Singapore must be ready for emergencies such as the Little India riot by arming people with skills and knowledge so that they can take control when the need arises, said the head of the Singapore Red Cross (SRC).
"If there is any weakness in our society, it's that we have become very affluent and we have become very successful - which is not wrong."
But that might lead to "some sense of complacency", said Singapore Red Cross secretary general Benjamin William yesterday on the sidelines of a regional Red Cross event.
Mr Jagan Chapagain, director of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Asia-Pacific, also warned against taking things for granted at the the
11th annual gathering for regional leaders of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.
"It shows that even in the best and the most secure society, things can go wrong very quickly with a very small incident," he told reporters, referring to the Little India unrest last
For its part, the SRC is focusing on building up first-aid capabilities and encouraging more people to donate blood, so medical emergencies can be quickly resolved, said Mr William.
So far, the Singapore Red Cross Academy has trained 38,000 people in first aid. The SRC aims to have "one first aider in every home", he said.
People should also be taught what to do during disasters so that they can respond swiftly, he added. And the country needs a strong network of volunteers who can be called on for help - both overseas and locally.
The SRC's focus today, said Mr William, is not just about taking action when disaster strikes but also building a resilient community.
"Societies which are resilient, which have been prepared, are actually able to recover faster and will suffer fewer losses," he said.
Mr William's comments come on the back of news that investment company Temasek Holdings would set up a $40 million fund to help Singaporeans prepare for emergencies.
About 60 delegates at the event heard from IFRC secretary general Bekele Geleta, who gave the first public lecture under the SRC's newly-launched Humanitarian Lecture Series.
He said more than 90 per cent of first responders during disasters are locals. "We can help them to save more lives in a crisis by advocating for first aid and disaster preparedness
training to be accessible to people at all stages of life," he added.
Mr Geleta, a former political prisoner in Ethiopia, is making his last visit to the region as IFRC secretary general. He will step down in June after nearly six years.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.