DPM Heng Swee Keat at the Mercy Relief 20th Anniversary Gala Dinner

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 28 November 2023

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at Mercy Relief's 20th Anniversary Gala Dinner on 28 November 2023.


Mr Satwant Singh, Chairman, Mercy Relief,

Board Members,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good evening, I am delighted to join you to celebrate Mercy Relief’s 20th anniversary.

Disaster relief agencies like Mercy Relief are always important, for disasters are an unfortunate yet unavoidable fixture in human history.

Natural disasters like earthquakes and floods cause devastation and loss. Yet arguably, man-made disasters like war are even more heartbreaking, because they are mostly avoidable.

The heartening thing is that over time, our response to disasters has evolved and improved significantly.

In the past, a deadly volcanic eruption or a devastating flood could wipe out entire villages and cities without the rest of the world even knowing.

The concept of disaster relief was at best, a localised one.

In today’s connected and globalised world, news of a disaster can spread in mere seconds.

It is easier to mobilise national effort, as well as regional and global humanitarian response, when disaster strikes.

It could be traditional methods like collecting basic necessities to convey to the disaster area, or sending teams to support ground operations.

More importantly, contributing to disaster relief is now as easy as scanning a QR code to make a donation to reputable organisations.

This is often the fastest way of contributing.

And in so doing, we tap into our common humanity, to provide help, hope and healing to those who are miles and oceans away, as Chairman Satwant mentioned earlier.

For the past two decades, Mercy Relief has provided a platform for Singapore to contribute and care for communities affected by disasters.

In the early days, Mercy Relief focused on regional disaster relief efforts.

Just a year after its formation, Mercy Relief was tested by the Boxing Day Indian Ocean Tsunami, which claimed 250,000 lives and displaced 2 million people.

Mercy Relief mounted 17 medical relief missions, involving 120 volunteers over four months.

You worked alongside the Singapore Armed Forces and the Singapore Civil Defence Force to provide humanitarian aid to survivors in Aceh, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Mercy Relief organised  the outpouring of contributions from Singaporeans, processing 1,500 tonnes of relief supplies.

Mercy Relief also helped to refurbish and reconstruct schools and orphanages damaged by the tsunami.

Since then, Mercy Relief has conducted 92 relief operations across 27 countries, spanning Southeast Asia, South Asia and beyond.

In fact, Mercy Relief has been providing humanitarian assistance to Gaza for more than 15 years.

It is currently in discussion with the Rahmatan Lil Alamin Foundation and our mosques to raise funds for the current conflict.

While disaster relief is stressful and often chaotic work, Mercy Relief has always conducted operations with professionalism and transparency.

This is important for building trust, not just with the communities in need, but with donors who seek assurance that their funds are well utilised and making a positive impact.

Over the years, Mercy Relief has built up expertise as well as strong networks.

These enable you to channel humanitarian aid more efficiently and effectively, and sustain impact on the communities you serve.

For example, during the initial disaster response and recovery phase, trusted partners and networks are critical as they enable aid to be rendered quickly, practically, and effectively.

During the recent Turkiye earthquake, Mercy Relief launched a fundraising appeal, and worked with Turkish NGO Hayrat Yardim to send hot meals and blankets to survivors of the earthquake.

You have also helped to build capabilities for organisations which are keen to contribute to disaster relief efforts.

Your training for the Rahmatan Lil Alamin Foundation equipped volunteers with the knowledge and skills to contribute effectively to humanitarian needs on the ground.

Beyond the acute phase, Mercy Relief also works with communities to develop disaster resilience and create the conditions for sustainable development and economic growth.

Over the years, you have launched 76 post-disaster projects to strengthen the community’s preparedness for future disasters.

These range from constructing hospitals and clinics, to developing sustainable farming programmes and training rural hospitals.

Through these projects, you equip communities with the tools, knowledge and resources to become more self-sufficient, and to chart a sustainable path to recovery and prosperity.

I mentioned earlier that disasters are an unavoidable fixture of life, but in today’s more volatile and troubled world, the risk of disasters has grown.

Geopolitical conflicts are occurring in many parts of the world, causing human suffering and devastation.

At the same time, climate change is giving rise to more natural disasters such as floods and wildfires.

But even as disasters fracture lives and damage livelihoods, it need not break the human spirit.

Through the work of organisations like Mercy Relief, we can in fact build solidarity around our shared humanity.

When disaster strikes, it brings diverse communities and people from all walks of life together to care for those who are suffering.

Through fundraising, in-kind donations, or serving as a volunteer, these remind us of our collective capacity and responsibility to care for one another.

And in so doing, we persevere at building a global social compact that can transcend geography, politics and other differences.

We can begin by rallying collective effort across the globe to support those who are suffering or displaced by disasters, natural or otherwise.

And where we can, we should take the further step of helping to rebuild and empower communities.

This is how we can strengthen our collective solidarity, towards building a more peaceful and prosperous world.

I am glad that Mercy Relief has been flying the Singapore flag high, and carrying the well wishes of Singaporeans and people living in Singapore to communities near and afar.

Singapore may be a small country of diverse people, but it does not limit our capacity to care and contribute.

The impact of Mercy Relief’s work over the years serves as encouragement that every bit of effort matters and can make a difference.

Such is the hope and promise that organisations like Mercy Relief bring – channelling goodwill, spreading compassion, and providing support to affected communities during times of need.

My warmest congratulations to Mercy Relief on this milestone, and for the many lives and communities that you have positively impacted!

Thank you.