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Overview of the ICRC's operations in 2010


This document presents the ICRC's worldwide operational priorities for 2010. It is based on the internal analysis and planning exercise conducted every year, primarily by the ICRC's 80 delegations and missions in the field.

The ICRC is pleased to present its Emergency Appeals 2010, which describe the situations faced by people affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence, the primary objectives of the ICRC’s field delegations and missions in some 80 countries around the world and the corresponding budgetary requirements. The Emergency Appeals set out the needs as identified at the time of writing in November 2009.

The following is an extract from the introduction by Pierre Krähenbühl, Director of Operations.

Trends in contemporary armed conflicts

The first thing to strike anyone analysing the key characteristics of today’s conflicts is their average duration. In most contexts, the ICRC has now been present for two, three or even four decades. In other words, conflicts experience a combination of acute and chronic phases and rarely come to a clear-cut end, with a specific peace agreement to chart the next phase of a country’s history.

Many of today’s conflicts have economic roots and revolve primarily around competition for access to critical energy resources; this often explains why they are difficult to contain or to resolve. They may also have tribal, ethnic or religious dimensions, and may be characterized by the coexistence of armed groups whose raison d’être and primary motives tend to switch from professed political grievances to acts of banditry.

A feature of several conflict situations is the coexistence of multiple factors and their overlapping impacts on groups at risk. The combination of a weak State, collapsing infrastructure and open hostilities, mixed with politically driven actors and criminal groups, on the one hand, and environmental degradation, drought, floods or pandemics, on the other, renders entire populations extremely vulnerable. The inherent complexity of such environments, often combined with high levels of insecurity, makes it particularly difficult to determine the most relevant response to the needs.

The economic crisis has also had a marked impact on people in conflict-affected or fragile States. It remains difficult to offer a comprehensive reading of the situation, but several elements are of serious concern. These include the decline in foreign and national investment in critical industries, which in some countries has led to closures and significant job losses, and a fall in remittances, which in many conflict-affected countries influences the livelihoods of large numbers of families and the choices they are making in order to cope. Nevertheless, to date, and contrary to the 2008 food crisis, the economic crisis appears in itself not to have triggered immediate and large-scale armed unrest. This explains why there are no significant changes in ICRC budgets resulting from this phenomenon – at least not yet.

Every context has its own mix of factors that the ICRC must understand at the grassroots level if it is to provide an appropriate response to people’s needs.

The nature of vulnerability and needs in armed conflicts and other situations of violence

Throughout 2009, ICRC field staff and the staff of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have been con­fronted with the multiple risks, difficulties and suffering that have a cruel impact on the lives of men and women in armed conflicts and other situations of violence around the world. The ICRC centres its analysis and action on these individuals and communities, focusing on people directly affected by fighting: the weapon-wounded, endangered civilians, IDPs fleeing the battle zone, and detainees at risk of ill-treatment or disappearance.

The following excerpts from the planning documents of several ICRC delegations poignantly illustrate the multiple ways in which conflict heightens people’s vulnerability:

"The military offensive (…) was of unprecedented nature and scope in the means and methods of warfare used (…), the number of casualties, and the extent of the destruction of civilian property."

"Year after year, reports (…) underline the factors affecting the population: chaos, lawlessness, mass displacement, despair, hunger, (…) fragmentation of (…) society, a succession of failed peace processes (…). The combination of war and drought has weakened communities to such an extent that even traditional coping mechanisms no longer work (…)."

"There are also serious concerns about the protection of the medical mission. Elements on all sides have been disrupting medical care delivery, showing scant regard for the sanctity of health structures, staff and patients (…). Insecurity is cited as the single biggest factor preventing health care delivery and it is reported that several health centres in the most affected regions are inactive; some have been torched or destroyed, others remain shut because of direct threats to or the killing of health workers."

Armed conflicts also have indirect effects that result from: prolonged restriction of movement and various forms of humiliation; steady deterioration in health and sanitation conditions in and around conflict zones, which leads to deaths from largely preventable illnesses and communicable diseases; and the lack of access to safe water, arable land, basic services or humanitarian assistance.

In addition to these direct and indirect physical consequences, armed conflicts have an impact on people’s mental health, as illustrated by another extract from a specific context:

“The assessment showed that a significant proportion of families still believe or hope that their relatives are alive and will return. Additionally, even many years after the disappearance, their emotional burden is heavy. A large percentage of those interviewed admitted being affected by intrusive thoughts and not sharing their feelings with any­one else. The assessment has highlighted the existence of a real state of psychological suffering with visible signs of depression, anxiety and psychosomatic symptoms.”

