but also for you as an audience. So – if there is something you don’t understand, or something you think needs to be challenged – do speak up, even during the presentation. The slides I show are there as much for me as for you: I need something to keep myself on track, if you see what I mean. Anyhow, I thought it might be useful today to Say a little about how the financial and economic crises were perceived by national societies in Europe Explain a little about what the situation looked like from the perspective of an international organisation, as opposed to a national one - What national societies told us about the consequences of the crisis - what national societies told us they were doing to meet the needs they observed - and some thoughts about what we need to do to make sure we have a better response – from the international level – in the future.
There is no need to spend a lot of time analysing the origins of the financial crisis that came to light in 2008. At least not today, and here. It is a very interesting academic question for economists and policy makers, but I doubt that the Red Cross should put much energy into it. We need, however, to try and understand where the problem came from and how it spread, so as to be prepared for another time, which surely will come. So, in brief, let us recapitulate a little: The first half or so of the first decade of the new millennium was, generally, a good time to be European: most economies grew, unemployment was low, interest rates were bearable, and people were able to afford to buy houses, car, electronic equipment and generally enjoy themselves. - Behind that, however, imbalances were building up: debts were mounting, the quality of many debts – not least in the United States – was falling; countries were financing welfare improvements by borrowing rather than earning the money, lots of capital was washing about in the system looking for somewhere to be invested – and much of it was invested in property. When it became clear to the “system” that some of the larger financial institution had feet of clay, and were in danger of collapsing as a result of uncertainties about the value of their assets, the “system” more or less froze: lending stopped, the holdings of banks and other institutions fell abruptly in value and there was a real danger that the world’s financial system would collapse. It came as a surprise : almost nobody had foreseen it. And it happened very abruptly: personally I find that one of the scariest aspects of the financial crisis. But the financial crisis was contained: the world’s governments acted in concert and threw fantastic amounts of money – trillions of dollars or Euros or whatever – at the financial system – and managed to stabilise it. But there was a price to pay for the crisis. With sharply higher interest rates, with less money being lent, with less purchasing power among consumers, demand collapsed across the continent of Europe, with the result that economic activity began contracting in a deep recession – perhaps the worst since the 1930s. It could have become a depression, but again I believe that the action taken by governments averted a disaster worse than what we experienced – and many continue to experience. The crisis spread across most of the world – in some areas more severe than others. In Europe, which has such a sophisticated and advanced financial system, the contagion spread especially fast, and within months, if not weeks, we began to see the social and humanitarian consequences. Or, to be precise: Red Cross branches across the continent began to see the consequences. The economic news may be somewhat better today than they were a couple of years ago, but in many countries – including, I believe Spain – the pain of the people remains as acute as it was, and in many cases worse. In some countries the situation may be deteriorating: the debt and fiscal crises we read about in countries like Greece, Ireland and Portugal continue to push people into poverty, or keep them trapped in that condition. And at the same time, the welfare support available contracts, leaving more and more of the responsibility to act to civil society.
Before going on it might be worthwhile to remind ourselves- people like myself, perhaps more than most of you – of what vulnerability and poverty looks like in Europe – as opposed to the images of destitution we sometimes receive from other parts of the world. It is remarkable how ordinary it looks, isn’t it?
Earlier I made a distinction between what “we” observed about the effects of the economic crisis – “we” being many national societies and the International Federation – and what local Red Cross branches could see. The distinction is important in order to understand why we didn’t activate ourselves earlier than we did. The reason is that most national societies have relatively under-developed systems for information collection and management, and in many cases do not even use a vocabulary that helps aggregate information that actually is available. Let me illustrate: Some years ago when I was working in Cyprus I had some discussions with the leadership of Cyrus Red Cross about whether and what they could do about needs among migrants. Shortly afterwards, I made a tour of all the branches of Cyprus Red Cross (not very difficult, and can be done in a day), and took the opportunity to ask each of them what, if anything, they were doing for and with migrants. Nothing whatsoever they said. Absolutely not. This was slightly surprising, as I had heard otherwise from the leadership. Even more surprising as at each branch there were many people around being helped with clothing, advice, food or whatever, and who looked like they couldn’t possibly be native Cypriots. So I asked if these mightn’t be migrants? Ahhh… replied the branches, no that is something entirely different – these are not migrants, they are just people we give a hand… At the level of the branches in many European national societies, the effects of the economic crisis arrived unannounced and unlabelled: they manifested themselves, initially, as increasing demand for the ordinary and usual services and support. It took some time for this demand to be noticed as something out of the ordinary, even more for the connection to the media stories about the economic crisis was made. And it was not reported to headquarters: what headquarters heard, at first, was just the expression of pain coming from branches. In other words, even if we began hearing a little in late 2008, it was only towards the middle of 2009 that we really understood how serious the situation was and decided to gather information more systematically, by asking national societies about their perception of and response to the crisis. This resulted in a report, and we are now engage in updating that, based on the continuing humanitarian consequences of the crisis and on renewed concerns over what seems to be an accelerating upward trend in commodity process, including food prices.
