Message by President Michael D. Higgins GOAL’s Senior Leaders’ Conference
Áras an Uachtaráin, Monday, 27th July 2020
I welcome the opportunity of sending a message of encouragement, support and appreciation of the hard work to GOAL’s global team who have continued to support vulnerable communities in the most difficult and trying conditions.
In every decade the international community has committed to, for example, ending global poverty, eliminating hunger, ending conflict. In every decade the international community fails for known and avoidable reasons in so many cases. We must persist.
Yet there must be a response that is immediate and that acknowledges structures of oppression to that challenge to which our Irish NGOs respond. I have seen GOAL’s response on the ground in so many places – Somalia comes to mind.
GOAL is one of Ireland’s longest-serving humanitarian agencies, founded over 40 years ago, and while the organisation maintains its reputation as a brave and agile first-responder to humanitarian crisis, your annual conference for senior leaders within GOAL is, thus, a valuable opportunity to take stock and reflect on how the most vulnerable communities can be helped to survive crises, including new threats, such as COVID-19, and be supported on the long road to recovery. To your reflection you bring a valuable experience delivered with empathy.
GOAL participates in vital humanitarian work across the globe, work that is aimed at achieving an enduring, peaceful and fulfilling balance between the needs of peoples, sustainable economy and a responsible care for the planet’s ecological capacity.
This is all being done – you will be as aware as I am – at a time in which there was perhaps never a greater need to be engaged in multilateralism, yet many of the most powerful shamefully advocate a move away from multilateral approaches, thus sowing the seeds for further division, unrest, instability and inequality.
In every decade, as I have said, the world has committed to ending extreme poverty, but it has failed. On top of this failure is piled the experience of COVID-19. In the countries where GOAL works, there is now the further deepening pandemic of hunger.
COVID-19 is a global problem, and thus it requires a global response. Yet a multi-layered crisis of COVID, malnutrition, hunger and resources cannot wait. Societies differ in their capacity to respond. While COVID-19 is a global threat, it is the most vulnerable, wherever they are, who are at most risk.
To those who work for GOAL, I offer solidarity. Workers need to know that they have solidarity. Working alone or in isolation would be impossible. The moments of weakness require a sharing.
In 2019 GOAL supported over 6 million people in 13 countries of operation: Ethiopia, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Malawi, Niger, Sierra, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Importantly, this year you have been first on the ground in solidarity with communities coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, having reached almost 13 million people with public health messaging since the start of this devastating crisis in March.
Further analysis of GOAL’s COVID-19 impact since March demonstrates that your organisation reached 700,000 people with increased access to water in Niger and Syria predominantly, but also in Sudan and Sierra Leone; some 114,000 people were provided with soap and other hygiene items in Ethiopia, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere; and 700 health facilities are being supported to increase capacity to implement infection prevention control measures across seven countries, serving nearly 3.6 million people. These are wonderful achievements, ones that have a life beyond the immediate.
Traosláim libh uilig as an obair seo. Gan é, beadh na géarchéimeanna daonnúla atá os comhair muintir na dtíortha a luaigh mé i bhfad níos measa.
[May I commend all of you for this work without which the humanitarian situations facing the people of the countries to which I have referred would be even graver.]
It is depressing for all of us, but sadly it is necessary to note, that today, across our vulnerable planet, the number of people in crisis and displacement is at the highest level in recorded times. Violent conflicts now are likely to have multiple actors, and demonstrate more complexity and longevity than ever before. The average length of a humanitarian crisis is now in excess of nine years, according to the United Nations. This is an increase from an average length of just over 5 years in 2014.
By the end of 2019, the United Nations informs us that some 26 million people, half of whom were children, were forced to seek refuge, leaving their homes as they fled from violence, conflict and disaster. Some 79.5 million are now forcibly displaced, with three-in-four refugees living in countries neighbouring their country of origin.
Yet today, in terms of addressing the sources of this displacement, just ten percent of development assistance is spent on peacebuilding and conflict resolution, while military expenditure continues to soar, now standing at almost $2 trillion globally.
We are not free to despair, however. Rather, we must work together in the space for what is possible, a new eco-social embedded economy of universal basic services provision. This represents little less than a paradigm shift in thinking. Now is the time for us to reassert our belief in, and support for, justice, human rights and sustainable development within a diversity of cultural models.
We must strive to build this culture of peace and human rights with an emphasis on the protection of those migrants who seek merely the sufficiency of life and who are now, in new circumstances, being forced into involuntary migration due to conflicts sourced in the consequences of climate change. The debate for new forms of eco-social economy is under way. It is not more of the same failure. It is a new moment, a new debate with room for us all, and we must win.
May I conclude with a message of thanks to you all for your crucial, tireless work, without which the gravity of the global humanitarian crisis would be so unimaginably worse. I do so hope that your conference will be a stimulating and fruitful event, and I wish you well in your continued efforts working with the most vulnerable communities around the world, not only in reducing extreme poverty, but in achieving the empathetic policies our vulnerable planet needs to survive.