Addressing the ICRC's financial challenges

26-04-2011 Interview

The ICRC is facing challenges on several fronts. Yves Daccord, the organization's Director-General, describes how the ICRC is addressing both growing humanitarian needs and the current strain on donor budgets.

How are you dealing with today's mounting humanitarian needs and the decrease in overall funding for humanitarian organizations?

These are very challenging times. The number of places in the world beset by internal violence or armed conflict has surged over the past few months. Libya and Côte d'Ivoire are the most recent examples of countries in which the ICRC is among only a handful of organizations that are active on the ground as the fighting rages. The ICRC is currently providing vital assistance − including medical supplies, food and water − to people in Misrata and in Abidjan. Today we are witnessing a striking deterioration in the humanitarian situation across several areas of the world, particularly in the Middle East. Since 2010, the ICRC has had to step up its humanitarian activities and its scope of action to address the most pressing needs of vulnerable men, women and children caught up in new situations of violence − whether armed conflicts or not − and in protracted ones, ranging from Libya, Tunisia and Syria to Yemen, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to name but a few. The ICRC is currently active in more than 80 countries around the world.

In parallel, the world economic crisis has put an additional strain on the budgets of some of the ICRC's main donors. In other words, there might be less funding available than in previous years for humanitarian work in general. More than 90% of the ICRC's budget is covered by States party to the Geneva Conventions.

Were you overly optimistic when proposing your 2011 budget?

Our record 2011 budget − amounting to 1.046 billion Swiss francs for field operations and 183.5 million for headquarters activities − faithfully reflects the humanitarian needs identified by our delegations in the field and our capacity to respond to them efficiently. Of course, we were aware all along that funding our budget would be more challenging this year than in previous ones. But the financial pressure on some donor States and the unpredictable violence and unrest in the Middle East have exacerbated the situation.

We remain confident, however, that we will get the necessary support from our main donors, even if adjustments need to be made in view of the current economic situation.

Is this the first time that the ICRC has faced such a situation?

No, it's not the first time. At the end of the 1990s, the ICRC faced some difficulties in financing its operations. In the past 10 years, however, the ICRC has been able to count on very strong support from its donors and has obtained quality funding for its field and headquarters activities. Our access to those in need, our principled approach and our timely and relevant humanitarian response have enabled us to meet the expectations of people affected by conflict in terms of assistance and protection. This is the key factor that has won us the ongoing support of our donors and will continue to do so.

What measures is the ICRC planning to take?

Despite the difficult environment in terms of growing humanitarian needs and decreasing donor funding, the ICRC is determined to maintain its operational goals as originally set for 2011 and to meet the humanitarian needs arising from armed conflicts and other situations of violence around the world. In order to make this possible, the following measures are being taken:

First, we are already actively working on increasing and diversifying the ICRC's sources of funding.

Secondly, we will immediately undertake sustainable measures to prioritize some of our field and headquarters activities, and/or to put others on hold, thus making the best use of our current resources. In other words, the ICRC is working on different scenarios, which include target budget reductions that could reach 80 million Swiss francs for field operations (out of an initial budget of 1.046 billion) and 3.5 million for headquarters (out of an initial budget of 183.5 million). Even if these reductions take place, our overall revised budget will remain higher than in 2010.

Is the ICRC planning to revisit its funding strategy?

Yes, we had already envisaged revisiting our funding strategy in this fast-changing environment. Recent events have made the ICRC even more willing to do so. We are exploring new avenues to reinforce the support we get from traditional donor States and diversify our sources of funding. To do this, we will proactively engage with emerging States and with some key areas of the private sector.

When will you be able to say more about the magnitude of the budget reductions?

The final decision on the nature and scope of our budget reductions for field operations and headquarters activities will be taken by the end of May, when we will have a better picture of our overall financial situation and a consolidated figure for the pledges made by our main donors.

The upcoming budget cuts will be designed to make sure that the ICRC is capable of addressing the needs of vulnerable people in conflict-affected areas in the most effective way possible.


Yves Daccord 

ICRC director-general Yves Daccord

Related sections

How you can help