Experience, networks from Covid-19 essential in tackling future challenges: Vivian Balakrishnan

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that even as Singapore emerges from the pandemic, there will be more challenges to come. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan visiting the booths at the Singapore Red Cross Humanitarian Conference on Sept 10, 2022. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - The experience, networks and lessons learnt from Covid-19 will help Singapore tackle future pandemics as well as challenges such as climate change, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Saturday.

He added: "We have been through perhaps the worst pandemic in a century, but this is not the first, this is not the last and this is not the most severe virus confronting humanity. And frankly, my own view is that this is a full dress rehearsal and there's likely to be more and worse to come.

"Therefore, everything that we do now, in terms of building a network, mobilising resources and volunteers and working with each other is absolutely essential. We cannot afford to take our eyes off the ball."

Dr Balakrishnan was speaking at the annual Singapore Red Cross Humanitarian Conference at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, which is into its seventh iteration.

This year's theme, Humanitarian Responses to Covid-19: Anxiety and Hope, shaped discussions that focused on immediate consequences as well as the long-term implications of how organisations and people gave help during the pandemic.

Addressing more than 300 delegates from the humanitarian and health sectors, the minister said that even as Singapore cautiously emerges from the pandemic, there will be more challenges to come.

He noted issues surrounding climate change, natural disasters, political crises in Myanmar and Sri Lanka, and the ongoing war in Ukraine.

"The world is in a more dangerous and a more volatile place. This combination of geopolitics, economic problems, environmental problems is existential. All these factors… are interacting in a vicious spiral and one crisis makes the next even worse," said Dr Balakrishnan, emphasising that the experience, networks and resources the delegates have made are essential to tackling these future challenges.

Mr Tan Kai Hoe, chairman of Singapore Red Cross (SRC), noted that the conference is an important platform for stakeholders to work together and find better solutions for the pressing humanitarian challenges faced by society.

Touching on the work the SRC has done, he said the organisation supported communities in 37 countries by providing essentials such as personal protection equipment, ventilators and oxygen concentrators during the pandemic.

"We had to overcome numerous road blocks, last-minute curveballs and bureaucratic challenges. All of which are valuable lessons for future responses," said Mr Tan.

Addressing Singapore's regional preparedness for future disasters, Dr Balakrishnan said: "The broader question is: How can we urgently reorient our multilateral institutions to meet the challenges that we will face today and tomorrow?

"There is no need to reinvent the wheel. We do have a multilateral world, multilateral systems, institutions and Cabinets. But we need to be far more nimble and far more networked... and we need to be able to bring together different structures and stakeholders so that we can be far more effective."

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