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Overview of the ICRC's operations in 2014

05-12-2013 Report

This document presents the ICRC's worldwide operational priorities for 2014. 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 2014 Emergency Appeals, which describe the situations faced by people affected by armed conflicts 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 late October 2013.

Trends in contemporary armed conflicts

Close analysis of the primary characteristics of the armed conflicts and other situations of violence in which the ICRC currently operates reveals a number of key features.

First, with its multiple consequences, the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic (hereafter Syria) has developed into one of the most catastrophic and violent crises in a long time. The devastation and human costs are staggering, with hundreds of thousands of people killed or injured, tens of thousands detained or missing, and millions displaced, separated or having sought refuge in neighbouring countries and having to cope with huge pressures. In besieged areas, the appalling suffering of civilians includes starvation and widespread lack of access to health care, notably due to the systematic and widespread targeting of hospitals, ambulances and medical personnel. While diplomatic efforts have been initiated, the immediate future remains bleak for Syria’s people.

Second, for over a decade, the instability and conflict caused by polarization between States and radicalized armed groups has affected the lives and dignity of countless people, undermined the legitimacy of State institutions and made such situations extremely challenging to resolve. Syria is but one example; in Afghanistan, Mali, parts of Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen, for instance, armed confrontations raise issues linked to indiscriminate acts of violence often affecting mainly civilians, the treatment of detainees and the use of remotely piloted aircraft and other counter-terrorism measures. Governments and the international community rarely manage to bring lasting stability to these situations.

Third, access to critical resources and ethnic, nationalist or religious grievances remain key drivers of protracted armed conflicts and other situations of violence. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (hereafter DRC), for example, fighting between the army and armed groups, and between several armed groups, is accompanied by heightened intercommunal tensions. In the process, civilians suffer widespread abuse, including looting, destruction of property, child recruitment and sexual violence. In South Sudan, border disputes, armed clashes and intercommunal violence have left thousands of people displaced, separated from family, injured or dead.

Fourth, the resurgence of State assertiveness and nationalism raises a number of paradoxes. Weak States tend to generate instability because of their inability to maintain law and order and deliver critical services, while strong States at times undermine respect for State legitimacy by employing repressive means, thereby creating volatility as well. States sometimes invoke national sovereignty to prevent outsiders, including humanitarian organizations, from interfering in their internal affairs, yet are often not as assertive in assuming their responsibility to deliver key services. Furthermore, State assertiveness is rising while critical threats to international security and stability, including “terrorism” and organized crime, are becoming transnational in nature and therefore require close international cooperation to resolve.

Fifth, displacement and migration continue to have serious and traumatic consequences on men, women and children. Millions of IDPs in the Central African Republic (hereafter CAR), Colombia, Somalia, Syria and elsewhere often suffer multiple displacements, loss of property and livelihoods, physical and sexual abuse and many other adversities. Millions of refugees and migrants undergo harrowing ordeals crossing from the Horn of Africa to Yemen, from Libya to Europe, through Central America and across Asia. Particularly tragic are the violations and abuse suffered by migrants caught up in conflict-affected or violence-prone regions where they are often stranded, with no means to connect with their families back home.

Finally, a paradox exists between positive macroeconomic indicators and the opportunities generated by broadening access to new information technologies, on the one hand, and on the other, the growing social inequalities resulting from uneven wealth redistribution and the fact that billions still live in abject poverty.

Vulnerability and resilience in armed conflicts and other situations of violence

Throughout 2013, every day thousands of people, mainly civilians – men, women and children – were newly affected by armed conflict or other situations of violence tearing apart their homes and communities. They joined the millions around the world whose lives had already been devastated and who are still suffering the long-term consequences of such situations – the loss, disappearance or injury of loved ones, the destruction of their homes and livelihoods, forced displacement and no access to basic services. By end-2012, there were reportedly some 28.8 million IDPs, an increase of 2.4 million from 2011.

