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Update No. 99/01 on ICRC Activities in Russian Federation/Northern Caucasus

18-10-1999 Operational Update

 Background  

The month of August brought renewed hostilities between Russian Federation forces and Chechen fighters along the border between the republics of Chechnya and Daghestan. By mid-September the focus of attention turned to Chechnya where, for the first time in three years, Russian forces started launching air and ground attacks in an attempt to oust Chechen fighters from their sanctuaries. The region is once more facing a humanitarian crisis with tens of thousands of displaced people looking for safety in Chechnya, as well as the republics of Ingushetia and in Daghestan.

The security situation during the last few years has caused the region to become virtually isolated economically. Those most at risk are in considerable need. In the absence of any reconstruction work, people in Chechnya still feel the consequences of the first 94-96 conflict. Widespread criminal activity has considerably aggravated the situation.

    

 The ICRC Maintains An Ongoing Presence  

Serious security constraints have hindered the presence of ICRC expatriate staff in the region, but the work has been able to continue. In 1996 six delegates were murdered; another was kidnapped in May of this year. After the 1996 incident, ICRC activities were co-ordinated by a team of expatriate staff based in Nalchik (Kabardino-Balkaria) who were in close contact with the local Red Cross a nd ICRC local staff implementing assistance programmes in the 10 republics or regions in Northern Caucasus. Following this year's abduction incident, the expatriate team has, since the end of August, coordinated work from the Moscow office and is making ad hoc missions to Nalchik. A team of five ICRC expatriate staff has been in Nalchik since 5 October. It faces the challenge of addressing a major emergency while minimising the risk for the staff.

    

The ICRC is the lead agency for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, coordinating the response to the crisis in the Northern Caucasus according to the Seville Agreement between the componenents of the Movement. It is one of the few international humanitarian agencies operating in this area of conflict. Ongoing programmes since 1997 include: support to local RC branch visiting nurses programmes serving elderly, handicapped and other vulnerable groups throughout the region; distribution of drugs and medical supplies to hospitals as needs arise; production and distribution of bread for 12,000 beneficiaries in Chechnya; and maintenance of a water pumping station in Grozny for 20,000 people.

 Humanitarian Needs and ICRC's Response  

 Chechnya  

Official figures put the number of displaced people within Chechnya at 20,000-22,000. While many Grozny residents have left for neighbouring Ingushetia, others from the north of Chechnya are arriving in the capital which has been spared from shelling during the past few days. Some Grozny residents have returned from Ingushetia, as they found living conditions inadequate there.

 ... for the war wounded  

Locally- based ICRC staff have been able to continue operating in Chechnya. Medicines and other supplies have enabled health facilities in Grozny, Gudermes and Urus Martan to continue to function. In Grozny, there are frequent disruptions of gas and electricity. Despite these shortages, ICRC-supported Hospital No.9 is able to provide medical treatment for the war wounded. In the past few days, dozens of cases have reportedly been treated.

 . . .for civilians  

ICRC local staff are assessing the needs of displaced people within Chechnya as well as of the remaining local population in areas affected by the hostilities. The ICRC is currently in discussion with Russian authorities to receive assurances of safe passage for aid convoys into Chechnya. For security and co-ordination purposes, Grozny-based local staff are in regular contact with ICRC delegates in Moscow and Nalchik.

 Ingushetia  

The situation in Ingushetia is reported to be tense due to large numbers of IDPs from Chechnya. Official figures put the number of new arrivals in Ingushetia at 100,000. An estimated 3,000-5,000 Chechens are arriving at the border every day; most are women and children. It is difficult to obtain an accurate picture of numbers and needs, as people are spread out over a wide area, and many have found shelter with local families. Others are gathered in tented encampments and public buildings. The most urgent need is for non-food items such as blankets, tarpaulins and water containers. 

    

A convoy was organised this week to bring non-food items to displaced people within priority areas in Ingushetia. ICRC staff continue to scout locations wh ere future assistance can be stored and distributed. As the capacity to offer hospitality dwindles, the needs of the displaced will increase. Together with the local Red Cross, the ICRC plans to operate a bakery so that 5,000 loaves of bread can be distributed on alternate days to the IDPs in the area. Additional relief convoys to Nalchik are being organised   . At this stage, the ICRC has enough emergency stocks available in Nalchik to assist 75,000 displaced people in the region with food as well as non-food items

 Daghestan  

Some 20,000 people have been displaced within Daghestan as a result of the August hostilities. In the wake of the recent military operations about another 10,000 Chechens are displaced and trying to find shelter in Daghestan. Many are stranded along the border and all are in need of medical and other assistance.

A convoy left this Monday carrying food for those displaced since August as well as the new arrivals. Medical needs are currently being covered from the ICRC's contingency stock in the region. Medical and relief supplies were provided this summer to victims of the August hostilities by ICRC local employees who work with members of the local Red Cross .