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The Humanitarian Work of the Red Cross

by Col. (Retd) Christopher Chua
Secretary-General of Singapore Red Cross
(please refer below for the speaker's profile)

Date: 19th August 2009, Thursday
RSIS Conference Room 1, Level B4, RSIS, NTU
Time: 3.00pm - 4.30pm


On 11 December 2008, the United Nations General Assembly designated 19 August as World Humanitarian Day in recognition of the work carried out by humanitarian personnel worldwide. To commemorate the first World Humanitarian Day, Secretary-General of the Singapore Red Cross, Col. (Retd) Christopher Chua introduced the Red Cross as an international movement and spoke at length about the local and overseas work carried out by the Singapore Red Cross. Finally, he addressed the challenges facing humanitarian work.


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an independent, neutral organisation ensuring humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of war and armed violence. In situations of armed conflict the ICRC coordinates the response by the national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. Red Crescent societies are so-named to accommodate Islamic countries and have similar functions as National Red Cross Societies. The ICRC is mostly funded by states and supra-national organisations such as the European Commission.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is the world's largest humanitarian organisation that operates in non-conflict areas. The organisation was founded in 1919 and focuses on promoting humanitarian principles, disaster response, disaster preparedness and health. It has a unique network of 186 National Societies with 100 million volunteers and is funded through annual funding appeals, emergency appeals and statutory contributions by the Red Cross National Societies. As one of the 186 National Societies, the Singapore Red Cross (SRC) is a voluntary organisation and an auxiliary of the Singapore government. Its overseas work is focused on medical missions, relief distribution and reconstruction in the recovery phase of a disaster.

During the initial stages of a natural disaster where assistance may be most urgently required, humanitarian operations tend to be hampered by a paucity of information. Apart from information gathered from the Red Cross National Society located in the affect country, the SRC tries to seek alternative sources of information, such as business networks. Further, as the Red Cross requires approval from the host government before it can proceed to the disaster area, the speed of communication in the aftermath of a disaster is crucial. Hence, destruction of communications and transportation infrastructure would also hamper humanitarian missions.

In addition, there are issues of logistics and coordination depending on the scale of the disaster and the accessibility of the affected areas. In order to ensure aid packages reach the disaster victims rapidly, the SRC partners the Singapore Armed Forces as the military is well-equipped to rapidly transport aid packages via military planes. However, as numerous humanitarian workers and aid enter the receiving country, the local authorities will have to establish a coordination centre to oversee and coordinate all humanitarian missions to minimise confusion and ensure the swift distribution of relief supplies.

Lastly, the availability of funding is a major challenge as fund raising in the aftermath of a disaster requires time and the eventual funds raised may be insufficient to last till the recovery phase. Hence, it may be advisable to establish a general disaster fund that can be used to stockpile food and emergency supplies in the initial stages of a disaster, while additional funds raised in the aftermath of the disaster can be used for rebuilding purposes.


One participant wanted to know whether the Red Cross works with paramilitaries and insurgents in situations of armed conflict. Col. (Retd) Chua replied that the dynamics in conflict zones require the ICRC to work with not just the government, but also the paramilitaries and insurgents, in order to provide humanitarian assistance to the affected people. However, the ICRC would not divulge the whereabouts of the insurgents to the authorities.

Another question was raised concerning the role of the SRC in a pandemic crisis. As the Singapore government coordinates pandemic preparedness and response plans at the national level, the SRC assists in temperature checks and the delivery of essential supplies to the people under home quarantine. On the regional level, the SRC shares its business continuity plans with partners in other countries and conducts training in basic healthcare and hygiene.

Finally, a participant interested in volunteering for the SRC asked how the organisation selects its volunteers. Col. (Retd) Chua replied that it is most important to have the passion for humanitarian work as skills and training can be acquired. The SRC conducts courses for volunteers in areas such as psycho-social training, first aid, logistics, and regional cultural sensitivities.

About the Speaker:

Col. (Rtd) ChuaCol. (Retd) Christopher Chua served the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) for 30 years. He retired from SAF in 2004. During his career in SAF, he held various command and staff appointments. Some of the prominent appointments held include Commanding Officer of the 6th Singapore Infantry Regiment (6 SIR) and Brigade Commander of the 15th Infantry Brigade (15 SIB). He also served as Senior Medical Officer (SMO) in Headquarters Medical Corps where he was responsible for the review and improvement of the operational plans for overseas relief missions and deployment of medical elements in United Nations Missions.

In 1998, he organised the acquisition and delivery of Medical Humanitarian Aid provision to Indonesia during Operation Rainbow. Col. (Retd) Christopher Chua also served as Defence Attache for 3½ years in Jakarta where he was responsible for maintaining and improving bilateral relations. Besides his military appointments, Col. (Retd) Chua also served as Honorary Aide-de-Camp to the President from 1995 to 2000. For his meritorious service to the SAF, Col. (Retd) Chua was bestowed 2 State Awards, namely the Public Administration Medal (Bronze) (Military) and the Long Service Award (25 years). Col. (Retd) Chua joined the Singapore Red Cross in 2005 as Senior Manager (Operations) and was promoted to his current position of Secretary-General in 2007. He has been involved in the reconstruction efforts in the tsunami hit areas of Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka. He was also responsible for coordinating the relief efforts in last year’s disasters in Myanmar and Szechuan.

Posted on: 19/8/2009 3:00:00 PM  |  Topic: Internal and Cross-Border Conflict

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