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Georgia/Russian Federation: assistance through rapid deployment makes the difference

14-08-2008 Interview

As Georgia continues to reel from the violence of the past week, the ICRC's emergency response is in full swing. So far, almost 100 tonnes of relief supplies have been flown to the affected region. The organization has also sent over 40 additional staff to Georgia and the Russian Federation to support efforts in helping people who were forced to flee their homes. The ICRC's rapid deployment adviser, Samuel Bon, describes the role of the Rapid Deployment Unit, and how it is helping to bring assistance to thousands of people in Georgia and North Ossetia.


  Samuel Bon    
     What is the role and capacity of the ICRC's Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU) currently on the ground in Georgia?  


The main goal of the RDU is to ensure that the ICRC responds quickly and efficiently to emerging humanitarian needs. As in all emergencies, time i s of the essence when it comes to saving lives. At the moment, displaced people in Georgia and North Ossetia, and isolated residents in South Ossetia, remain in need of basic services such as access to water, food, blankets and hygiene items. There is also a need to ensure medical care for the injured.

Generally speaking, the RDU facilitates the rapid deployment of human resources and supplies in support of our delegations and offices around the world, in case of a crisis. For any such emergency operation, the RDU has a range of capacities, from administrators and jurists to surgeons and water and habitat specialists. For the current operation, we've mobilized people from almost all of our areas of expertise and have already sent around 40 additional staff to Georgia and half a dozen to North Ossetia. Some of them were on the ground within a couple of days, which is no small feat given the security, communications and transportation challenges that occur during armed conflicts.

The team members we have on the ground in Georgia and the Russian Federation are among the most experienced and technically qualified people the ICRC has at its disposal.

A week after the conflict broke out, we feel that our rapid deployment of staff and supplies has been effective, but of course our access to some affected areas has been hampered by ongoing insecurity. So far, our teams have been working in Georgia and North Ossetia to determine emergency needs, visit centres for the displaced, set up water treatment equipment and support local hospital and medical staff in treating the injured.

 The Norwegian Red Cross will be setting up a field hospital in the next couple of days. Can you elaborate on the ICRC's collaboration with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in terms of Rapid Deployment initiatives in general and specifically now in Georgia?  


We work with our National Society partners to make the best use of our combined areas of expertise. The volunteers and staff who work for Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world play a vital role in ensuring that aid is distributed quickly and efficiently during crises. 

In terms of the RDU, when a crisis occurs, we get in contact with the relevant National Societies right away so that our response is coordinated. During armed conflicts such as this, the ICRC leads the Red Cross and Red Crescent's humanitarian response as outlined in its mandate. This entails working with National Societies on the ground and around the world to scale up quickly.

The Norwegian Red Cross'field hospital is a good example of a National Society in one country providing support to people in need in another area of the globe. The Norwegian RDU hospital has a team of 12, including a surgical doctor, operating theatre nurses, a ward nurse, a doctor, an anaesthesia nurse and technicians. It can be operational within 24 hours and has 20 beds, an operating theatre, its own water and sanitation system, and can provide the same medical assistance as a normal hospital.

The ICRC sees this as an excellent example of the added value that comes from working together. In addition, many National Societies around the world are supporting our preliminary appeal for funding. We are working with the Russian Red Cross in North Ossetia to distribute relief to people who fled from South Ossetia, while also coordinating with the Georgian Red Cross to distribute aid to the displaced.

 Earlier this year, the Rapid Deployment Unit sent a team to Kenya in response to the post-election violence there. How does that situation compare with the Georgian crisis in terms of emergency response and the role of the RDU?  


While both events escalated quickly, the essential difference is that the current crisis is an international armed conflict and the role and mandate of the ICRC is clearly defined.

In Kenya, the situation involved internal violence and the ICRC was there to support the Kenyan Red Cross and be ready to bolster our response in the event of worsening violence. That said, our experience in Kenya demonstrated how important good coordination is in any crisis. It also showed the strength of the rapid deployment mechanism in responding to humanitarian challenges.

The system itself is still relatively new so each time it is mobilized, we will continue to apply the lessons we learn from operations such as the one in Georgia and the Russian Federation.