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  December 1999    

WHO Director-General delivers 1999 Nansen lecture
On 17 November, the UNU, in cooperation with the Royal Norwegian Embassy and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, hosted the 1999 Fridtjof Nansen Memorial Lecture. This year's lecturer was Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) and former Prime Minister of Norway.

The topic of Dr. Harlem Brundtland's lecture was "Preparing for the Worst: Can we give hope to victims in complex emergencies?" She discussed humanitarian responses to the deep social crises in which large numbers of people suffer from man-made disasters, including war displacement, disease and hunger.

The Fridtjof Nansen Memorial Lecture is held annually to commemorate the birth of Fridjtof Nansen, Norwegian explorer, scientist, and humanist. Nansen, who undertook several expeditions to the Arctic, was a founding father of the League of Nations and its first High Commissioner for Refugees. He headed the large-scale humanitarian relief operations in the wake of the Russian revolution and the First World War, and in 1922 received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his achievements.

Throughout her lecture, Dr. Harlem Brundtland linked the complex situations facing development and health workers today to those that Nansen once faced. Citing his achievements as proof that yes, we can give hope to victims in complex emergencies, she suggested that Nansen's greatest humanitarian legacy may be that he has helped us to realize that "charity is realpolitik."

"We are facing an enormous challenge," Dr. Harlem Brundtland said. "With the exception of the Second World War, the world has never seen so many people displaced as it has witnessed over the past 15 years. Some 50 million people - about 1 per cent of the world population - have been uprooted and driven from their homes." She concluded her lecture with a strong call to the international community not to wait in striving "for human progress, dignity and development - for this generation, and for those to come."

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