While some conflicts and other situations of violence receive widespread attention – emergencies that are in the spotlight, with the plight of those affected plainly visible – others are almost forgotten, even as their grave humanitarian consequences continue.

The ICRC, together with the National Societies, will continue to analyse the diverse humanitarian consequences of all crises and decide with the affected populations on the most appropriate way to alleviate their suffering, placing their needs at the core of the response and drawing on multidisciplinary activities and expertise rather than a standardized approach.

The following extracts from the planning documents of several ICRC delegations illustrate the different ways in which conflict or violence heightens the vulnerability of populations and communities. For example, on displacement:

“The main causes of displacement continue being death threats, extrajudicial killings, massacres, physical and psychological abuse, sexual violence, weapon contamination, fighting and forced recruitment. It is estimated that 98% of IDPs live in poverty. In addition, poor access to basic services such as health, water and sanitation worsened the situation. Health risks increased due to poor hygiene conditions, overcrowding and inadequate community shelters, if these exist at all. Schools are often used as temporary shelters, which interrupts children’s education.”

When conflicts continue for decades, daily needs are exacerbated by systems that have collapsed and are no longer able to provide basic services:

“The population still suffers from deficient delivery of basic services, including regular electricity, clean water and decent health care, not only because of the inability of the government to deliver but as a result as well of years of conflicts, which put a halt to investments despite demographic pressure. Urban areas are still privileged compared to rural areas, which remain neglected by the authorities as they do not carry enough electoral weight and/or are populated by an ethnic minority. In addition [to] being disadvantaged in the provision of services, such areas are often particularly prone to violence.”

Although entire communities are affected, some specific groups are considered more at risk and vulnerable, such as women, children and the elderly:

“Among the worst-affected groups are […] women-headed households (widows, wives of missing and detainees, divorced). Traditionally dependent on their husbands for income, women who lost their breadwinner used to go back to their families for support but, living in a difficult economic context, families are not able anymore to provide a safety net. A large number of these women with limited education and no professional experience face difficulties in finding work, as culturally they are not supposed to take on jobs out of their homes. Even when they do find work, their salaries remain considerably lower than those of male employees.”

A special focus on analysing the situation of victims of sexual violence shows the complexity of addressing the issue:

“With the escalation of inter-tribal clashes, including cross-border ones, a number of women are exposed to abduction and rape during their captivity. Sexual violence (including group rape) is often used as a weapon of war to humiliate the enemy and [generate] fear within the targeted communities. The scope of sexual violence is extremely difficult to determine because of the sensitivity of the subject and the fact that victims do not report incidents due to deep-seated social and cultural reasons (most of all the fear of being stigmatised and rejected or even killed by their own communities). As a result, the victims of sexual violence seldom receive adequate medical and psychological treatment […].”

Less visible scars of armed conflicts and other situations of violence include the long-term psychological impact on those exposed to severe ill-treatment in interrogation centres and excessive periods of solitary confinement, and on civilians:

“The level of suffering of the population either previously or more recently affected by violence is immense. In this context we should therefore consider multiple exposures to traumatic events. The consequences are decreased capacity of functioning associated with symptoms of distress, mostly anxiety and mood-related. Plus, the consequences of violence go beyond the individual level and extend to family and community levels.”

In many contexts, medical personnel, hospitals, clinics and even ambulances are targeted by parties to the conflict, preventing access to emergency and basic health care for the sick and wounded:

“The medical mission continued to experience dangerous incidents that have put both patients and health personnel at risk throughout the country. Due to the situation of violence prevalent in the country for the last seven years, access to healthcare services has been seriously affected. Medical personnel have suffered threats and aggressions, which in some cases have led them to leave their working places or flee their homes. Moreover, they have been obstructed from performing their duties, kidnapped and, in extreme cases, even murdered. In some cases, emergency medical vehicles have been used unlawfully.”

