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Access to the most vulnerable conflict victims remains vital

27-05-2009 Press Briefing

Launching the ICRC’s 2008 Annual Report, ICRC president Jakob Kellenberger underlined the organization’s unique access to conflict zones and the effects of the economy on the most vulnerable people living there.


©ICRC/T. Gassmann/ch-e-00386 
  Mr Kellenberger drew attention to the effects of the economic downturn on the poorest people living in conflict zones. As he pointed out, “Many of the very poor in these areas depend for their survival on remittances from relatives working abroad, but rising unemployment is reducing these remittances. Clearly, a drop in disposable income is a disaster for a family already spending most of its disposable income on food.”

ICRC expenditure had risen again in 2008, partly because the ICRC had better access to conflict zones where few others could go and partly because of deteriorating humanitarian situations in countries hit by a combination of war, natural disaster and rising food prices, such as Somalia.

 Sri Lanka  

In response to questions about the ICRC’s role in the Sri Lanka conflict, the president pointed out that from February until May the ICRC had been the only humanitarian organization operating in the area worst affected by the fighting, under very dangerous conditions, with three ICRC staff killed. The ICRC had evacuated 14,000 sick and wounded (plus their relatives) by ship.

Mr Kellenberger explained that the ICRC had spoken to both sides regarding compliance wit h international humanitarian law. “In accordance with our normal procedures, we will be discussing the associated issues in confidence with the authorities concerned,” he announced.

The ICRC’s next task in Sri Lanka would be to address the direct consequences of the fighting. “There are currently over 250,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). Needs are great, especially the need for medical care, and those needs are not being fully met. “It is essential that we obtain access to all IDPs, in order to provide medical care, water and other essentials, to verify treatment and conditions and to enable people to restore or maintain contact with their families,” explained Mr Kellenberger. “The ICRC is discussing the question of access to IDPs with the Sri Lankan government.”


Describing the humanitarian situation in Pakistan as “extremely serious,” Mr Kellenberger warned that while no humanitarian agency was in a position to give precise figures, it was safe to say that the fighting had displaced between 1 million and 2 million people, primarily from Swat, Lower Dir and Buner. He said the ICRC was operating in Lower Dir and Buner, but that it was currently too dangerous for ICRC staff to work in Swat.

While he saw the ICRC’s activities in Pakistan as “modest compared with the huge needs,” he pointed out that the organization was working with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society to assist some 120,000 IDPs living in camps, schools and with host families.


Mr Kellenberger reported that Somalia had been one of the ICRC’s biggest operations during 2008, when the intensifying conflict had caused hundreds of thousands to flee Mogadishu. He pointed out that the situation was being exacerbated by floods in some parts of the country, drought in others and rising food prices, pointing out that hundreds of thousands depended on aid.