Overview of the ICRC's operations in 2013

06-12-2012 Report

This document presents the ICRC's worldwide operational priorities for 2013. It is based on the internal analysis and planning exercise conducted every year, primarily by the ICRC's 80 delegations and missions in the field.

The ICRC is pleased to present its 2013 Emergency Appeals, which describe the situations faced by people affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence, the primary objectives of the ICRC’s field delegations and missions in some 80 countries around the world, and the corresponding budgetary requirements. The Emergency Appeals set out the needs as identified at the time of writing in late October 2012.

The following is an extract from the introduction by Pierre Krähenbühl, Director of Operations.

Trends in contemporary armed conflicts

Close analysis of the primary characteristics of the armed conflicts and other situations of violence in which the ICRC currently operates reveals a number of key features.

First, there are the diverse challenges, disruptions and forms of instability resulting from the so-called Arab Spring. While several countries have managed smooth political transitions and held successful elections over the past year, others have faced significant levels of social violence or armed conflict. The Syrian Arab Republic (hereafter Syria) saw the most dramatic rise in armed confrontation and humanitarian consequences. Tens of thousands of people have been killed or injured, hundreds of thousands have been displaced or have sought refuge abroad and thousands have been detained. There appears to be no short-term prospect for an end to the fighting or for a political solution to the conflict. The impact for civilians is therefore likely to remain very problematic. The regional consequences are a further matter of concern.

Second, the Sahel region experienced a series of unsettling developments, particularly in northern Mali. The current split of the country has generated new humanitarian needs and preoccupation in a number of neighbouring countries about the possible spread of violence. The increased tension has occurred in a region already affected by rampant food insecurity, disrupting local markets and the provision of basic services such as health, water and electricity, and thus raising the level of vulnerability for large parts of the northern Malian population.

Third, the process of handing over security responsibilities in Afghanistan from international forces to Afghan authorities is under way. Intended to pave the way for the wider withdrawal of foreign military contingents by 2014, it raises serious questions about the future for the Afghan population, which has faced daily insecurity and serious abuses in the past three decades. In the wider realm of the “fight against Al Qaeda and its affiliates”, the shift from conventional military engagements to operations relying on special forces and drones is in place in several contexts.

Fourth, the population in several contexts affected by protracted armed conflicts has suffered the consequences of high instability. Somalia is one example, where confrontation between forces supporting the Transitional Federal Government, including troops of the African Union Mission in Somalia, and the Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen has intensified during the year, leaving many Somalis, particularly in central and southern parts of the country, facing multiple risks and needs. The hostilities between South Sudan and Sudan and the repercussions of the respective internal conflicts in each country have generated widespread displacement and refugee crises, a year after South Sudan became independent. In Iraq, the population is still much affected by continued violence, which at times over the summer reached higher weekly casualty levels than in some other contexts. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (hereafter DRC) experienced a further round of intense fighting between government forces and the M23 group, leading to numerous abuses against the civilian population, with no immediate prospect for a political solution in sight. Fighting also continued in various parts of Colombia, even as the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia initiated talks to end their decades-long conflict.

Fifth, there are diverse and often acute humanitarian consequences in other situations of violence, such as intercommunal violence in parts of Asia, tribal clashes in several African countries, and organized national and transnational armed violence in primarily urban environments.

Finally, the world continues to be affected by the enduring economic crisis and its consequences, such as growing debt and unemployment in Europe and the likelihood of declining remittances from migrant workers to their relatives in conflict-affected countries. After the food price crises of 2007–08 and 2010–11, there are renewed concerns, this time resulting from the major drought in the United States of America, that price hikes in several commodities could lead to further instability and unrest in economically and socially fragile countries.

