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Update No. 97/02 on ICRC activities in the Russian Federation/northern Caucasus

26-03-1997 Operational Update

 Work for victims of the Chechen conflict goes on  

Fighting in the Republic of Chechnya ceased in August, all Federal troops have left and the Russian and Chechen sides have begun negotiations regarding their future relations. The presidential and parliamentary elections in January went ahead untroubled, despite the still unstable internal situation. 

The ICRC, which was one of the few organizations active in the region throughout the conflict, withdrew its expatriate staff from Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetia and North Ossetia after six of its delegates were murdered by unidentified gunmen in the Novye Atagi field hospital on 17 December 1996. It has nonetheless maintained a team of expatriate delegates at the ICRC mission in Nalchik (Kabardino-Balkaria), enabling medical and relief programmes to go on as planned in all five republics, carried out by local ICRC staff and the local branches of the Russian Red Cross.

The ICRC believes that now is the time to reassess the situation: in the course of a mission from 24 February to 7 March, the Delegate General for Eastern Europe and Central Asia contacted the new authorities in the Chechen Republic, sought information about the progress of the inquiry into the assassination of the delegates and evaluated the security situation.

These are the conclusions: no answers have been forthcoming regarding the murder inquiry, and the security situation is still far from stable. A permanent expatriate ICRC presence in Chechnya and the three neighbouring republics has therefore been ruled out for the near future. However, the needs of the vulnerable population, rendered destitute by the war and facing an uncertain future, weigh heavily in the balance. To assist them in their plight, the ICRC will maintain its base in Nalchik and carry out its programmes in Chechnya and the neighbouring republics with the help of local staff and the local Red Cross, both of whom have proven themselves to be reliable partners. Moreover, the organization will redouble its efforts to develop contact with the authorities at all levels to make its work and its role as a neutral intermediary more widely known and accepted throughout the northern Caucasus. To this end, special emphasis will be put on developing dissemination programmes and building up cooperation with the local Red Cross branches.

 ICRC programmes  

As implementation of the three-month plan established in January is nearly complete, the ICRC is currently drawing up a plan to cover the period upto the end of 1997, which will be forwarded to donors in several weeks'time.

 Protection  

The ICRC has suspended visits to detainees, the exchange of Red Cross messages and monitoring of minority groups. However, it is maintaining contact with the representatives of the bipartite

committee on missing persons, as well as the Soldiers'Mothers'committee and the Russian human rights organization Memorial, and stands ready to assi st the parties in ascertaining the fate of missing people. As part of its cooperation activities, the ICRC keeps contact with the local Russian Red Cross branches in the northern Caucasus with a view to assisting them in their work related to the restoration of family links.

 Medical activities  

 Provision of medicines to hospitals  

After 17 December, the ICRC handed its remaining medical supplies over to the Chechen Ministry of Health for distribution to health facilities. In March, final deliveries were made to 16 facilities in Daghestan and one in Ingushetia, as well as a one-off distribution to a military hospital in North Ossetia after wounded soldiers had been transferred there. A contingency stock of medicines to treat epidemics and surgical emergencies will be kept in Nalchik and made available to the authorities for distribution as needed.

 Rehabilitation and re-equipment of Grozny hospitals  

The ICRC has refurbished Hospitals No. 4 and No. 9 which were badly damaged in the war, and has purchased new equipment. At this stage, all equipment has been delivered, except for a few specialized eye instruments.

 Blood banks  

By 17 December construction of a new blood transfusion centre in Grozny was about to begin. All necessary equipment had been purchased in Moscow and is now stored in Nalchik. Once the current government reshuffle is complete, the ICRC intends to conclude a memorand um of understanding with the Minister of Health regarding the sub-contracting of building work and installation. In the meantime, the ICRC is providing material support (blood bags and reagents) to the blood screening service in Hospitals No. 4 and No. 9. Discussions are under way regarding reconstruction of the blood bank in Nazran (Ingushetia).

 Visiting nurses  

Managed by the local branches of the Russian Red Cross in each republic, the programme provides for elderly and housebound people to be visited at home by nurses who dispense basic medical care and medicines. The ICRC pays the salaries of the nurses and supplies the medicines. There are currently 93 nurses assisting 1,184 patients in Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and North Ossetia. The nurses also provide 680 of the patients in Grozny and Gudermes with family parcels, wheat flour and hygiene kits.

