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By Scott Bobb
Johannesburg
22 October 2008

Red Cross and Red Crescent societies from around Africa concluded a Pan-African conference in South Africa looking at the challenges to humanitarian efforts during the next four years. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg.

The African Red Cross and Red Crescent said in addition to traditional challenges such as war, disaster and disease, they are facing newer tests from migration, urban violence and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Red Cross societies from Africa's 53 nations reached these conclusions during a three-day conference in Johannesburg.

The deputy-head of the International Red Cross Federation, Ibrahim Osman, told VOA that the organization is particularly concerned about outbreaks of violence in urban areas such as were seen this past year in Kenya and South Africa.

"Most of the violence actually comes from the young people and that is because either they do not have skills or they have gone through unfortunate drug abuse or some of the habits which do not help them create a conducive way to work with each other and have a sense of [social] cohesion," he said.

He said the Red Cross is working with local communities to promote humanitarian principles among the youth and a sense of culture. And it wants to raise skills through vocational training and ease social tensions through activities such as sports.

Noting that Africa is a major source of migration, Osman said local Red Cross committees are seeking to promote awareness among would-be migrants of the hardships they face if they seek to go abroad, especially illegally.

He said Red Cross societies in major destination countries are also working to ensure migrants who arrive are given humanitarian support until their legal status is resolved.

African Red Cross groups also decided to strengthen prevention campaigns against HIV/AIDS, using successful programs such as in Uganda and parts of southern Africa. And they want to strengthen home care to ensure that victims of full-blown AIDS regularly take the extensive medication used to combat the virus.

Osman said amidst these challenges, there is concern that the global financial crisis and looming recession could hurt donations.

He added, "We fear that the public may feel a bit scared about the future and so they will not be as generous as they used to be. The second part is how governments continue to support us especially if some of their resources are being diverted to help the financial institutions that are at risk."

Nevertheless, he said governments have not signaled any reduction in their support for his organization.

The conference opened Monday with the launching of a "Believe in Africa" campaign aimed at promoting positive news coming out of Africa. The campaign was created after a study revealed that three-fourths of the news of Africa was on negative subjects such as war, famine and poverty.

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