As described, at the level of the International Federation, we found it difficult initially, to perceive the humanitarian consequences of the crisis – for many reasons: we are expats, not part of local communities, we have bias in direction of seeing natural disasters, and national societies are not necessarily set up and organised to generate information of this nature. We also learned about some other characteristics of our approach: I deliberately do not use the word “weakness”, because I think our lack of perception of the economic crisis is a result of being quite good at keeping an eye on natural disaster risks and public health issues. Lack of systematic information: what came available was through media – or anecdotal Lack of tools: neither national societies nor the Federation are statistical agencies. And real statistical agencies are slow. Lack of experience at international level: Europe, post second world war, has by and large been a story of economic growth and increasing welfare for nearly all people. We had a period of difficulties in the mid and late seventies, but that was ascribed to the oil shocks, and didn’t last very long. The dislocations after the fall of the Berlin wall were dealt with, but by and large it was economic growth that addressed the problems. In other words, not real, international experience of addressing massive increases in poverty and vulnerability. Lack of adequate response tools. The International Federation was created to respond to natural disasters, public health problems and population movement, and to do so either through or by supplementing the efforts of the national societies affected. The sort of events we have been meant to respond to have that in common that they occur in defined locations. Either a place is, or it isn’t affected by an earthquake. We know where the victims are, and – in advance – we can make an estimate of where we might find the most vulnerable and who they are. The consequences of an economic crisis are not localized – they can be, but tend not to – it is a matter of some people being seriously affected in nearly every city, town and village across the continent. That means that most of our response tools are inadequate: the needs and vulnerabilities caused by a massive economic crisis cannot be addressed by despatching truck-loads of blankets and tents, or bulk food, or ambulances. More than anything, we needed information, and – as already mentioned decided to obtain that from European national societies.
Europe Zone contains 52 recognized national societies in 13 time zones: it is a fairly large and varied place. In size they range Monaco to Russia, in economic performance, from the richest in the world, to situations more typical of sub-Saharan Africa. The natural instinct when wanting information from such a disparate group is to construct a questionnaire and have it translated and distributed, nag the respondents into responding, and analysing the resulting information. It is labour intensive, it is tedious, it is slow, and it is intensely irritating to busy people at the head of red cross and red crescent organizations. For that reason, we rejected the questionnaire approach in favour of a lighter, faster, and more informal methodology. We did distribute some questions – but we made sure to say that these were themes we were interested in, not interrogative, and asked for a specific time when it would be convenient for the national society to receive a phone call and discuss the issues. This approach had the advantage of enabling us to have many and good structured conversations; it gave us a very clear impression of the judgements, perceptions and priorities national societies had – but yielded less in terms of “hard” data. Currently, we are working on an update of the information we have available, using roughly the same methodology, but placing less emphasis on achieving 100% coverage and investing more energy in gathering, from secondary sources, statistical information that sets the national society information in a broader context.
Now, out of the survey of national societies came some broad conclusions. None of these are surprising, but they are nevertheless important because they are our own conclusions, not someone else’s. In the first place, nearly all, but no quite, national societies in Europe felt the impact of the economic crisis – one way or another, through increasing demand for services, declining fund-raising or less support from the government. By and large national societies managed to cope, but the stresses were great, and quite a few had to cut down on non-essential functions and staff. Most national societies said that they didn’t really observe new types of vulnerability as they saw existing types spreading to and affecting new groups. People who had never before needed assistance flocking to the red cross – often typical middle class people – to get help. In man cases these particular groups came to the Red Cross not because that was the only option, but because the Red Cross – as opposed to government agencies – would not “register” them as seekers of help: they avoided the social stigma. A fair number of national societies expressed apprehension about what increasing poverty and widening vulnerabilities might do to relations between various population groups that might believe themselves to be competing for jobs or other scarce resources. Typically, these national societies were concerned about what might happen to national minorities, Roma people, migrants and the like. National societies – particularly eastwards, and particularly among those countries that emerged from the dissolution of the Soviet Union, worried that the progress they have achieved over the past 20 years might be lost, if not all at least in part. A final broad conclusion: not all countries and national societies were affected. Some have constructed economic policies that isolates them from external shocks (at the cost of other negative) and some imply had the good fortune of being rich enough or flecible enough to absorb the shocks that came their way. Anecdotally: my friends in Norway – not the Norwegian Red Cross, I hasten to add – thought the financial crisis in the world was a jolly good thing: it meant that interest rates came down very much, and as a result the average Norwegian family had something like 400 additional Euros per month available.
