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March 11, 2010

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Humanitarian issues on show

THIS spring, Shanghai, one of the world's most dynamic financial and business centers, will host the eagerly awaited World Expo 2010. Millions of visitors from all over the world will come to experience a truly international effort exploring the theme "Better City, Better Life" through hundreds of different perspectives in the many pavilions, exhibitions and events.

The World Expo is a tremendous opportunity for the world's largest humanitarian movement, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, to share its vision and engage visitors on some of the most important questions shaping life in the many different types of urban environments existing today.

"Priceless Life - Humanity Without Borders" is the theme of the pavilion, where among other themes, we will look at the effects caused by natural disasters on urban communities, the lack of hygiene and access to safe drinking water, public health and communicable diseases. The human costs of natural disasters and armed conflict or violence are often even more dramatic and visible in urban centers than elsewhere.

Disruption of vital services, like water and electricity supply, health and educational institutions, the sudden loss of housing facilities, of sources of income and of livelihoods are all too common tragedies that many people have to endure. Millions of Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and volunteers all over the world work to prevent and alleviate human suffering, wherever it occurs, relentlessly fulfilling the humanitarian mission of the movement.

For people who would like to be active in, and for, their communities, be it in the field of first aid, primary health care, social services to vulnerable members of the community or during times of disaster and conflicts, the volunteer network of the Red Cross or Red Crescent is an excellent channel offering concrete programs and activities. Indeed, such engagement and humanity are even more important in today's urban environments that are becoming ever larger and more anonymous.

Join celebration

We shall also welcome visitors to the pavilion to join in the celebration of the World Red Cross, Red Crescent Day on May 8, during which we will highlight some humanitarian issues at the occasion of an international forum and a gala concert jointly organized by our colleagues of the Chinese, Japanese and South Korean Red Cross societies.

An expected 70 million visitors will be interacting with over 200 countries, regions and organizations on the different approaches to, and experience with, one of the fastest growing global social phenomena of our times: the ever growing urban spaces and the people living in them.

Surely, Shanghai with its rapid development over the last 30 years, so impressively symbolized by the skyline of Pudong, is an excellent location to share ideas on how we can make "Better City, Better Life" a reality for the millions who have moved to cities but could not find the economic security or prosperity that the new urban life had promised.

Together with our partner Red Cross or Red Crescent societies and other humanitarian organizations, we have done our best to ensure a measure of protection and provide assistance to victims during some of the darkest hours many cities in different parts of the world have endured. Lessening the suffering of many who are caught up in a vicious circle of violence, poses rather complex challenges, not least the safety of the staff and volunteers.

Nonetheless, the Red Cross movement will continue to adapt its activities to respond to the needs created by a changing, increasingly urbanized world.

I was pleased to open the Beijing Regional Delegation for East Asia in 2005, when the International Committee of the Red Cross set up its representation. Since then, I am encouraged to see that the dialogue and cooperation between the ICRC and a range of governmental and academic partners have increased.

I was also impressed by the way our colleagues of the Red Cross Society of China have risen to the challenge of responding to the huge needs created by the earthquake in Sichuan Province in May 2008, a momentous task which still occupies them up to this day. And I would like to take this opportunity to pay a tribute to the Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and volunteers that make a difference every day to the lives of countless people in many countries throughout the world.

I sincerely believe that this exhibition can contribute to the common goal of making the ever-growing cities better and safer places to live in.

The World Expo 2010 Shanghai might be seen in the future as an important milestone in cross-cultural communication, which will deepen the understanding between China and the world.

Jakob Kellenberger

Jakob Kellenberger, born in 1944, has been the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross since 1998. A specialist in French and Spanish literature and linguistics, Kellenberger started his diplomatic career with the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. From 1989 to 1998 he headed several Swiss delegations in negotiations with the European Union.


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