Vulnerability and resilience in armed conflicts and other situations of violence

Millions of people in 2012 had their lives torn apart by conflict and violence around the world. Men, women and children faced enormous suffering, injury and death. Forced to flee their homes and communities, they lost their belongings and livelihoods and were separated from family members. Those arrested were particularly vulnerable, enduring ill-treatment and being at risk of disappearance.  
During the past year, some conflicts have received widespread coverage in the media and the humanitarian consequences were extremely visible. In others, such as the numerous protracted armed conflicts in which acute and chronic needs coexist, people’s suffering went and continues to go relatively unnoticed. In any situation of conflict where the ICRC was present or could gain access, its field staff, often with National Society volunteers, worked to address the vulnerabilities and suffering of those affected. Their plight and the needs expressed by them remained at the very heart of the ICRC’s analysis and response, regardless of which side of the conflict they find themselves on.  

Analysing vulnerabilities to enable the most appropriate response entails understanding the specific circumstances of the person or community we endeavour to assist and protect. This is consistent with an all-victims approach and seeks to ensure that specific needs related to people’s circumstances, the risks and violations they are exposed to, and their gender and age are taken into account when we define the response, which integrates the multidisciplinary dimensions of the ICRC’s protection, assistance, prevention and cooperation approaches.

Among the most pressing situations facing the ICRC are those in which civilians and communities cannot access commodities or basic services such as health care, education, water and sanitation as they are caught up in the middle of the fighting and freedom of movement is restricted. This happens in main cities, villages and residential neighbourhoods where hostilities damage or destroy buildings and infrastructure, and areas are cordoned off by one side or the other, leaving civilians trapped and unable to approach soldiers or fighters for fear of being harassed or arrested. The main violations noted by the ICRC remain summary executions, targeted killings, death threats, disappearances, forced displacement, recruitment of minors, attacks against medical personnel, and sexual violence.  

Conflict and other situations of violence also provoke massive and often multiple displacement patterns, both internally and to neighbouring countries, affecting hundreds of thousands of people. State response to internal displacement is often inadequate, mainly because of limited control over parts of the country, insufficient capacity and reluctance to recognize the scale of the phenomenon.

The recurrent attacks by parties to many conflicts against medical structures, transport and staff, including ambulances, rescue workers, hospitals and clinics, jeopardize the timely provision of emergency care and is an issue that has necessitated strong renewed attention from the ICRC and its Movement partners.

In different conflicts, insecurity and the proliferation of checkpoints temporarily cut off neighbourhoods from medical care still available in other parts of town. The same occurs when front-lines prevent rural populations from reaching their local health posts. Delays caused by checkpoints when evacuating patients in need of life-saving care regularly endanger the patients’ chances of survival. Hospitals are at times difficult for civilians to access because of the deployment of armed security forces near or inside them, threatening civilians and in some cases arresting the weapon-wounded. Moreover, there have been occurrences of weapon bearers attacking, occupying and/or looting hospitals and kidnapping patients.

The ICRC continues to deal with the widespread physical and psychological consequences of ill-treatment, torture and sexual violence. For many detainees, the main medical problem remains the effects of ill-treatment during interrogation, which leaves them suffering from a combination of long-lasting consequences even after their eventual release from detention. Rape is also a constant nightmare for many people – mainly women, but sometimes also men – in conflict- or violence-affected areas and is often part of a series of shocking events involving looting, destruction of property or murder. Sometimes the victims and their children are so stigmatized that they do not want to or cannot return home.  

The effects of such patterns are deeply traumatic for the affected populations and immensely challenging to address.

The changing humanitarian sector 

2012 again underlined the difficulties faced by many aid agencies in accessing conflict zones, achieving proximity to people in need and carrying out their operations directly rather than through various implementing partners. Syria and northern Mali were illustrative of this difficulty; only a handful of agencies managed to carry out structured and sustained activities in these highly polarized or politicized environments.  

In certain situations, humanitarian organizations faced threats and rejection by armed groups. Various studies indicated that more aid workers were killed, injured or kidnapped in 2011 than ever before – a reality that undoubtedly had an impact on the choices made by agencies in several contexts. In other situations, agencies struggled or were unable to sufficiently and clearly distinguish themselves from political or military actors, for example by continuing to rely on armed escorts to reach affected populations and thus blurring the line separating political and military agendas from the humanitarian imperative.

