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South Asia: Partnerships with national societies key to reaching people in need

23-04-2014 Interview

Laetitia Courtois, the ICRC’s deputy head of operations for South Asia, visited India in January 2014 to get a first-hand insight into the ICRC’s activities in the country and to meet Indian Red Cross Society staff and others concerned with the ICRC’s work. Here, she speaks about the evolving relationships of the ICRC with national societies in South Asia.

What is the role of the ICRC in South Asia?

Laetitia Courtois, ICRC deputy head of operations for South Asia 

Laetitia Courtois, ICRC deputy head of operations for South Asia

South Asia is a complex and varied region, and the ICRC’s work here has to be suited to the reality in the different countries. For example, we have been working in Afghanistan for nearly 30 years, and this is one of the ICRC’s key operations. Faced with security challenges, we are trying to ensure that key activities such as support to health services, visits to detainees, assistance programmes and interaction with the Afghan Red Crescent continue to the fullest extent possible, while at the same time reducing staff exposure to risk.

In Nepal and Sri Lanka, the situation is different. There, we adapt our activities to the needs of people affected by past conflicts, focusing, for example, on issues relating to people who went missing during the conflicts.

India has been and will remain a central context for the South Asia region. We look forward to India’s support for neutral, non-partisan and impartial humanitarian activities such as those carried out by the ICRC.

How do you see the evolution of partnerships with national societies in South Asia?

I see the partnerships as increasingly growing both in scope and in their level of commitment. Working in partnership with national societies is crucial to the ICRC’s efforts to reach out to people in need in an appropriate and efficient way.

In India, our relations with the Indian Red Cross Society go back as far as 1920. In a country prone to natural disasters, we support the work of the national society in emergency response, first aid, and in tracing and reuniting family members separated by migration, displacement or disaster. There are more than 12 million volunteers and members working throughout India, even in the most remote parts of the country, responding to all sorts of crises people face. We certainly have things to learn from each other.

Across the border in Bangladesh, the partnership that we have with the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society allows us to reach people affected by violence. In Nepal, we work hand in hand with the national society to help the families of people who have gone missing as a result of the conflict.

How do you see the ICRC’s activities developing in India?

India will remain a central context for our work in South Asia. We are busy with the follow-up of our work in Jammu and Kashmir, which is taking place within the framework of the memorandum of understanding signed by the Indian government. We would also like to maintain or even increase our support for the efforts of the Indian Red Cross to enhance its ability to respond to disasters and other emergencies and to meet long-term needs. Last, but not least, we would like to continue sharing our knowhow in the field of International Humanitarian Law with the government and others in the country.

ICRC meets Odisha chief minister

A high-level International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation headed by Ms Mary Werntz, Head of Regional Delegation, New Delhi, visited Odisha in January. During the visit, the delegation also met Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and lauded the preparedness of the government at the time when Cyclone Phailin hit Odisha in 2013. Apart from this, Ms Werntz and Mr Patnaik discussed ways for the ICRC to contribute meaningfully to activities of the Odisha state branch of the Indian Red Cross Society.

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