Like the broad conclusions, the identification of especially vulnerable groups brought no real surprises. There were some regional variation, of course: there were few migrants returning to the EU, but returning migrants were a very vulnerable group in their countries of origin, where their families – now deprived of a source of income also had to cope with one or more additional mouths to feed. As mentioned before, “middle class” people, especially the newer members of this group, became vulnerable as a result of the crisis, and especially as a result of debts they had assumed during the boom years. In a crisis, jobs and assets disappear – debts do not, and many professionals were trapped. One group – actually many different groups – that was identified by a number of national societies as vulnerable was those who already were beneficiaries of Red Cross programmes. Many people depend on what are, by now, very complex interventions to address, for example, the spread of tuberculosis in many countries in eastern Europe. These programmes have several components – delivered by several actors. One organisation may do the medical work, and other the social mobilisation, a third the nutrition, and so on. If one of these components is removed, the rest of the programme ceases to deliver the intended results. That is serious in TB control efforts, but also illustrates that we might want to think more systmatically about the vulnerability of our programmes and interventions to external shocks.
As you can see from the slide, we do not have much original to add about the sources of vulnerability, these are by and large well known and understood. I think there are two that perhaps came out as more frequently mentioned by national societies. Whether that reflects a real phenomenon or is a result of the nature of the work done by the national societies I am not sure. However, a remarkable number of national societies mentioned the mental health component of the issues they were dealing with, the stress of coping with economic difficulties, fear and anguish about the future, and the sometimes consequent problems of alcohol and substance abuse. The same national societies that reported this also mentioned that they had initiated or planned to initiate systematic psycho-social programming in response to their observations.
So, how did national societies respond? By and large, and naturally given the resource constraints and timelines, national societies relied primarily on existing programmes that could be expanded in scope and volume. Some began developing their PSP programmes – developed to look after victims of natural disasters and similar situations – to respond to needs among those affected by the economic crisis. Quite a few national societies used cash more than they had in the past, but the same societies also reported some difficulties and concerns – accountability being one, but the classical one of getting money into the hands of those who would use the money most responsibly was also a part of the thinking. Partnership with others was mentioned as a key factor. Interestingly, quite a few national societies said they would like more advice and support in developing partnerships, illustrating – perhaps? – that the Red Cross Red Crescent sometimes keeps it self to itself a little too much. And: building on the auxiliary nature of the Red Cross, many national societies entered into more intense policy dialogue, advocacy and lobbying efforts with their respective governments – sometimes quite succesfully, at other times less so.
Other examples: Several national societies expanded their capacity to offer vacations for affected children and families Co-operation with chains of food stores Kyrgyzstan: Charitable canteen, elderly house Latvia: expanded number of humanitarian mini-centres, where distributions and advisory services are based Luxembourg placed social workers at the municipal level Some national societies did systematic assessment of prices of food and the impact on the most vulnerable Most respondents emphasized the work national societies do at the local level.
To answer the question in the headline: yes, we did. One ting we have learned is that we need to think more clearly about how we try and support national societies faced with crisis of the nature represented by the economic downturn we have witnessed. It is not the same as responding to a natural disaster. We need to develop our conceptual approach and understand “humanitarian” as a wider idea than the narrow understanding we have derived from our work in other context. National societies are probably ahead of us in this because they are closer to the actual vulnerabilities. We probably need to work more on developing mechanisms that allow for effective per-to-peer support outside of the classical resource-transfer aid model, and directed to dialogue, advocacy and lobbying rather than programming. And we need more analysis, more data, better policy – of course we do. Mostly, however, I think we need to listen actively to what national societies have to tell us, and that is what I am no ready to do. Thank you for your attention.
