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Overview of the ICRC's operations in 2011

02-12-2010 Report

This document presents the ICRC's worldwide operational priorities for 2011. 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.

Pierre Krähenbühl


The ICRC is pleased to present its Emergency Appeals 2011, 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 late October 2010.

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

Trends in contemporary armed conflicts

In the ICRC’s analysis of the primary characteristics of current armed conflicts and other situations of violence in which it operates, the following features emerge particularly strongly.

First there is the diversity of the situations with which the ICRC deals. These range from contexts where the most advanced technology and weapons systems are deployed in asymmetric confrontations, to an assortment of conflicts typified by low technology and high fragmentation, in which a variety of groups generate extensive insecurity.  

The nature of armed conflicts continues to evolve. The predominant form of conflict today, the non-international armed conflict, often stems from State weakness that leaves room for local militias and armed groups to take matters into their own hands. This can lead to an environment where looting and trafficking, extortion and kidnapping, turn into profit-able economic strategies, sustained by violence and by national, regional and international interests. The violence is primarily against civilians, with direct confrontations between armed groups or State armed forces and armed groups tending to be rare. Armed groups live off the population and engage in appalling acts of brutality to instil fear, ensure control and obtain new recruits. In such contexts, other factors, such as political, ethnic or religious grievances, play a role and interconnect, although they often appear secondary or are used by armed groups to justify their acts.  

Some of these characteristics are also very present in other situations of violence. The lines of distinction between ideological and non-ideological confrontations have gradually blurred, and the levels of violence and brutality in these situations at times surpass what takes place in some full-blown armed conflicts. This trend is apparently becoming more widespread.

The second important feature is the duration of armed conflicts. The majority of ICRC operations today take place in countries where the organization has been present for two, three or four decades. This is partly because many conflicts have economic roots and revolve around struggles for access to key natural resources. This leads to the protracted situations of conflict that exist in many contexts, which fluctuate between phases of high and low intensity and instability, without solutions for lasting peace.

These parameters contribute to a sense of widening lawlessness in many regions around the world, be they urban or rural. These are regions beyond the control of the State and the influence of the international community. Indeed, few ar-med conflicts have been solved militarily or through negotiation in recent years, presumably because most situations today oppose State forces and armed groups. 

Lawless and unregulated areas of the world, as well as environmental degradation, also generate significant population movement. IDPs, refugees and migrants are all exposed to significant risks and threats as they move through zones of conflict or are blocked along borders in highly volatile environments. The consequences of environmental degradation on armed conflicts and other situations of violence are only beginning to be analysed properly.  However, desertification, water scarcity and limited access to land aggravate the vulnerability of populations already affected by organized armed violence or armed conflict.

The nature of vulnerability and resilience in armed conflict and other situations of violence

Throughout 2010, ICRC and National Society staff were again confronted with the multiple risks, threats and suffering that affect the lives of men, women and children in conflict zones around the world. It remains crucial to ensure that the ICRC places the fate of these individuals and communities at the very heart of its analyses and its action.

Analysing vulnerability entails understanding the specific circumstances of the person or community in question. To this end, the ICRC endeavours to take due account of the specific needs relating to their circumstances, to the nature of the risks and violations they are exposed to, and to their gender and age. Its analysis must be accompanied by an enhanced commitment to build on people’s resilience, in other words on their ability to cope or to take measures to improve or transform their situation.

The following excerpts from the planning documents of several ICRC delegations illustrate the multiple ways in which conflict heightens people’s vulnerability. First, there are the people directly affected by fighting: the weapon-wounded, endangered civilians, IDPs fleeing the battle zone and detainees at risk of ill-treatment or disappearance. Their needs have traditionally received the most attention from humanitarian agencies as they can be attributed specifically to acts perpetrated by weapon bearers.  