The changing humanitarian sector

The humanitarian community faces daunting tasks and major perception difficulties. In many conflict areas, owing to insecurity, rejection by parties to the conflict or political considerations, aid organizations are unable to help those affected, having their programmes implemented by partners instead. In some contexts, hostage-taking is the main threat against humanitarian workers, forcing agencies to adapt their ways of working, including by taking armed escorts or using new technologies for analysis, implementation and monitoring.

With so many players responding in crises – UN agencies, regional bodies, armed forces, government ministries, national and international NGOs, faith-based organizations, corporate groups, private and government donors, the Movement – increased understanding of each other’s positions and principles is essential. While there are more than enough needs to address, working procedures and approaches need clarification, including in cases of partnership, specifically at local level.

Implications for current ICRC operations

2013 has seen one crisis after another – in the CAR, the DRC, Mali and Syria and its neighbours. Populations in Myanmar, the Philippines and South Sudan also required specific emergency responses. The ICRC has managed to maintain and gain proximity to vulnerable people; in some instances, it has been one of the very few actors on the ground, particularly in remote areas (e.g. CAR, parts of Somalia and South Sudan, northern Nigeria). It has been requested to act as a neutral intermediary by parties to the conflict, such as in the release of people held by armed groups in Colombia (by beginning of November, 22 people had been returned to their families) or to facilitate dialogue between parties on missing persons (e.g. Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, the southern Caucasus). In some instances however, States limited the ICRC’s capacity to respond to humanitarian needs resulting from conflicts or other situations of violence.

In security terms, the year was marked by the deadly attack in May on the ICRC’s sub-delegation in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, which was all the more shocking given the ICRC’s long-standing privileged level of acceptance in the country. Despite this, with an adapted set-up, Afghanistan remains the ICRC’s second-largest operation. In Syria, at the time of writing, three ICRC colleagues are still being held. Other challenging contexts are the DRC, Iraq and Yemen.

The ICRC achieved strong results in implementing the objectives contained in its initial budget of CHF 988.7 million and seven budget extensions amounting to CHF 149.3 million for: the DRC (CHF 10 million), Niamey (regional) (CHF 39.2 million), the Philippines (CHF 29.7 million), Myanmar (CHF 8.1 million), and Syria, Jordan and Lebanon (with a total of CHF 62.3 million).

Key challenges for the ICRC in 2014

Quality of access and scope of action

Given the diverse situations of armed conflict and violence and the humanitarian consequences on affected populations, the ICRC’s ambition is to reach those in need and deliver a holistic response – from assisting with emergency basics to early recovery programmes and bolstering people’s resilience.

In 2014, the ICRC’s budget will increase to CHF 1,104.4 million, a realistic figure considering 2013 expenditure and implementation levels, in particular for Syria, the CAR and the DRC.

The ICRC will begin the year with eight operations budgeted over CHF 40 million. The ten largest operations, representing 55% of the overall budget, will be in Syria (CHF 105.3 million), Afghanistan (CHF 82.4 million), the DRC (CHF 69.9 million), Somalia (CHF 68.1 million), South Sudan (CHF 64.1 million), Iraq (CHF 60.4 million), Mali (CHF 45.3 million), Israel and the Occupied Territories (CHF 43.7 million), Sudan (CHF 39.5 million) and Colombia (CHF 33.3 million). Yemen, Myanmar and the CAR are also among the largest operations.

ICRC operations in international and non-international armed conflicts account for over two-thirds of the Emergency Appeals. The organization will also assist those affected by other situations of violence, including situations of State repression, intercommunal violence or armed violence in urban settings. Although these fall below the threshold of IHL applicability, populations in such situations suffer serious humanitarian consequences, including arbitrary detention, disappearances, torture and other forms of ill-treatment and sexual violence.

Contextualized multidisciplinary response

In view of the various difficulties faced by the most vulnerable affected populations, the ICRC will aim to provide the right response at the right time, involving the beneficiaries in all stages – from assessment to implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

Overall, it will give greater priority to four specific groups: the wounded and sick, IDPs, people deprived of their freedom and victims of sexual violence.