2a Conferència Tècnica sobre els programes de crisi de Creu Roja. Resposta de la FICR a la crisi econòmica (Tore Svenning)
Red Cross Red Crescent Response to Economic Crisis Europe Zone Office, Budapest Survey of national society response to the humanitarian consequences of the crisis
Overview <ul><li>Presentation to cover: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Brief overview of how the financial and economic crises were perceived to unfold </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The wish to, and constraints against, providing support from the international level: deciding to gather information </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The consequences of the crisis as seen by national societies </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>National Society responses </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Some thoughts on future approaches </li></ul></ul>
Economic Crisis: short recap <ul><li>Origin in financial imbalances around 2006/2007 </li></ul><ul><li>Crisis point in September 2008: near collapse of world financial system, crisis spilled over into real economy starting late 2008, intensifying in 2009 </li></ul><ul><li>Especially rapid transmission of shock in Europe due to sophisticated and integrated economic systems </li></ul><ul><li>Rapid and concerted international response to save financial system and stabilise macro-economic situation </li></ul><ul><li>Much less attention and resources allocated to mitigate social consequences </li></ul><ul><li>Today, it continues: Greece, Ireland, Portugal </li></ul>
Let’s remind ourselves who we are talking about <ul><li>A brief video </li></ul>
National Society Perceptions: <ul><li>Late 2008, scattered expressions of concern, based on reports from branches </li></ul><ul><li>January 2009, more clearly stated worries from more National Societies across Europe </li></ul><ul><li>Growing unease, and signs of pressure on many National Societies first half 2009 </li></ul><ul><li>Growing demand for assistance and services; growing pressure on funding and support </li></ul><ul><li>National Societies – not all – seeking guidance and support from International Federation </li></ul><ul><li>2010 and 2011: continuing social consequences and expanded needs, compounded by rising food prices </li></ul>
Economic Crisis: seen from IFRC <ul><ul><li>Difficult to perceive humanitarian consequences </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Lack of systematic information </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Lack of analytical tools </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Lack of experience at international level </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Lack of adequate response tools </li></ul></ul>
Getting information from national socie ties <ul><li>Early recognition a classical “questionnaire” approach would be to slow and not give the quality of evidence sought </li></ul><ul><li>Questions as basis for structured telephone conversations </li></ul><ul><li>Focus not on statistical data but on judgements and perceptions </li></ul><ul><li>Nearly 100% coverage across the Zone </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Repeated last several months, and will issue an update shortly. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Will add more quantitative data from secondary sources </li></ul></ul></ul>
Broad Outcomes of the survey <ul><li>Great majority of European National Societies experience increasing demand for services, combined with decline in resources </li></ul><ul><li>Widening vulnerability: new groups approaching RC </li></ul><ul><li>Threat to social cohesion in many countries </li></ul><ul><li>Hard-won development gains throughout Europe and Central Asia at risk </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Important also to keep in mind that not all countries were affected </li></ul></ul></ul>
Vulnerable <ul><ul><li>In EU countries, National Societies identify children and young people as particularly vulnerable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Returning migrants </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Refugees and people in refugee-like conditions </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Middle class </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Across region, single parent households, and large families </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Beneficiaries of existing programmes – if funding dries up – domestically and internationally </li></ul></ul>
Sources of vulnerability <ul><li>Unemployment </li></ul><ul><li>Loss of remittances </li></ul><ul><li>Underinvestment in social sector, compared with efforts to sort out the financial mess </li></ul><ul><li>Financial insecurity itself as a driver of vulnerability to mental health problems, alcohol and substance abuse, social isolation . </li></ul><ul><li>Pre-existing vulnerabilities </li></ul>
Types of national society response <ul><li>Reliance on continuation and expansion of existing programme activities: food, clothing, social assistance, support for medical attention </li></ul><ul><li>Psycho-social support programmes for disaster victims being adapted </li></ul><ul><li>Increasing role of and demand for cash: not for shopping but for paying utility bills </li></ul><ul><li>Innovative partnerships with utility companies to help keep electricity on over the winter </li></ul><ul><li>Intensified policy dialogue with governments and international institutions </li></ul>
National society responses: some specific examples <ul><ul><li>Finnish Red Cross: expanding advisory and practical support services based on retired social workers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hungarian Red Cross: negotiations with utility companies to waive reconnection penalty fees </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Two thirds of EU national societies included some food in their response </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Danish Red Cross decided to reorient the national society domestic activities in a more social direction </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Georgian Red Cross established a platform of RC, government and elderly to ensure this group was supported </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Icelandic Red Cross added PSP to its social activities </li></ul></ul>
Did we learn anything from this? <ul><ul><li>If noting else, that we need to think more about how we support national societies affected by economic crises </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Need to develop our conceptual approaches: humanitarian consequences stem from sources other than natural disasters and armed conflict </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A humanitarian crisis may occur within a broadly positive development trend </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The importance of ensuring mutual peer-to-peer support for dialogue with individual governments </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Need for continuing analysis, dialogue with national societies and, eventually, policy development </li></ul></ul>
Future directions? <ul><ul><li>With S2020 there is an updated strategic framework better able to accommodate new ideas on response to humanitarian consequences of economic crises </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>National societies emphasise the importance of support for forging new partnerships with government, NGOs and other actors </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Further development of cash-based forms of support to individuals and families </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Development of national societies as channels for early-warning information about social crises at the community level </li></ul></ul>