“Weapon contamination contributes to the increased vulnerability of conflict-affected civilians in many parts of the country. As well as causing death and injury, improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war contribute to displacement and to the confinement of rural communities, hinder return, prevent the free movement of people, cause substantial economic hardship and aggravate the climate of fear and insecurity. (...) The proliferation of small arms and light weapons in urban settings is yet another factor affecting the civilian population.”

“The livelihoods of the civilian population were badly affected by the violence and its aftermath. People’s houses, shops, taxis and buses were burnt, destroying their livelihoods and possible coping mechanisms. They survive thanks to the support of a host family and to humanitarian aid.”

“Abuses perpetrated by the civil and military police during their operations include: the use of indiscriminate, deadly force; the extrajudicial or arbitrary execution of suspects; enforced disappearance; lack of care for wounded suspects; disrespectful handling of dead bodies; and incursions into houses without search warrants, often accompanied by beatings and lootings. Impunity and unaccountability are pervasive. Similarly, the protection problems stemming from the behaviour of (…) factions include: ill-treatment and arbitrary or summary executions; the expulsion of families; the recruitment of minors; and sexual violence and other forms of harassment against women.”

Then there are the indirect effects resulting from prolonged restrictions on movement, from diverse forms of humiliation, and from the steady deterioration of health and sanitation conditions for a broader population in and around a conflict zone: lack of access to safe water, arable land, basic services or humanitarian assistance, and even death caused by largely preventable illnesses. In recent years the ICRC has enhanced its understanding of such indirect needs, and has consequently taken better account of them in its response.

“Intensification of the conflict has progressively jeopardized access to basic health services, particularly for children and women. Infant and maternal mortality rates are still among the highest in the world (…). One child in six does not reach the age of five. The civilian population in all regions has faced deteriorating access to first aid, pre-hospital care and referral services as a result of insecurity, a lack of supplies and corruption. The referral of patients to hospital by ambulance is extremely difficult owing to increased insecurity, especially in conflict-affected areas.”

Historically, both the wider humanitarian community and the ICRC have concentrated on physical needs and have not sufficiently addressed the mental or psychological consequences of armed conflict. Nowadays, however, greater efforts are being made to respond to the needs of families of missing persons and victims of sexual violence. The ICRC is also seeking to integrate mental health concerns more effectively into its support for detainees. 

 “It became increasingly obvious that a significant proportion of families still believe or hope that their relatives are alive and will come back home. More than 15 years after the disappearance, their emotional burden is heavy. Family members say they are affected by intrusive thoughts and by not sharing their feelings with anyone else. Moreover, real psychological suffering was identified with visible signs of depression, anxiety and psychosomatic symptoms. This has an impact on these families’ social and economic status: living with the psychological trauma of disappearance, they lose opportunities for improving their economic conditions.”

Armed conflicts affect people differently depending on whether they are men or women, young or old. The ICRC has markedly improved its analysis of and response to the specific needs of women and girls. It is currently developing more diverse responses to the needs of children in general and of the elderly.

“In the absence of a recent census, estimates put the number of female-headed households (widows, wives of missing persons and detainees, divorcees) at around 1 million (…). Traditionally dependent on their husbands for income, women (…) used to turn to their families for support but, weakened economically, families are no longer able to provide this safety net and women are increasingly adopting new and previously unforeseen roles (…).”

Implications for current ICRC operations

In 2010, the ICRC was able to respond to a range of acute and chronic needs in armed conflicts and other situations of violence, owing to its widespread presence and proximity to populations, its neutrality, independence and impartiality, its networks, its strategic partnerships with National Societies and its ability to deploy rapidly in emergencies.

The ICRC sought to live up to the responsibilities and pressures resulting from a large initial field budget (CHF 983.2 million), from six budget extensions amounting to CHF 161 million (Haiti, Kyrgyzstan, Niamey regional, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen), and from a range of other demanding operations in contexts such as Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Israel and the occupied territories, the Philippines and Sudan.

