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ICRC Assistance Policy

30-09-2004 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 855

Adopted by the Assembly of the International Committee of the Red Cross on 29 April 2004 - Public version

 1. Introduction  

In recent decades, the ICRC’s assistance activities have diversified and its assistance programmes have expanded. This development is due to a variety of factors that have caused the concept of humanitarian assistance to evolve well beyond mere emergency responses.

Emergency response itself has become increasingly complex, seeking to be more “intelligent” in order to achieve maximum effectiveness and to minimize the adverse consequences that humanitarian aid can have. In many situations, conflicts have become entrenched, forcing assistance work to cover the longer term, to meet needs that are at once urgent and recurrent, or even chronic. As a result, humanitarian work must be adapted and, very often, link established between emergency and rehabilitation programmes in order to promote support or mobilization activities, stimulate adaptation mechanisms and persuade the authorities concerned to shoulder their responsibilities.

The ICRC is also faced with a proliferation of actors carrying out humanitarian work and the diversity of their areas of specialization, their abilities and their working methods, a situation that has fostered a spirit both of complementarity and of competition. Under the Seville Agreement, the ICRC acts as the International Movement of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent’s “lead agency” in the event of armed conflict and guides the other components in carrying out activities that, more often than not, are linked to assistance programmes. At the same time, the growing insecurity in some situations, which can go as far as the rejecti on of humanitarian aid, has forced the ICRC to modify its approaches and strategies.

In this complex environment, the ICRC seeks to be and remain a neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian organization with a recognized status,an organization that is credible, reliable and able to carry out a wide range of activities in a highly professional manner. Its integrated approach, designed to provide victims of armed conflict and other violent situations with both protection and assistance, gives it a strong and unique identity. The organization also wishes to be, and stay, in close proximity to these people, whether individuals or groups, so that it can respond quickly and appropriately to their essential needs.

The ICRC has the capacity to act rapidly and effectively in the event of an acute crisis. It strives to play a role in preventing events that are disastrous in humanitarian terms. At the same time, it must continue to meet certain essential needs in chronic crises and sometimes even in post-crisis situations. The ICRC’s programmes in the areas of health, water and habitat, and economic security are a key aspect of this approach. In order to optimize its response to present day situations, the organization has opted to maintain a spectrum of core activities for which it possesses the internal capacity needed.

Implementing the present Assistance Policy will help the ICRC position itself as a major player in the humanitarian sphere. It is also a prerequisite for laying sound foundations from which to launch a more wide-ranging internal discussion on how humanitarian organizations in general, and the ICRC in particular, can meet the challenges of the coming decades.

Developments in today’s world are influenced by deepseated trends: increasing poverty, marginalization, urbanization, the widening of the North-South divide and the deterioration in the terms of trade, problems formulating and i mplementing adequate economic, agricultural, social and demographic policies, the deteriorating environment, the appearance or reappearance of pandemics, the use of non-conventional weapons, and so on.

The ICRC must monitor the impact of these trends on the conduct of its assistance work so that it can, insofar as possible, adapt its working methods accordingly.

The aim of this policy paper — a practical, actionoriented tool — is threefold:

  • to guide decision making on matters having to do with assistance, so as to ensure a professional, coherent, integrated approach that meets the essential needs of individuals and communities affected by armed conflict and other violent situations;

  • to clarify and affirm the position of assistance work and of the Assistance Division within the ICRC, thereby helping to provide the organization with a strong identity;

  • to serve as a reference framework for the formulation of thematic guidelines applicable to different areas of assistance.

The present document constitutes an updating of the policy paper Engagement de secours par le CICR (of 12 December 1988). It also takes account of the policy paper ICRC action in periods of transition: Guidelines (of 28 November 2002).


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