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Overview of the ICRC's operations in 2009


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The ICRC is pleased to present its 2009 Emergency Appeals, an overview of the organization's main operational challenges and priorities for the coming year, in which it analyses the situations encountered by its field delegations and missions in some 80 countries around the world and outlines the corresponding objectives and budgetary requirements. The Emergency Appeals set out the organization’s plan of action for responding to the needs of people affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence, as identified at the time of writing in November 2008.

The following is an extract from the introduction by Pierre Krähenbühl, Director of Operations.  
Human security and the nature of vulnerability in the early 21st century 

From a humanitarian perspective, armed conflicts and violence are about people , the risks, vulnerabilities and sufferi ng they are exposed to, and about the action that must be taken to prevent, mitigate or put an end to that suffering. While this appears to be stating the obvious, it is crucial for the ICRC always to keep the plight of individuals and communities at the forefront of its analysis and action.

This implies understanding the multiple factors that affect people’s safety and well-being, and comprehending the profound physical and psychological scars that armed violence leaves on those who survive it. Historically, the focus of humanitarian action has been on saving the lives of people directly affected by fighting: the wounded, endangered civilians, IDPs fleeing the battle zone, and detainees who risk ill-treatment or disappearance. Any response to the immediate survival needs of people at risk must have this focus.

The following excerpt from one ICRC delegation’s planning document poignantly illustrates the multiple ways in which conflict heightens people’s vulnerability:

“(…) most of the violations of IHL led to individual and massive displacements, compelling civilians to flee for their lives, to abandon their communities, homes, and lands and generated fear of reprisals, social segregation, uncertainty about the future and increased vulnerability. Victims of direct military attacks, ill-treatment, sexual violence, and weapon contamination had to face serious physical consequences such as temporary/permanent disability, disease, unwanted pregnancy and stigmatization. They also had to deal with the psychological consequences of the events, such as nightmares, depression, mental disorders”.

Armed conflicts also have indirect effects, the result of: prolonged restriction of movement and diverse forms of humiliation; steady deterioration in health and sanitation conditions in and around conflict zones that 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 and safety . Again, the priority, the essence of humanitarian action, is to save lives, and to make a real difference in efforts to reduce human suffering. In its endeavours to integrate the multiple perspectives of conflict victims, the ICRC has realized what a potent impact lasting trauma can have on people’s coping and survival mechanisms, whether in the context of chronic crises or in terms of their ability to resume or restore livelihoods and focus on the future, once the conflict has come to an end.

It is also worth noting that, although the rural population remains the focus of humanitarian attention in many contexts, from Darfur, Sudan, to eastern Chad, from the Philippines to Sri Lanka, in other places, such as Baghdad, Mogadishu or Port-au-Prince, the spotlight is tending to shift more and more to the needs of populations affected by urban forms of conflict and violence. 

The nature of conflicts: changing trends and environments 

The 21st century has witnessed the emergence of armed conflicts and other situations of violence that tend to be less ideological than in the past. The polarization that marked the Cold War period saw a clash of competing world views, the ever-present risk of nuclear disaster and a range of confro ntations by proxy, primarily in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

In contrast, today’s conflicts are increasingly economic in nature and revolve primarily around competition for access to critical energy resources. They may also have tribal, ethnic or religious dimensions, and may be characterized by the coexistence of political and non-political players, in particular armed groups whose raison d’être tends to switch from banditry to land ownership and a stake in the nation’s wealth redistribution.

One of the most striking features of today’s conflicts and situations of violence is the coexistence of multiple factors and their overlapping impact on populations at risk. For example, the juxtaposition of a weak State, collapsing infrastructure and open hostilities among a mix of politically driven players and criminal groups, on the one hand, and environmental degradation, drought, floods or pandemics, on the other, renders entire populations extremely vulnerable and makes it particularly difficult to define an appropriate response in humanitarian terms.

These trends also contribute to dramatic displacement crises as people flee intense combat, threats from other communities, electoral or gang violence, and other dangers. The displaced may be taken in by residents in other parts of the country or become part of mass migration movements to major urban centres or of perilous cross-border movements in search of security in other lands.

There were few wars between States in 2008, the exceptions being the conflicts in Georgia and between Eritrea and Djibouti. The number of very complex non-international armed conflicts involving a plethora of actors remained high. They confirmed the marked influence of armed groups. Such groups are often unstable and have a tendency to fragment into splinter groups and regroup under new commands. In 2008, as in recent yea rs, several armed groups were engaged in a confrontation on a global scale with a number of States. This showed itself in several countries mainly in acts of “terrorism” or “counter-terrorism”.

