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International humanitarian system is increasingly stretched: Julie Bishop

By Jemima Garrett for Pacific Beat, Thursday November 14, 2013 - 17:00 EDT
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Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says Australia will continue to be a generous aid donor. - ABC

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says the international humanitarian system must improve its efficiency, quality and reach.

Ms Bishop told delegates at the International Red Cross and Red Crescent societies conference in Sydney that the system is being increasingly stretched by conflicts and crises.

The new types of conflict are leading to more attacks targeting aid workers.

Ms Bishop says the independent non-combatant status of the Red Cross and Red Crescent must be respected.

"Ensuring that parties to conflict allow access for humanitarian assistance and refrain from attacks on protected medical personnel, vehicles and facilities is utterly vital," she said.

Conflicts are being fuelled by international trade in weapons, something the new has been set up to regulate.

Ms Bishop highlighted the destructive impact of small arms in conflicts in Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste and Bougainville.

"The unregulated spread of small arms is a disease at the heart of society," she said.

Since April 114 states have signed the Arms Trade Treaty and eight have ratified it.

Australia's Ambassador to the United Nations Peter Woolcott has called for accelerated efforts to secure the 50 ratification's needed to bring the treaty into force.

"I hope to see the Arms Trade Treaty enter into force by the end of 2014, yet I remain mindful that the treaty is only, and ultimately only, a framework, " he said.

"We have to keep working and building to ensure that it really does reduce human suffering as we all hope it will.

"And that will only come through implementation and all of you can play a very important part in that."

Representatives from more than 180 countries are attending the International Red Cross and Red Crescent's meetings in Sydney this week.

Australian assistance

Speaking at a Forum on the Changing Face of Humanitarian Action on Monday, Ms Bishop said the Australian Government is moving quickly to help the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.

Ms Bishop has approved a .

She says the disasters like Haiyan call for a coordinated humanitarian response, and "Australia will continue to be a principled and generous aid donor."

Ms Bishop did not mention the new government's cuts to aid but said that as Australia faces its own economic challenges, it is important it maximise the effectiveness of its aid dollars.

"This means focusing our investments on areas that will produce the greatest economic, social and humanitarian outcomes," she said.

"It is a tragic truth that humanitarian crises cost lives, reverse economic and social progress and cost billions in recovery efforts."

Beyond natural disasters, the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, Bekele Galeta, highlighted the changing environments in which organisations must deliver humanitarian aid.

Mr Galeta said in many places people have lost confidence in their governments and are demanding transparency, opportunity and justice for all.

He says the Occupy movement, the so-called Arab Spring, and conflict in Syria and elsewhere are examples of this phenomenon - and new thinking is needed.

"I believe that it is time for radical change in how we work and live together and how we address our world's vulnerability's and its aspirations," Mr Galeta said.

"Can the Red Cross and Red Crescent and civil society help reduce the risk of another humanitarian catastrophe, like Syria, ever happening again? I believe that we can contribute."


- ABC

© ABC 2013

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