 Water and sanitation projects  

In Grozny, pumping station No 1 (which the ICRC set up in 1995 and repaired and upgraded after the hostilities in August 1996 to produce 1,000 cubic metres of water per day) remains the chief source of drinking water for inhabitants of neighbourhoods that are cut off from the municipal network. Five local staff members are now running the station, daily producing some 1,600 cubic metres per week. The water is then distributed by private water trucks.

Grozny's sewers are still clogged up, threatening to swamp the city with waste. Once the new authorities are in place, the ICRC is prepared to assist them in tackling the rehabilitation of the sewerage system and possibly provide them with materials that cannot be purchased locally. The ICRC's pumping station providing drinking water for the population in Gudermes is operated by two local staff members.

In Daghestan, the waste evacuation programme in some 30 collective centres for displaced people has been completed. The ICRC will continue to supply the centres with cleaning products and disinfectant.

 Relief programmes  

Of the relief activities under way in December 1996, those linked to the hostilities of last summer have ended: distributions of food and other supplies to 20,000 people in Grozny and southern Chechnya; distribution of winter relief goods; ad hoc distributions in mountain villages in Chechnya. The distribution of rehabilitation materials to the schools of Grozny and Gudermes was completed. Regular activities are going on practically as planned in the 1997 budget, carried out by the local branches of the Russian Red Cross with support from the ICRC mission in Nalchik. The stocks in place there cover all ongoing programmes, plus a contingency stock of 15,000 food parcels, 15,000 hygiene kits, 20,000 blankets, 15,000 20-litre jerrycans, 1,000 kitchen sets and 200 rolls of plastic sheeting. The remaining surplus stocks are being redirected to southern Russia for distribution to displaced people from Chechnya (through the local Russian Red Cross branches), and to ICRC programmes for victims of the civil war in Tajikistan.

 Distributions  

The following programmes will go on until December 1997, in accordance with the needs assessed. In Chechnya, assistance in the form of food parcels, hygiene kits and wheat flour is distributed to 1,500 people in six medical and social institutions selected by the ICRC. Maternity wards in Grozny will receive 3,000 sets of baby clothes donated by the Danish Red Cross. In Daghestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and North Ossetia, assistance in the form of food parcels, wheat flour , candles, blankets, plastic sheeting, soap, cooking utensils, stoves, shoes and clothes is distributed to some 1,000 beneficiaries selected by the local Red Cross or by the local authorities. They include vulnerable local residents, orphans from the North Ossetian and Chechen conflicts and internally displaced people.

 Community kitchens  

Some 8,100 vulnerable elderly people in Grozny, Argun and Gudermes, daily receive hot meals in 18 kitchens, which are mainly run by the local Red Cross. The ICRC pays for the meals and rents the premises. The kitchens will be closed at the end of March, as planned. The situation will be reviewed before the onset of the next winter. To tide the beneficiaries over after closure of the kitchens, one-off assistance in the form of food parcels, hygiene kits and wheat flour will be distributed.

 Dissemination programmes  

The ICRC began its dissemination work in the northern Caucasus in 1993. The seeds for various projects were sown, but never came to fruition as the outbreak of the Chechen conflict forced the organization to focus on more immediate dissemination needs in support of humanitarian action. Since the end of active hostilities a number of dissemination programmes have nevertheless continued. They include presentations on international humanitarian law given for Federal troops stationed in southern Russia and cooperation with the Russian military press. A number of tra ining courses on the subject will be held for officers in the next few months, and a whole series of articles on humanitarian law is shortly to be published in a magazine for trainee officers. Other ongoing projects include a study on Chechen customary law and traditions of warfare, carried out by a Chechen specialist in Grozny, and fostering contact with junior lecturers in law at Nalchik university. Locally recruited dissemination staff continue to be trained in Nalchik. In addition, with the end of active conflict, the ICRC can now once again concentrate on getting to know the regional culture and customs more in depth, take up earlier projects and redefine its long-term objectives in the region.

 Cooperation  

In addition to cooperation activities related to the restoration of family links, the ICRC is providing support and training to the local committees of the Russian Red Cross in the northern Caucasus, helping them to conduct social programmes for vulnerable groups. The long-term objective is to enable them to carry out community-relevant medical and social work independently.

At 6 March the ICRC had 17 expatriates in the northern Caucasus, including staff seconded by the Canadian, Danish, French, German, Icelandic and Swedish Red Cross, and 98 local staff members.