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European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
Richer and more fragile: how can we learn to live in a more volatile world?
Salzburg Global Seminar/Salzburg
28 June 2013
Let me first of all thank the Salzburg Global Seminar very warmly for the kind invitation. I am delighted to be with you because I myself owe a lot to Salzburg. And it is great to be able to brainstorm with an audience that brings such a wealth and variety of experience to the discussion.
Rather than reading off an abstract speech, I wanted to share with you some observations from my everyday job as EU Commissioner for humanitarian aid and civil protection (which means, in short, the EU's immediate response to crises beyond its borders). And to see how some of the things I see in my job relate to broader trends – all of which we can subsume under this heading of "a more fragile world". And finally, say a few words on the institutions we have for dealing with those broad global trends.
1. A more fragile world
Let me start by simply sharing with you what I did on Monday and Tuesday of this week. I went to Jordan with Emma Bonino, the Italian Foreign Minister (and quite coincidentally also a previous EU humanitarian aid Commissioner). This was my 3rd visit to the region in 7 months. Why? Because Syria is a crisis like no other. In its scale. In its ferocity. In its sheer savagery. Syria is the crisis I lose sleep over.
As on my previous visits, I met people in the main refugee camp in Jordan. They have seen unspeakable things. But what was new and terrifying this time round is the very tangible fear they have of the sectarian conflict spreading beyond Syria's borders. To Lebanon. To Egypt.
We are of course providing humanitarian aid. Massively – to a point where we as EU, and other donors too, are hitting the outermost limits of our budgetary capability. Only this week, as EU, we allocated an additional € 400 m for Syria, taking our total assistance to date to € 1.3 bn. And still the needs go up – 1.6 m refugees, and counting. 4.2 m internally displaced, and counting. More than 100,000 dead, and counting.
We will continue to provide humanitarian aid – and so we should. Helping people get through the third winter of war. Giving refugees a sense of dignity. But that cannot distract from the utter powerlessness of the international community in dealing with the underlying issues. Let's face it: in Syria we have seen the total, absolute, unmitigated failure of diplomacy. Syria itself is now beyond fragility - but the wider region is becoming extremely fragile. Let's hope we do not collectively fail on that front.
Now to another kind of fragility. Last week, I went to Chad. A country about as far removed from the headlines these days as Syria is constantly in the headlines. But which is buffeted by more than one crisis at once:
What you have now in Chad is a situation of chronic crisis. Chronic fragility. Not occasional one-off disasters – but a creeping, on-going state of crisis, in which people are only getting by thanks to international assistance.
So – just two very different examples of extreme fragility, taken almost at random from a look at my calendar this week and last. I could add others: the Central African Republic, where I will go in ten days time. The floods that have hit this part of Europe in recent weeks – less lethal fortunately, but causing massive damage. Or looking further afield - Japan's Fukushima disaster in 2011, which was a strong reminder of how vulnerable, how fragile even the most advanced and best prepared societies can be.
2. The wider trend: disasters, climate change, population growth…
That takes me to my second point. These are not random events. They are part of a wider trend:
So, speaking of climate change: 80% of disasters are climate-linked. And the reality of climate change is plain for anyone to see, looking at weather patterns over the past 130 years.
We all know the overall trend of climate change is bad. But one of the sad privileges of my current job is that I see "in real time" what these trends mean for some of the most vulnerable people on Earth. Such as in the Sahel or the Horn of Africa. And here we are not talking about science fiction. We are talking about people's livelihoods – and indeed their survival – being hit hard, right now. I saw that in Chad last week – a country where entire regions have become dependent on food aid year in, year out. And on a recent trip to the Horn of Africa, I picked up a frightening statistic about how climate change is affecting people's holdings of livestock – meaning, the very basis of their livelihoods. In the Somali region of Ethiopia, scientists have been able to track the ownership and composition of livestock herds in the 30-year period before 1974, and the 30-year period after 1974. And the findings are striking: the livestock holdings of the poor and very poor are almost wiped out. Ownership moves to the wealthier parts of the population. And holdings of cows as a species are almost entirely replaced by goats, sheep and camels.
But just as important as climate change, and much less talked about: the impact of population growth. The latest UN projections are stark. Another one billion people within the next twelve years. Almost 10 bn people in 2050.
But these are only the overall predictions. What the figures don't tell you is what will happen in some of the most vulnerable regions. Like the Sahel – where annual population growth averages 3%. Which does not sound like much – until you realize that it means the population will almost double in 20 years in a country like Chad.
I have to worry about these things as humanitarian aid Commissioner. But we should actually all worry about them from a much wider perspective. Why?
3. Is the global governance system fit for purpose?
That takes me to my last point: is the international system fit to deal with these acute issues of fragility? Just a few reflections here:
Let me conclude on this note: at the end of the day, it is all about leadership. In the context of fragility, that means leadership which is not purely reactive – but addresses issues before they blow up. On Syria, no one will ever know if the current tragedy could have been prevented with more proactive leadership. On climate change and population growth, I know that if we do not see more assertive leadership, we will all be in very big trouble.
This seems a fitting conclusion for a Salzburg seminar speech, because Salzburg is really about transformative leadership. And I am sure this board meeting will make its contribution to empowering the next generation of transformative leaders. But for now, I would be very happy to take your questions.