Implications for current ICRC operations 

The ICRC further consolidated the added value of its neutral and independent humanitarian action in several critical contexts in 2008, obtaining greater access and extending its operational reach in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Georgia, Iraq, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Sahel region and Somalia, and holding steady under very demanding conditions in contexts such as the Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Yemen. The setbacks it experienced in 2007 in Ethiopia and Myanmar remained unresolved 12 months on, despite sustained dialogue with the authorities concerned in these contexts. 

Thanks to its commitment and resolve, the ICRC was able to shoulder the combined pressures of a demanding initial overall field budget of CHF 933 million and of 13 separate budget extensions amounting to CHF 143 million for operations in Afghanistan, the DRC, Georgia, Kenya (Nairobi regional delegation), Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, the Russian Federation (Moscow regional delegation), the Sahel region, Senegal (Dakar regional delegation), Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Zimbabwe (Harare regional delegation). It thus confirmed its ability to maintain a broad and meaningful scope of action and to adapt to changing needs in the course of the year.

In 2008, the rapid deployment and response approach adopted in 2007 was successfully activated in Kenya (January), Myanmar (May) and Georgia (August). Aspects of the approach that proved to be especially effective and relevant include the human resource roster (activation and quality) , speedier decision-making dynamics from initial assessment to preliminary appeal, implementation and rapid learning of lessons.

The validity of the ICRC’s individual and collective networking efforts, which consist of engaging in dialogue with a wide range of State and other actors, was apparent in a variety of contexts. Its ongoing investment in dialogue with diverse protagonists throughout the Muslim world again proved effective. Greater attention was also paid to dialogue with key and emerging influential State players.

Key challenges for the ICRC in 2009 

The ICRC will focus on two key operational challenges in 2009: to obtain a clear understanding of the diversity of situations in which it works and their specific nature, and to provide a meaningful response to the multitude of needs faced by the people affected.

 Access and proximity  

The fundamental challenge for the ICRC remains to obtain access to populations or individuals affected by an armed conflict or another situation of violence. The ICRC is about making a real difference, about saving lives by means of a context- and needs-based response. For this, proximity to the people affected is critical but never guaranteed. Security considerations play a fundamental role in this regard. It is increasingly apparent that proximity means both physical closeness (which in 2009 will signify more decentralized offices and staff) and genuine receptiveness to and understanding of realities and vulnerabilities. It means accepting diversity and being able to interact without preconceived ideas or notions. It implies concern for people and their individual dignity, sensitivity and generosity in addressing their needs.

 Perception, acceptance and dialogue with all  

 Perception and acceptance are related. Both are influenced by the quality and perceived relevance of ICRC activities for people affected by conflict, by the credibility of the organization’s efforts to seek respect for the rules of IHL and by the discipline with which it adheres to its fundamental principles. They are also influenced by the quality of the dialogue it has with all those engaged in or in a position to influence situations of armed conflict and other situations of violence.

These parameters are of particular importance in view of the growing perception among many involved in conflict zones of the gap between the stated intentions of the humanitarian community at large and its actual field-based capacity and impact.

 Safeguarding the essence of neutral and independent humanitarian action  

The humanitarian sector in general continues to evolve in many ways, both in the context of UN reform and as a result of the consolidation in several countries of the so-called comprehensive approaches , which see humanitarian action and means firmly embedded in military strategy.

The ICRC’s commitment to demonstrate the specific added value of neutral and independent humanitarian action and the relevance of IHL therefore remains an important factor in today’s conflict environments. Together with its National Society partners, the ICRC seeks to stay focused on having a real impact on populations in conflict zones across the world. Insofar as possible, it also seeks to ensure that it does what it says it will do. 

 Focusing on operational and security management  

Access possibilities and operational impact continue to be tightly linked to security parameters. Ensuring operational reach often implies daily exposure to multiple risks, in a global context in which humanitarian agencies and staff are increasingly targeted. In 2008, the ICRC experienced serious security incidents in Chad, Pakistan and Sudan. In addition, Afghanistan, Colombia, the DRC, Iraq, the Philippines, the Sahel region, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Yemen, and several other sensitive contexts required particularly attentive management and monitoring in security terms. This implies taking nothing for granted and clearly recognizing the inherent fragility of operations in many contexts. There is much that requires better understanding, consolidation and improvement from a security standpoint.

Most worrying in 2008 was the number of humanitarian workers killed in conflict zones, notably Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan. 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 that they raise the spectre of a profound crisis for humanitarian action in general.

The ICRC has opted to maintain decentralized security management, through its broad network of national and international staff.

 A truly universal anchorage  

More generally, the ICRC must now become truly universal in its thinking and action. It is vital that it understand not only l ocal situations but also how different regional and global players perceive crisis situations across the globe and understand humanitarian dynamics. The approach it has advocated over the past five years – of taking into account the interaction between local, regional and global dimensions – becomes even more important when considered in this light.

In addition, the ICRC must secure a more profound and genuine anchorage in the various regions of the world. Its objective is to lay deeper roots and become even more able to adapt to the realities and needs of different contexts. 

