The face of change: after years of travelling the world as a Swiss ambassador, Walter Fust's latest job--as head of the Global Humanitarian Forum--is right up his alley. Swiss News gets a special preview.

AuteurMangold-Vine, Gail


Launched by Swiss officials and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Global Humanitarian Forum is gearing up for action after months of preparation.

Its first annual meeting on June 24 and 25 will look at how climate change impacts people and how those impacts can be softened with practical strategies.

For CEO-designate Walter Fust, 63, international advocacy is not a radical departure from a lifetime of experience that included Swiss diplomatic postings in the Middle East and Asia.

He still chairs two international bodies within UNESCO--the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization--and sits on a UN committee concerned with finding ways to enhance development using information and communication technologies.

And he just stepped down as Director General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, a position in which he repeatedly challenged international players to step up humanitarian aid and combat climate change--pivotal concerns that will converge in the agenda of the Forum:

"The humanitarian impact of climate change is real," he told Swiss News in a recent interview at the Forum offices in Geneva's Villa Rigot, across the street from the UN's European headquarters.

"Lives are claimed, homes destroyed, families uprooted ... The devastation we've seen so far just risks getting that much worse in the future," he said.

"And the people most affected are usually the world's poorest, most vulnerable groups."

In earlier media interviews, Fust has said global warming threatens vital development. "The relevance of climate change to development aid is obvious now," Fust told swissinfo in January. And the impact of natural disasters is just one of the potential threats:

"It's said that wars kill development aid. If we do not adapt to climate change, a lot of development that has already been carried out will be destroyed too."

Geneva's international role

After the Forum studies what Fust calls "the human face of climate change", it will seek solutions to other humanitarian crises, he said. As it does, it is expected to showcase Geneva's international role.

This is not entirely coincidental. The forum was organised in response to a study commissioned by the Swiss government, to determine "what needs to be addressed if Geneva is still to play a top role in international peace and humanitarianism in 2015," Fust said.

In effect, the study recommended creating a platform where issues could...

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