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Update No. 98/01 on ICRC activities in the Russian Federation/northern Caucasus

28-05-1998 Operational Update No 98/01

 No more war, but plenty of needs and precarious security  

Although the northern Caucasus is no longer in the limelight of public attention, the situation there is still far from normal. Nearly two years after the end of hostilities in Chechnya, negotiations regarding its future status remain deadlocked, leaving the separatist republic in virtual political and economic isolation. Almost six years have gone by since the conflict between Ingushetia and North Ossetia took place but thousands of people have not yet been able to return to their homes in the Prigorodny district (North Ossetia).

A large section of the region's population - mostly destitute elderly persons, orphans and disabled people living in urban areas- is poverty-stricken, lacking access to basic health care and food. As the state social security system has dwindled away, they urgently need assistance.

 A broad spectrum of ICRC activities  

The ICRC is assisting particularly vulnerable people mainly through cooperation programmes with the Russian Red Cross. It is funding social welfare programmes of the local Red Cross branches in eight republics (Adygea, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkesskaya, Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetia, North Ossetia and, since January 1998, Kalmykia) and the southern Russian regions of Krasnodar and Stavropol, where an ICRC office was opened in May 1998. A team of ten delegates based in Nalchik (Kabardino-Balkaria) is monitoring activities throughout the region.

In the republ ics of Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetia and North Ossetia, security conditions still prevent the ICRC from having permanent expatriate staff. Political and criminal interests, which often go hand in hand in this region, account in part for the high degree of instability. The ICRC has therefore opted for a " remote control " approach, i.e. assistance is distributed by local ICRC employees (totalling 140 in the northern Caucasus) and by branches of the Russian Red Cross, coordinated and supervised by the ICRC in Nalchik. To keep track of humanitarian needs, gain a better understanding of the situation and build up contacts with the authorities, ICRC expatriates will continue to conduct sporadic missions to these republics.

 Health activities  

The Russian Red Cross home visiting nurses programme, which is financed by the ICRC and managed by the local Red Cross branches in each republic, ensures basic medical care for housebound elderly people. Red Cross nurses visit them regularly in their homes and provide them with health care and medicines. The ICRC pays the nurses'salaries and supplies the medicines. At present there are 115  nurses assisting 1,400 patients in the eight northern Caucasus republics. The project is shortly to be extended to the Krasnodar and Stavropol regions. In addition, the ICRC is planning to organize three training courses for the nurses involved in the programme this year.

The Republican Blood Transfusion Centre in Grozny is about to resume functioning. The ICRC provided support for its rehabilitation and bought the necessary equipment, which was installed by local workmen. The ICRC will initially assist the centre by providing the requisite supplies.

Pumping statio n No. 1 maintained by the ICRC in Grozny remains one of the chief sources of drinking water for the city. The ICRC donated a fleet of six water trucks to the local water authorities which distribute nearly 1.5 million litres of clean water each week. Through local staff, it keeps monitoring water and sanitation projects both in Grozny and the Khasavyurt area (Daghestan) and will continue to inform the population about the risks inherent in using contaminated water, especially the increased risk of epidemics during the hot summer months.

A contingency stock of medicines and medical material is kept in Nalchik to enable the ICRC to meet increased needs of medical facilities, should there be an epidemic or a renewed outbreak of violence.

 Relief activities  

In addition to the 1,400 patients benefiting from the home visiting nurses programme, the Red Cross branches provide another 1,400 particularly vulnerable people with food and other essential items as part of their social assistance programmes in the eight republics. In the Krasnodar and Stavropol regions, about 4,800 vulnerable people receive such assistance every three months.

Since September 1997 the ICRC has been running a bread programme in Grozny enabling 8,000 mostly elderly people of Russian origin to obtain bread several times a week. The programme is about to be extended to Argun and Gudermes, bringing the number of beneficiaries to more than 10,000. The ICRC also provides monthly assistance for over 300 people living in specialized institutions in Grozny and, to enable youngsters across Chechnya to continue their lessons, it plans to distribute school materials to about 70,000 children.

Over and above its regular programmes, the ICRC maintains sufficient operational capacity in Nalchik to respond to any emergency needs - as was the case in early 1 998 when it assisted 450 internally displaced people in Ingushetia with jerrycans, stoves, blankets and candles and distributed food parcels to 1,800 displaced persons in Kabardino-Balkaria. In April, mudslides caused by torrential rain destroyed almost 500 homes in a village in north-eastern Chechnya. The local Red Cross branch was able to help out by distributing 200 food parcels and 400 hygiene kits supplied by the ICRC.

 Protection  

Despite the cease-fire agreement, the fate of people captured during the hostilities remains a major concern for the ICRC. It is maintaining contact with the authorities and a number of local non-governmental organizations dealing with this issue. On behalf of the families concerned, the ICRC is requesting the federal authorities to provide information on the whereabouts of prisoners formerly visited by the ICRC. It will continue to follow up these cases.

As postal services are not yet operating normally in Chechnya, the need for other ways to restore family links persists. The ICRC will therefore maintain the Red Cross message network, in cooperation with the local Red Cross committee.

 Dissemination  

In the complex context of the northern Caucasus, it is particularly difficult to put the humanitarian message across convincingly and consistently. To ensure that its local staff and the local Russian Red Cross committees are better equipped for this task, the ICRC will continue to put special emphasis on training in knowledge of the Red Cross movement, its principles and humanitarian law. It is also working to extend contacts with the media, namely with the Russian military press, which it established during the Chechen conflit. It is planning to conduct landmine awareness and public health information campaigns jointly with the l ocal authorities.

As in the rest of the Russian Federation, the ICRC's schools and university programmes are carried out in cooperation with the educational authorities in the northern Caucasus republics where other ICRC activities are under way, with the exception of Chechnya, and in the Krasnodar and Stavropol regions.