 Scope of action and multidisciplinary response  

The ICRC continues to strive, as it must, to sustain a broad scope of action and a multidisciplinary response capacity. This encompasses the notion of a centre of gravity in zones of armed conflict and other situations of violence, ICRC action in early recovery and transition phases and when natural disaster strikes in conflict-affected regions, as well as readiness to explore the outer rims of urban-type mixed political-criminal situations, with a view to learning for the future.

It requires a diversified set of reaction capacities, from rapid response to dealing with the effects of chronic crises and livelihood restoration. It also requires new capacities, which the ICRC has developed in the fields of protection, health, weapon contamination and forensics. Sound planning, strategy formulation and implementation call for effective programme integration and mode-of-action combination.

The broad range of services that the ICRC can deploy today, either alone or in conjunction with National Societies, in principle allows it greater flexibility in defining a context-relevant and vulnerability-based response. This has significant implications in terms of staff profile and logistics, and r epresents an ongoing management challenge for senior field staff.

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 rapidly (e.g. Kenya following the post­election violence) and responsibly where the ICRC’s presence is no longer needed in the same magnitude (Angola, Budapest regional delegation, Congo, Sierra Leone).

 Coordination and partnerships  

The ICRC has mainstreamed its coordination approach – reality-based and action-oriented – with other humanitarian actors. This reflects recognition on its part of the importance of sustained and predictable interaction, notably with Movement partners, key UN agencies and NGOs in the humanitarian sector.

ICRC teams in the field and units at headquarters spend significant amounts of time in consultation and coordination with other organizations operating in the same contexts and sharing similar objectives. The organization will continue to identify operational and institutional partnerships with other Movement components, both National Societies and the International Federation, and with individual UN agencies and NGOs.

A central feature of the ICRC’s interaction with National Societies working in their own countries has been its increasingly strategic nature. National Societies seek a more assertive role in the response to needs in their country. They also seek better acknowledgement of their contribution and capacities on the part of the ICRC. In 2009, the ICRC will proceed with its priority partnerships in a range of contexts, from Afghanistan to Colombia, the DRC, Lebanon, Nepal, Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan, to name but a few, where cooperation has become a constituent component of the overall capacity to address n eeds effectively. This approach reflects the joint commitment of the International Federation and the ICRC to invest in and demonstrate the Movement’s added value within the broader humanitarian community.

 Budget features and operational priorities in 2009  

The present document contains an initial appeal for CHF 996.9 million to cover ICRC field activities in 2009.

A central feature of the ICRC’s 2009 budget – as was the case a year ago – is that it reflects the organization’s current level of operational engagement worldwide. The budget is CHF 64 million higher than the initial 2008 budget and as such the single largest ICRC field budget since 2000. It is CHF 15 million higher than the 2008 level of expenditure, estimated at CHF 982 million at the time of writing.

It is important to note that the increase in expenditure between 2007 and 2008 reflected in the 2009 initial budget results from improved access and stepped up activities in certain critical conflict zones, including Afghanistan, Chad, the DRC, Iraq, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia and Sudan (Darfur). Indeed, the ICRC is determined to present overall field objectives and a related budget that reflect its commitment to providing a meaningful response wherever hostilities break out. As such, the 2009 increase corresponds to greater medical and IDP-related needs in several contexts.

Also of relevance is the impact of the oil, food and financial crises on the security and well-being of the population in several regions and countries already affected by conflict or violence, notably in Latin America, North and sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The 10 largest operations worldwide will be: Sudan (CHF 102.8 million), Iraq (CHF 95.9 million), Afghanistan (CHF 73.1 million), Israel and the Occupied and Autonomous Terr itories (CHF 67.3 million), the DRC (CHF 52.9 million), Somalia (CHF 50.0 million), Colombia (CHF 38.6 million), Chad (CHF 31.7 million), Sri Lanka (CHF 27.8 million) and Pakistan (CHF 24.2 million).


The dizzying pace of global change and its multiple effects on people’s safety, integrity, dignity and livelihoods place the ICRC and its 12,000 staff under steady pressure. The ability to make a difference depends on several things: the capacity to analyse and anticipate trends, readiness to adapt to change throughout the year and to take 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.

The ICRC is immensely grateful for the donors’ support and confidence in a year that saw several fresh emergencies arise and persistent conflicts require ongoing attention. It cannot emphasize enough the extent to which their generosity and trust have played a central role in enabling the ICRC to live up to its responsibilities. In return, the ICRC has invested in a range of efforts, from reporting to evaluations, to ensure a high level of transparency on how it makes its decisions and uses the funds received.

The ICRC firmly believes that it has a duty to make a difference for people affected by armed conflict. It will not allow the manifold problems and constraints standing in its way to undermine its steadfast determination to discharge that responsibility.

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