From a humanitarian perspective, events of the past year were characterized by diversity, complexity and unpredictability. As the year ended, many countries were mired in financial and economic crisis, and unpredictability remained the watchword.
Multiple sudden onset emergencies – in the Middle East, Africa and the Far East – affected countless numbers of men, women and children. Armed conflicts in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya, the tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan, and the dramatic, continuing, events of the Arab Spring were among the occurrences that wreaked terrible destruction and caused immeasurable suffering. Moreover, these unexpected events unfolded alongside complex and often drawn-out existing armed conflicts – for example, in Somalia, where food insecurity in conflict-affected areas worsened dramatically in 2011. The ICRC's initial 2011 budget for Somalia – already the scene of one of the organization's largest and most challenging operations – more than doubled as the situation deteriorated and humanitarian needs rose. The ICRC's operations in Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan and Israel and the occupied territories were also among the top 10 in 2011 in terms of budget, along with those in Libya and Yemen.
For the ICRC, it was essential to mount a flexible, rapid and relevant response in a range of complex situations.
The speed and scale of events, and the massive humanitarian needs that arose, set major challenges for an effective, timely response. For the ICRC, it was essential to mount a flexible, rapid and relevant response in a range of complex situations. Once again, the value of the ICRC’s impartial, neutral and independent approach, in terms of gaining access to and making a positive difference for adversely affected people, was amply demonstrated. The ICRC's needs-based approach also consisted in working in proximity to – and with the involvement of – the beneficiaries. It entailed engagement with all stakeholders, including “new” or emerging humanitarian actors, such as local NGOs and charities, whose assertiveness and effectiveness have visibly increased.
Working closely with National Societies, the ICRC clearly demonstrated the value of this approach in diverse armed conflicts and other situations of violence, including Côte d’Ivoire, Libya and the Syrian Arab Republic, where it was often among the very few international humanitarian organizations able to operate on the ground. The importance of the ICRC’s rapid deployment and response capacity was reaffirmed particularly in Libya – where a major deployment included teams from various National Societies – as well as in Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt and Japan.
Just as important as an effective response to new or emerging crises was the need to help build the resilience and coping mechanisms of people affected by long-term crises and protracted conflict. Flexibility was essential, as was the ability to deploy sometimes highly specialized experts in particular fields such as psychosocial support, forensic science and the management of human remains, and even nuclear and radiological science.
The ICRC’s medical and health-related activities were further strengthened in 2011, benefiting some 6.8 million people around the world. To give just a few examples, health care for the sick and wounded remained one of the ICRC’s top priorities in both Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan, accounting for a significant proportion of the expenditures for both those countries. In Somalia, the number of war-wounded patients requiring treatment in the two main ICRC-supported hospitals in Mogadishu continued to rise, reaching more than 4,000 by September. At the same time, together with the ICRC, the Somali Red Crescent Society significantly expanded its therapeutic feeding centres and health-care facilities in conflict-affected areas, in response to the alarming levels of malnutrition. In many countries affected by the Arab Spring – Egypt, Libya, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen, to name but a few – the ICRC provided emergency medical assistance and first aid in partnership with the National Societies of those countries. In many of these contexts, health facilities and personnel were themselves the target of attacks, reaffirming this as an extremely serious yet largely overlooked humanitarian issue and confirming the importance of the major multiyear project launched by the ICRC on Health Care in Danger.
Worldwide, the ICRC distributed food to some 4.9 million people in 2011, mainly IDPs and residents, and essential household and hygiene items to 3.1 million people, while 3.8 million people benefited from sustainable food production programmes or micro-economic initiatives, including grants and support to access micro-credit loans. ICRC water, sanitation and construction activities benefited some 21.9 million people. Somalia again was a strong example of a complex, multi-faceted assistance operation, with the ICRC scaling up its emergency activities in central and southern areas of the country to assist an additional 1.1 million drought and conflict-affected people with food, non-food items, water and health care; whilst tens of thousands of children, lactating women and other particularly affected people were assisted by the Somali Red Crescent Society and the ICRC, food distributions were slower than planned and thus continued into 2012. Another example was Côte d’Ivoire, where the ICRC effectively provided 5 million people with clean drinking water for six months by supplying water-treatment chemicals on a large scale.
In many countries affected by the Arab Spring (...) the ICRC provided emergency medical assistance and first aid in partnership with the National Societies of those countries.
The ICRC also visited 540,828 detainees in 2011, 28,949 of whom were monitored individually in 1,869 places of detention. The aim of such visits, which are based on confidential dialogue with the detainees and the detaining authorities, is to ensure humane treatment for detainees and to preserve their dignity and their physical and psychological integrity. In just one notable development, at the end of the year the ICRC and the Government of Bahrain signed an agreement that will allow the ICRC to visit detainees in the country, representing significant progress in terms of access since the outbreak of violence there in February.
The Council of Delegates and the 31st International Conference were held in Geneva in November-December 2011, bringing together representatives of 164 governments, 183 National Societies and 56 official observer delegations (over 2,100 people in all), as well as the ICRC and the International Federation – an unprecedented level of attendance. The most important achievement was the adoption of a strongly worded resolution on “Strengthening legal protection for victims of armed conflicts”, the outcome of the ICRC’s two-year study on the issue and subsequent consultation process with States. While acknowledging that IHL remains as relevant as ever in international and non-international armed conflicts, the resolution set the basis for further work to strengthen this legal framework in two particular areas of serious humanitarian concern, namely protection of persons deprived of their freedom in relation to armed conflicts, and international mechanisms to monitor compliance with IHL. The ICRC was invited to identify and propose a range of options and recommendations on how these humanitarian issues should be addressed – either by reaffirming existing rules, clarifying them or even developing them. In addition, a four-year plan was adopted for the implementation of IHL, setting out measures that States are urged to take to enhance implementation in key areas such as access by civilian populations to humanitarian assistance in armed conflicts and specific protection afforded to certain categories of people.
Another important outcome was a far-reaching resolution on “Health Care in Danger: Respecting and Protecting Health Care”, which demands an effective response to the problem from States, National Societies and the health-care community at large. At the Council of Delegates, the adoption by consensus of a resolution entitled “Working towards the elimination of nuclear weapons” was particularly notable.
The 31st International Conference also served to reaffirm the spirit of partnership within the Movement – something that is essential if we are to tackle the complexity of humanitarian needs with which we are faced today – by reinforcing our preparedness to deploy rapidly and effectively and, more broadly, to tackle issues of common interest in conflict or disaster-affected contexts. The challenge will be to keep pace with the fast-evolving humanitarian environment at a time of donor constraint. But it is a challenge we must remain ready and able to meet if we are to continue to make a real difference for people affected by ongoing and emerging humanitarian crises.