Armed conflicts affect people differently if they are men or women, young or old. The ICRC has significantly improved its analysis of and response to the specific needs of women. It is currently reinforcing some of the ways in which it ad­dresses the needs of children, but it can still significantly improve the manner in which its programming takes into ac­count the specific needs of more elderly beneficiaries.

As ever, the priority, the essence of humanitarian action, is to save lives, and to make a real difference in efforts to re­duce human suffering.

Implications for current ICRC operations

The ICRC was particularly active in the field in 2009. Several contexts offered confirmation that its sustained presence, its neutrality, impartiality and independence, its networks, its strategic partnerships with National Societies and its ability to deploy and respond swiftly represent significant added value in terms of addressing the needs of affected populations.

The past twelve months have seen the ICRC strongly resolved to live up to the responsibilities and pressures resulting from the highest ever initial field budget (CHF 997 million), from nine separate budget extensions amounting to CHF 144 million (Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel and the Occupied Territories, Pakistan (2), the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Yemen and Zimbabwe), and from a range of other demanding operations in contexts such as Chad, Colombia, Iraq, the Sahel region, Somalia, the southern Caucasus and Sudan.

At the same time, the ICRC faced numerous challenges to its neutral, impartial and independent approach. Limitations on access, for political or security reasons or owing to a lack of acceptance of the organization, remain a constant concern. In 2009, the ICRC experienced a range of serious incidents: three of its national staff members were killed in Sri Lanka, one national staff member was killed in a car-bomb attack that struck indiscriminately in Afghanistan and another was killed in the Central African Republic. Three expatriate staff members were held hostage in the Philippines for six months, a horrendous ordeal for them and their families that placed considerable pressure on the delegation and the ICRC as a whole. Furthermore, at the time of writing, an expatriate staff member remains in the hands of armed men after being abducted in Darfur, Sudan, in late October. As in the Philippines, a crisis cell is working hard to secure his release and safe return as soon as possible.

Key challenges for the ICRC in 2010

Access and proximity

The fundamental challenge for the ICRC remains its access to populations or individuals affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence.

The ICRC is under constant pressure to live up to its commitment to work in proximity to those in need. Proximity is often described in terms of staff presence in a variety of locations in a given context. It is a notion, however, that must encompass far more than geographical location and physical presence. It needs to include a thorough understanding of the individual circumstances of each vulnerable person and of the multiple factors affecting his or her safety and well­being. It entails understanding the profound physical and psychological scars that armed violence leaves on people.

Perception, acceptance, security and dialogue with all

The issues of perception and acceptance are related factors. They are influenced by the quality and perceived relevance of ICRC activities for affected people, by the credibility of the organization’s efforts to seek respect for rules of IHL and by the discipline with which it shows adherence to its Fundamental Principles. They are also influenced by the quality of the ICRC’s dialogue with all those engaged in or in a position to influence armed conflicts and other situations of violence.

One can never presume to have achieved positive acceptance, certainly not in this day and age. ICRC teams invest daily in efforts to build relations, generate understanding, and thus obtain and maintain acceptance. In some countries, where it has been present and active for many years, often in close partnership with the National Society, the ICRC has generated positive understanding and benefits from the fact that various actors and parties have seen the results of its work. In other contexts, where operations are more recent, networks are still being developed and relations are being formed amid great pressure to respond to pressing needs. The behaviour of individual staff members, their sensitivity, and an ability to truly listen and to assimilate a variety of perceptions are key to this endeavour.

Safeguarding the essence of neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian action

The ICRC’s capacity to demonstrate the added value of neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian action and the relevance of IHL remains an important factor in today’s conflict environments. For the ICRC to have a real impact on the lives of populations in conflict zones across the world, what it says must tally with what it actually does; this ele­ment of predictability and credibility is crucial.

Focusing on operational and security management

In recent years, much has been said and written about the mounting security challenges facing humanitarian organizations. The militarization of aid and the blurring of lines are hotly debated issues. The risk of humanitarian agencies being instrumentalized and insufficiently separate from political and military agendas is regularly highlighted.

Humanitarian action appears to be rejected with growing frequency by a wide range of armed groups, for a variety of reasons that range from political opportunism to the perception that humanitarian work is part of a broader political and military agenda. Attacks on humanitarian workers have become so numerous in the past three years that several observers have spoken of a profound crisis for humanitarian action in general.

The ICRC is convinced of the importance of maintaining decentralized security management, through its large network of national and international staff. It realizes that with its current broad scope of action, there is an inherent level of exposure to risk that needs to be carefully and systematically managed. This implies taking nothing for granted and clearly recognizing the fragility of its operations in many contexts.