In line with the ICRC’s Health strategy 2013–2018, several delegations have reinforced their response (17% budget increase compared to 2013) in terms of comprehensive hospital care, health in detention and physical rehabilitation (with activities in 91centres). These are backed by first aid, primary health care and mental health/psychosocial support programmes.

In view of the increased number of IDPs, a major ICRC concern will be to address all phases of displacement – emergency, multiple and long-term displacements, resettlement, return and integration. To avoid reliance on emergency assistance, other types of support (e.g. cash for work, production assistance) will help those affected rebuild their lives.

The complex detention environment and the deteriorating humanitarian situation of detainees are reflected in the analyses and planning of many delegations. The ICRC will provide direct assistance for some 500,000 individual detainees, and help the authorities address some of the fundamental structural problems in penitentiary systems in a sustainable way. This will include strengthening capacities to tackle problems of treatment, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, and budget management, through training and sharing of best practices across countries.

The ICRC intends to address the needs of victims of sexual violence with renewed determination and creativity, using the entire spectrum of assistance, protection and prevention activities. Considering the sensitive nature of the issue and the psychological impact on those affected, the ICRC, with National Societies, will provide a safe environment for victims to be treated physically and psychologically. Weapon bearers and national authorities will be sensitized about the issue.

In addition, the humanitarian needs of family members separated from each other, including vulnerable children, the elderly, families of people missing or unaccounted for, and migrants (who find themselves in situations of conflict or violence, or in difficulty along perilous migration routes, exploited or imprisoned) will also be addressed.

Partnerships and coordination

The ICRC strengthened its approach to partnerships in 2013, with National Societies as primary partners. The result was a strong Movement response, for example in Colombia, the DRC, Mexico and Myanmar, including deployments of National Society medical teams to reinforce ICRC operations, for example in the Philippines and South Sudan. This approach will continue in 2014.

Partnering with other local actors – authorities, communities and NGOs – and smooth coordination will also be instrumental in addressing the growing humanitarian needs in multiple contexts and meeting the challenges facing the humanitarian community. This raises challenges of its own, in particular in ensuring a principled approach at the forefront of any response, sufficient accountability, capacity building and work with the beneficiaries.

Relationships with actors of influence and dialogue with all

At all levels – global, regional and local – relationships with all stakeholders are fundamental to gaining access to affected populations, reducing the number of violations committed, and ensuring the right perception and acceptance of the ICRC and its partners and therefore of its humanitarian action. Reaching victims on all sides of an armed conflict or other situation of violence and carrying out impartial operations requires delegations to engage in an enormous operational networking effort with State forces and armed groups – something done daily, for example, in Afghanistan, Mali, Somalia and Syria.

Relationship-building with States able to influence global policies and enforce IHL is another important factor. In the changing international political and humanitarian landscape, the ICRC will continue to broaden its relations with a number of States and other actors to improve mutual understanding and develop shared perspectives.


The 2014 Emergency Appeals seek to bring to the attention of donors – governments, National Societies, civil society and the private sector – the suffering that millions of people are exposed to and the action that can be taken to alleviate their immediate difficulties, build their resilience and prevent further violations of their rights.

We are immensely grateful for our donors’ keen interest in and remarkable diplomatic and financial support for ICRC activities. Similarly, we greatly appreciate their deep respect for the ICRC’s independence and neutrality. The ICRC is strongly committed to making responsible and effective use of the financial means that are made available to it, ever conscious of expectations to demonstrate the results it achieves.

Every single day, the ICRC’s 12,500 field staff work to make a difference for people facing extreme consequences of conflict and violence. This remains our collective commitment and our fundamental ethic.


Pierre Krähenbühl
Director of Operations


Pierre Krähenbühl 

Pierre Krähenbühl
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