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ICRC survey shows disturbing impact of hostilities on civilians

23-06-2009 News Release 09/123

Geneva (ICRC) – War and armed violence take an alarming toll on civilians in conflict-affected countries across the globe, according to new findings published by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Tuesday. The survey reveals that displacement, separation from family members and a lack of access to basic necessities are among people's most common experiences and biggest fears.

Of those people directly affected by hostilities, 56% said they had been displaced by fighting, while almost half said they had lost contact with a loved one. One in five said they had lost their means of income.

The report, entitled Our world. Views from the field. looks at the personal experiences, needs, worries, expectations and frustrations of conflict-affected populations in eight countries: Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Georgia, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia and the Philippines. It was compiled by the Ipsos research agency and is being released to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Solferino on 24 June.

" What's new about this research is that it gives us a more comprehensive overview of how the victims of armed conflict and violence are affected across the board, " said Pierre Krähenbühl, the ICRC's director of operations. " These figures represent millions of people who are struggling to provide for their children, who have been forced to flee their villages under threat, or who live in constant fear that someone they care for will be killed, assaulted or disappear. That's very disturbing. "

In Afghanistan, 76% of those who had personal experience of armed conflict said they were forced to leave their homes, while 61% said they had lost contact with a close relative. In Liberia, a startling 90% of people said they had been displaced, followed by 61% in Lebanon and 58% in DRC. The loss of contact with a relative was also high in Liberia (86%), Lebanon (51%) and DRC (47%).

Limited access to services, such as water, electri city and health care, emerged as a widespread problem, particularly in Afghanistan and Haiti, where well over half of the people directly affected by armed violence said they had experienced a lack of these basic necessities.

As part of the research process, the ICRC conducted focus groups in the conflict-affected countries to gain a more in-depth understanding of people's true experiences of war.

" By talking to a wide range of people, and really listening to what they have to say, we're able to see the situation through their eyes. This will greatly enhance and inform our approach towards helping them and others in need, " said the ICRC's deputy director of communication, Charlotte Lindsey, who oversaw the survey.

According to the report, people most often turn to those “closest to home” for help. In all of the countries where the research took place, people said their families and communities were first to give assistance and best understood their needs.

“We need to do everything we can to strengthen the capacity of communities to cope in the face of armed conflict, " said Mr. Krähenbühl. “By working with people from affected areas, and with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and local authorities, we try to accompany families and communities at a grassroots level. The survey underscores the importance of this way of working.”

Timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Solferino, which took place on 24 June 1859, the new research looks at " today's Solferinos " and their impact on people. More than 38,000 soldiers were killed or wounded in 1859, when allied Franco-Sardinian troops clashed with Austrian soldiers in northern Italy. The battle led to the creation of the ICRC, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the Geneva Conventions.

" When you look at Solferino, where only one civilian was reportedly killed, and you compare it with modern-day conflicts in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Gaza or Somalia, you find that warfare today takes a more widespread physical and emotional toll on civilians, " said Mr. Krähenbühl. " This clearly points to a need for warring parties to better respect international humanitarian law and the rules of war. Civilians and their property must be spared and protected at all times. "

 Other key findings of the report  

Of the more than 4,000 people surveyed, 44% overall said they had personally experienced armed conflict. The highest figures were in Liberia (96%), Lebanon (75%) and Afghanistan (60%).

Around 66% of all respondents said they had felt the consequences of hostilities, even if they did not consider themselves personally or directly affected. This includes almost everyone in Lebanon (96%), Liberia (96%), Haiti (98%) and Afghanistan (96%).

Almost 30% of those directly affected by fighting said a close family member had been killed during fighting. This figure was dramatically higher in Liberia (69%) and Afghanistan (45%). In both Lebanon and DRC, the corresponding figure was about 25%.

The loss of income among those directly affected by violence and armed conflict was highest in Afghanistan (60%), Lebanon (51%) and Haiti (40%). Across the eight countries, 18% said they had been wounded by fighting. In addition, 17% said they had been tortured, while 32% said they had experienced humiliation.

 For more information, please contact:  

 Anna Nelson, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 217 3264 or      (English, French)  Michelle Rockwell, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 251 9311 or       (English)  Marçal Izard, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 217 3224 or      (German, Spanish)  Hicham Hassan, ICRC Cairo, tel: +201 87 42 43 44 or       (Arabic)  TV news footage  Jan Powell, tel: +41 22 730 2511 or      

  Our world. Views from the field. The impact of conflicts and armed violence on civilians