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Update No. 97/03 on ICRC activities in the Russian Federation/northern Caucasus

19-06-1997 Operational Update

 Assistance must go on despite hazardous security situation  

The security situation in the northern Caucasus is still highly volatile. In Chechnya especially, kidnappings and assassinations are still common, despite considerable efforts made by the authorities in place since the January elections to end such practices. At the same time, given the widespread destitution and the fact that the state social security network has yet to be rehabilitated, the need for humanitarian assistance is evident, especially among vulnerable groups such as displaced people, the elderly and the disabled.

The ICRC has sustained its efforts to sound out the situation with a view to returning to the region in full force. During two evaluation missions conducted in February/March and May, the Delegate General for Eastern Europe and Central Asia met the President of the Chechen Republic, Mr Maskhadov, for discussions and sought information about the progress of the inquiry into the assassination of the six delegates last December. The ICRC's findings remain unchanged: the security situation still precludes a permanent expatriate ICRC presence in Chechnya and the neighbouring republics of Daghestan, Ingushetia and North Ossetia. Furthermore, no answers have been forthcoming regarding the murder inquiry.

However, in view of both present needs and the uncertain future of the whole region, the ICRC firmly believes that assistance for the vulnerable population must carry on, especially in Chechnya, but also elsewhere in the northern Caucasus and southern Russia. It has therefore decided to maintain its sub-delegation in Nalchik (Kabardino-Balkaria) and carry out its programmes in Chechnya and the neighbouring republics, described below, by " remote control " , with the help of local staff and the local Red Cross committees.

In light of the current threat to humanitarian assistance in the northern Caucasus, a priority for the ICRC is still to gain widespread acceptance of its work and those who carry it out. This means building up a comprehensive dissemination and communication approach. In so doing, the ICRC has to rely more than ever on a whole network of contacts and partners in the region, with two aims in mind: to ensure that knowledge of the Red Cross reaches all strata of society, and to keep up with the situation by receiving reliable information from sources on the spot. In addition, the organization will redouble its efforts in the field of humanitarian diplomacy to secure support for the ICRC's activities from political and military decision-makers, the media, academic circles, non-governmental organizations and other relevant contacts throughout the region.

 ICRC programmes  

As announced in Update No. 2 of 26 March, the ICRC has drawn up a plan to cover the period up to the end of 1997, which is presented below along with the revised budget, approved by the organization's Executive Board on 15 May.

 Protection  

The ICRC 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 assist the parties in ascer taining the fate of missing people. As part of its cooperation activities, the ICRC keeps in 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. Visits to detainees, the exchange of Red Cross messages and monitoring of minority groups remain suspended.

In the republics of Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetia and North Ossetia, the ICRC plans to monitor the situation of civilians affected by the Chechen and Ossetian-Ingush conflicts. To that effect, it will gather relevant information from local ICRC employees, local Russian Red Cross committees, representatives of other humanitarian organizations and through contact with the authorities.

 Health activities  

 Rehabilitation of hospitals in Grozny  

All new equipment purchased by the ICRC for Hospitals No. 4 and No. 9 has now been delivered and installed.

 Blood bank  

The ICRC intends to draw up a Memorandum of Understanding with the Minister of Health regarding the rehabilitation of the blood transfusion centre in Grozny. The building work will be sub-contracted locally and as soon as it has been completed the equipment purchased by the ICRC will be installed by local workmen. Meanwhile, the ICRC continues to provide material support (blood bags and reagents) to the blood screening service in Hospitals No. 4 and No. 9.

 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 will continue to pay the salaries of the nurses and supply 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.

 Contingency stock  

To maintain a rapid reaction capacity in the event of an epidemic, a contingency stock of medicines and medical materials will be kept in Nalchik.

 Water and sanitation projects  

 A priority for the summer months: preventing the spread of disease  

Grozny's sewerage system, which is still clogged up, and the contaminated water currently distributed through the municipal supply network present a major public health hazard. Rehabilitating the sewerage and water supply systems is essential if the spread of disease is to be prevented. The time factor is important as the risk of epidemics becomes more acute during the hot summer months.

The ICRC assists the water authorities in cleaning up and maintaining the sewerage and water distribution systems by providing tools and spare parts that cannot be purchased locally. It is also organizing the launching of an information campaign to make the population aware of the health hazards inherent in drinking contaminated water. In the event of an emergency, the ICRC will put water trucks, water-storage facilities, disinf ectant and soap at the disposal of the authorities and health facilities, enabling them to meet water and sanitation needs. To this end, it will maintain a fleet of six water trucks, each with a capacity of 8 cubic metres, in Nalchik.

 Pumping stations  

In Grozny, pumping station No. 1 remains one of the chief sources of drinking water for inhabitants of neighbourhoods that are cut off from the municipal network. Five local staff members are now operating the station, producing some 1,600 cubic metres per week. The water is then distributed by private water trucks. The ICRC pays the five staff members and provides materials to the authorities.