The trend continued towards national responses in crisis situations. As national NGOs or State institutions become increasingly assertive, the question of partnership development with these actors will become a more important issue. On the international scene, the wider UN humanitarian community is engaged in the next stage of reform with the Trans-formative Agenda. Several African, Asian and Latin American countries are becoming directly involved in humanitarian aid and development cooperation, alongside member States of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. While a number of long-standing NGOs appeared to have lost their ability to deploy in situations of acute conflict, agencies from the Islamic world are becoming increasingly operational in delicate environments like northern Mali and Somalia.  

All these changes in the humanitarian landscape lead to a diversification of humanitarian approaches and policies, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Implications for current ICRC operations

In 2012, the ICRC was able to protect the integrity and support the livelihoods of millions of people in critical situations such as Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Israel and the occupied territories, Mali, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, among many others. Despite numerous challenges to its neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian action, the ICRC was able to gain access to and build or sustain relations with multiple armed actors – governmental or insurgent – in these difficult contexts.

The systematic structured operational partnerships with National Societies, the adaptability of the ICRC’s operational procedures and team compositions, and the individual and institutional readiness to assume the significant security risks involved in these environments are all key elements of the ICRC’s approach.

Indeed, 2012 was the most deeply challenging year in security terms since 2003 and 2005: the ICRC experienced three separate hostage crises in the first half of the year. Tragically, the colleague taken hostage in Pakistan was murdered, which led to a significant downsizing of the ICRC’s presence and activities in the country. In Yemen, another staff member was killed during an air attack that struck the village he was in at the time. The ICRC also faced serious security incidents in countries like Afghanistan, the DRC, Libya and Somalia. National Society staff was also affected, for example in Syria, where four members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent lost their lives in the 12 months up to September 2012.

Despite these challenges, the ICRC achieved strong results in implementing the objectives contained in its initial 2012 field budget (CHF 969.5 million) and in three separate extensions amounting to CHF 62.1 million (Syria with CHF 24.6 million and Niamey regional with a total of CHF 37.5 million from two extensions). The downsizing of activities in Pakistan resulted in a budget reduction of CHF 37.2 million (from an initial budget of CHF 66.2 million).  

Key challenges for the ICRC in 2013

Quality of access, scope of action and multidisciplinary response

The ICRC’s ambition, and a fundamental challenge, is to have access to affected populations and individuals and to ensure a quality holistic response to their needs.

Overall, the 2013 objectives amount to CHF 988.7 million, slightly higher than the initial 2012 budget. This reflects the organization’s determination to address the multiple humanitarian consequences of armed conflicts and other situations of violence worldwide.

The ICRC will begin 2013 with seven operations budgeted at over CHF 40 million. Its largest operations will be in Afghanistan (CHF 86.5 million), Iraq (CHF 66.5 million), Somalia (CHF 66.2 million), the DRC (CHF 58.8 million), South Sudan (CHF 56.8 million), Syria (CHF 51.2 million), Israel and the occupied territories (CHF 46.9 million), Sudan (CHF 39.0 million), Niamey regional (CHF 37.5 million), Yemen (CHF 34.0 million) and Colombia (CHF 33.2 million).

The nature of armed conflicts and violence remains extraordinarily diverse and generates very different and locally specific needs. The ability to address those needs in relevant ways rests on a range of approaches that the ICRC continuously seeks to improve. This begins with quality needs assessments placing the person in need at the centre of the analysis: integrating the people affected into the actual process of defining the response and being accountable to them. It also requires the ICRC to make available a wide range of services in endeavouring to address the specific vulnerabilities of populations while strengthening their resilience, in particular though early-recovery activities.