A truly universal anchorage

The ICRC is seeking to become truly universal in its thinking and action. It is vital that it understand not only local situations but also how different regional and global players perceive crisis situations across the globe and understand humanitarian dynamics. In addition, the ICRC must manage to secure a more profound and genuine anchorage in the various regions of the world.

Scope of action and multidisciplinary response

The ICRC’s ability to sustain a broad scope of action and a multidisciplinary response continues to be demanding, but necessary. It includes the notion of a solid centre of gravity in zones of armed conflict and other situations of violence, ICRC action in early recovery and transition phases and when natural disasters strike in conflict-affected regions, as well as a readiness to explore mixed political/criminal situations in urban settings, with a view to learning for the future. This requires a diversified set of response capacities, from rapid response to dealing with the effects of chronic crises and restoring livelihoods.

The broad range of approaches and services that the ICRC can today design and deploy, either alone or in conjunction with National Societies, in principle adds flexibility to defining context-relevant strategies.

Managing a broad scope of action also entails a responsibility to focus and prioritize, notably when it comes to prevention and cooperation activities. The same applies to the ability to downsize where it is justified, as in Georgia, Liberia and Uganda.

Coordination and partnerships

A prominent feature of the ICRC’s approach to partnerships is the organization’s strategic interaction with and investment in the National Societies of countries where it conducts operations. This entails ensuring better integration of National Society capacities and expectations into ICRC planning and programming and more focused support for National Society capacity-building objectives.

Particular emphasis will be placed in 2010 on maintaining or reinforcing operational interaction with National Societies in a range of conflict situations, from Afghanistan to Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia and Yemen.

Furthermore, the ICRC will pursue and broaden its efforts to establish closer and more diversified relations with a range of other National Societies committed to working internationally, to promote sound Movement coordination and to foster innovative approaches to partnerships.

The ICRC has mainstreamed its coordination approach – reality-based and response-oriented – with other humanitarian actors. In this respect it will maintain relations with a range of NGOs and UN agencies, engaging in dialogue at strategic and field level.

Budget features and operational priorities in 2010

The present document contains an initial appeal for CHF 983.2 million to cover ICRC field activities in 2010.

A central feature of the ICRC’s 2010 budget is that it reflects the organization’s current level of operational engagement worldwide to address the needs of populations at risk in a credible way. It is a stable budget, at just 1% below the initial 2009 budget, the largest the ICRC has ever presented.

This high level of commitment is in part explained by sustained access in key conflict zones and significant increases in medical activities, an area in which the ICRC is seeking to strengthen its action both independently and in partnership with National Societies.

The ICRC will retain the ability to deploy its rapid response teams in the event of specific unforeseen crises or major new emergencies. It will carefully monitor the effects of the economic crisis on the livelihoods of communities in conflict-affected or fragile countries.

The 10 largest operations worldwide will be: Afghanistan (CHF 86.0 million), Iraq (CHF 85.2 million), Sudan (CHF 76.3 million), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (CHF 66.3 million), Israel and the Occupied Territories (CHF 61.5 million), Pakistan (CHF 56.6 million), Somalia (CHF 54.9 million), Colombia (CHF 36.9 million), Yemen (CHF 23.9 million), and Chad (CHF 22.1 million).


From a humanitarian perspective, armed conflicts and violence are about people, the suffering they are exposed to, and the action that must be taken to prevent, mitigate or put an end to that suffering. Every single day of the year, ICRC and National Society staff are confronted with the multiple effects of armed hostilities and violent attacks on people’s safety, integrity, dignity and livelihoods.

The ability to make a difference continues to depend on several things: the capacity to analyse and anticipate trends, a readiness to adapt to change throughout the year and to take (carefully considered) risks to reach populations, competence, creativity and determination on the part of ICRC staff in the field, and acceptance and understanding on the part of a multiplicity of stakeholders. It also requires – and this is essential – donor support: from governments, National Societies, civil society and the private sector.

At the end of a year marked by uncertainty resulting from the financial crisis, by several fresh emergencies and by persistent conflicts requiring ongoing attention, the ICRC is particularly grateful for the donors’ exceptional support and confidence.

The strength and quality of that support cannot be overemphasized. It is critical in enabling the ICRC to live up to its mandate and shoulder its related responsibilities. The respect for the ICRC’s neutrality, impartiality and independence that accompanies this financial support is also acknowledged and appreciated.

The ICRC’s energy and commitment stem from its sense of duty to make a difference for people affected by armed con­flict and other situations of violence. Every day, our 12,000 staff members work towards that fundamental goal and their determination to succeed is immense.

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