 Sanitation project in Khasavyurt (Daghestan)  

In Daghestan, the waste evacuation programme in 32 collective centres for displaced people has been completed. The ICRC will continue to supply the centres with cleaning products and disinfectant.

 Relief activities  

The situation of elderly and disabled people in Chechnya remains very precarious, both because of the non-payment of retirement pensions and other state benefits and because social services are not functioning. Their poor purchasing power limits their access to food, especially if they live in urban areas where there is little possibility of growing their own. The problem has been exacerbated by the almost total withdrawal of international humanitarian aid because of the extremely hazardous security situation.

 New programme: bread for vulnerable inhabitants of Grozny  

The ICRC has therefore decided to launch a new assistance programme for this vulnerab le group, following the completion of its community kitchen programme in March 1997, as planned. Under the new programme, some 8,000 Russian and Chechen beneficiaries, over-65s and the disabled, will receive one loaf of bread a day, five days a week. The beneficiaries will be given coupons which they can exchange for bread at the four state bakeries in Grozny. The local committee of the Russian Red Cross in Grozny will administer the programme, which is due to start as soon as a working agreement has been finalized with the bakeries. The situation of the beneficiaries and needs for the winter will be reassessed in October. 

 Medical and social institutions  

The ICRC will continue to provide support in the form of food and other supplies to 10 institutions caring for psychiatric and disabled patients, blind children and orphans in Grozny.

 Schoolchildren  

To be able to go to school, children need books, pens and paper, sports articles and other items which many poor families cannot afford. The ICRC will continue to provide such materials regularly to 40,000   schoolchildren in Chechnya (Grozny, Argun and Gudermes).

 Assistance to other vulnerable groups  

In the southern Russian regions of Krasnodar and Stavropol, the ICRC is assessing the needs of vulnerable groups among the people who have been displaced there as a result of the Chechen conflict, and the needs of other vulnerable population groups. Two missions have already been conducted to Stavropol, and a third one is planned to Krasnodar. Any ICRC assistance to the disp laced will be channelled through the local committees of the Russian Red Cross ( see Cooperation, below) .

 Contingency stock  

In addition to the programmes described above, the ICRC will maintain a contingency stock of 400 tonnes of food and non-food items in Nalchik, enabling it to meet the needs of 20,000 to 25,000 beneficiaries for two to three months in the event of an emergency.

 Cooperation with local Red Cross branches  

The ICRC will continue to support five local committees of the Russian Red Cross in the northern Caucasus in carrying out social programmes for vulnerable groups (Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and North Ossetia). It also provides training for Red Cross staff, especially in tracing, dissemination and volunteer training. In future, particular importance will be attached to developing fundraising and income-generating activities. The long-term objective is to enable the committees to carry out community-relevant medical and social work independently. This support will now be extended to other local Russian Red Cross committees in the republics of Adyge, Karachayevo-Cherkesskaya and Kalmykya. Furthermore, in cooperation with the central committee of the Russian Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the ICRC aims to develop the teaching of first aid.

In addition, depending on the result of its current survey of vulnerable groups, among both the displaced and the resident population, in the southern Russian regions of Krasnodar and Stavropol, the ICRC may provide assistance in cooperation with the local committees of the Russian Red Cross ( see Relief, above ). Any activities will be carried out in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding concluded with the Federation on 12 February 1996.

 Dissemination  

After its emergency-related dissemination activities designed to facilitate and support humanitarian action during the conflict, the ICRC is now resuming longer-term plans and is aiming to develop a broader view of the northern Caucasus beyond the Chechen context. By stepping up dialogue and consultation with key target audiences, the sub-delegation in Nalchik intends to make a first step towards creating a broader allegiance to the work of the Red Cross and to further its main concerns as effectively as possible: promoting the protection of vulnerable groups and respect for international humanitarian law, and ensuring that humanitarian action is accepted and supported.

For details of the ICRC's extensive dissemination programme in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, please consult the ICRC's Special Report entitled Promoting International Humanitarian Law in the CIS and the Baltic States 1992-1997 .

 Ongoing activities for the armed forces, schools and universities  

These include teaching programmes on the law of armed conflict for Federal troops stationed in the northern Caucasus/southern Russia and a study on Chechen customary law and traditions of warfare, with the aim of showing ways of limiting violence that are inherent in the local culture. The schools programme aimed at familiarizing youngsters with the principles underlying humanitarian law, launched by the ICRC in all secondary schools in the Russian Federation, is also going on in the northern Caucasus (excepting Chechnya, where the conflic t has delayed the start of the programme). To boost the teaching of humanitarian law at university level, the ICRC will step up contacts with Nalchik university and other universities in the region.

 Mine awareness campaign  

Unexploded landmines planted during the conflict still pose a threat to the population. The ICRC therefore plans to organize an information campaign, in cooperation with the authorities concerned, to alert the population of the Chechen Republic to the risks facing it, and to make people aware of how accidents may be avoided.

 Personnel  

The ICRC has deployed 13 expatriates and around 109 local staff for its operations in the northern Caucasus, posted in Nalchik. They include four people seconded by the National Societies of Denmark, France and Iceland.