The ICRC will continue to focus on dealing with both acute- and emergency-related needs and with the multiple consequences of protracted armed conflicts. It will concentrate on enhancing the relevance of its response relating to detainees, the wounded and sick, the disabled, the displaced and migrants, and on addressing the specific needs of women and children.

Operational and security management

The ICRC’s budgets are based first and foremost on addressing humanitarian needs. Priorities are decided in the light of the organization’s ability to secure access and acceptance and its capacity to implement its objectives.  

A central factor in this equation is balancing the impact of activities against the exposure of ICRC and National Society staff to risk. Year after year, the ICRC engages in multiple forms of dialogue and networking with governments, armed and security forces and other weapon bearers to ensure that its approach and activities are understood. Acceptance requires long-term efforts and can easily be lost as a result of an inappropriate statement or behaviour, or a poorly implemented programme.

Dialogue with all stakeholders in a given context will remain central to the ICRC’s operational approach. Given the diversity and fragmentation of armed groups and influential actors, networking strategies will require constant adjusting. Acceptance can never be taken for granted.

The 2013 budget reflects the ICRC’s commitment to a wide scope of action in response to identified needs, while taking into account the difficult security environment. The nature of risks is multifaceted and the organization’s level of exposure worldwide remains high. Decentralized security management and attention to the duty of care will continue to be crucial to the ICRC’s approach.

Relationships with actors of influence and dialogue with all

The international political landscape is undergoing profound changes and the ICRC is engaged in sustained efforts to diversify its relationships in ways that are adapted to these changes. While the organization will continue to nurture and develop relations with its traditional contacts, it is determined to systematize and broaden its relations with a number of States and actors playing an increasingly important role on the international scene. The objective is to improve mutual understanding and develop shared perspectives. This is critical for the ICRC’s long-term ability to carry out its activities.

Partnerships and coordination

Within the Movement, similar efforts are under way with a number of National Societies. Critical in this context is the importance for the ICRC to introduce changes in the ways in which it engages in partnerships. In 2013, the ICRC will further strengthen cooperation with National Societies working in their own countries as primary partners in emergencies and in most protracted armed conflicts. It will also seek to mobilize partner National Societies for rapid deployment, notably in terms of medical and surgical teams, and encourage peer-to-peer support.

The ICRC is convinced that strong partnerships, while very demanding in terms of respect for the Movement’s principles, not only lead to an improved overall response to needs, but also support the efforts of National Societies seeking to preserve their independence in situations of conflict and violence.

ICRC teams will also continue to engage in coordination and, where relevant, in partnerships with other institutions, many of them local NGOs, dealing with the needs of women, children, families of missing persons and migrants. The ICRC will cooperate with NGOs like Médecins Sans Frontières on a range of medical issues and operations, with UNHCR and WFP on refugee crises, for example in South Sudan or around Syria, and with a number of newer organizations present and active across various contexts.


Over the past decade, the ICRC has managed to develop a wide and multidisciplinary range of activities and responses. It has diversified its relations with numerous stakeholders, its operational procedures, team compositions and forms of partnership to preserve, and in many instances, enhance access to people in need. At the same time, its very access exposes its staff to significant risks, something that it is essential to manage well.

The 2013 Emergency Appeals seek to highlight the numerous and diverse ways in which armed conflict and other situations of violence affect the lives of millions of people worldwide, and the ICRC’s ambition to act and address needs in meaningful ways. They reflect as honestly as possible the organization’s proven ability to implement objectives and deliver results.

We are immensely grateful for our donors’ keen interest in and remarkable diplomatic and financial support for ICRC activities. Similarly, we greatly appreciate their deep respect for the ICRC’s independence and neutrality. The ICRC is strongly committed to making responsible and effective use of the financial means that are made available to it, ever conscious of expectations to demonstrate the results it achieves.

Every single day, the ICRC’s 12,000 field staff work to make a difference for people facing extreme consequences of conflict and violence. This remains our collective commitment and our fundamental ethic.


Pierre Krähenbühl 

Pierre Krähenbühl
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