Key challenges for the ICRC in 2011

Quality of access and scope of action  

The ICRC’s ambition, and a fundamental challenge, is to have access to populations and individuals in need. In line with its 2011–2014 Institutional Strategy, this involves

  • understanding increasingly diverse situations and actors and addressing the variety of needs in contexts in which the ICRC operates
  • reinforcing the ICRC’s scope of action to ensure its relevance and effectiveness in armed conflict, including during the early recovery stage, and in other situations of violence
  • reinforcing efforts to build acceptance of the ICRC and decentralize decision-making as primary features of its security management, and where necessary adapting the ICRC’s modus operandi to the requirements of the local context

The objectives and corresponding budget for 2011 are the result of several factors, including:

  • a consolidated or more in-depth response in certain armed conflicts
  • a strong presence and response in the main contexts affected by the interplay of local issues and wider-reaching concerns relating to the fight against “terrorism”
  • a continued response to the needs of those affected by widespread conflict and violence in contexts of State weakness
  • a greater presence and response in other situations of violence, including situations of State repression, inter-communal strife or violence in urban settings
  • the explicit inclusion of responses in early recovery phases

Contextualized multidisciplinary response  

Faced with the challenges of very diverse and protracted conflicts, the ICRC must continue to develop its ability to define context-specific, needs-based approaches. It must have the stamina to work on certain issues in the medium and long term and the flexibility to respond decisively to rapid-onset or emergency situations. Expectations will be high in terms of

  • improving and systematizing the ICRC’s ability to place the needs of affected populations firmly at the centre of its humanitarian response and enhancing its ability to address their vulnerabilities and build on their resilience 
  • improving the relevance of the ICRC’s response with respect to health, people deprived of their freedom, protection of civilians, and the needs of women, children, IDPs and migrants

Operational and security management

In recent years, much has been said about the heightened security challenges facing humanitarian organizations. There is the risk that humanitarian agencies may be instrumentalized and perceived as being insufficiently independent of political and military agendas. Humanitarian action appears to be rejected with growing frequency by a wide range of ar-med groups, including for this reason. Attacks on humanitarian workers were again numerous in 2010.

There were also many instances of banditry, with a particular increase in kidnappings for ransom. As humanitarian ac-tion extends into heavily urbanized and criminalized environments, personnel will become exposed to further security risks. This has implications both for the staff themselves and for their families, as was tragically experienced first-hand by the ICRC when a colleague’s spouse was murdered in Nairobi in April 2010.  

The ICRC is convinced of the importance of maintaining its decentralized approach to security management, through its broad 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 clearly recognizing the inherent fragility of operations in many contexts. There is much that requires better understanding, consolidation and improvement from a security standpoint.

Relationships with actors of influence and dialogue with all

Operating in today’s conflict situations, the ICRC is confronted with ongoing challenges in terms of perception and acceptance. These two factors are heavily influenced by the quality and perceived relevance of the ICRC’s activities for the people affected, the credibility of the organization’s efforts to seek respect for IHL and the discipline it and its staff show in respecting the 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. The ICRC will therefore seek to improve its access and strengthen the effectiveness of its response by creating new and developing existing relations and networks with actors of influence. Indeed, one can never presume to have achieved positive acceptance. While the organization will continue to nurture and develop relations with its traditional supporters, it must further diversify and broaden its relations with a series of States with regional or global reach. The objective is to improve the ICRC’s ability, where relevant, to act in those countries, and to improve mutual understanding with a view to gaining support for its work internationally.  

Partnerships and coordination

The ICRC has invested significantly in partnerships with National Societies in countries where it operates. This has included more systematic integration of National Society capacities and expectations into ICRC planning and programming and more focused support for the National Societies’ own capacity-building objectives.

Particular emphasis will be placed in 2011 on maintaining or building further on operational interaction with National Societies in a range of contexts such as Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel and the occupied territories, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Furthermore, the ICRC will pursue and broaden its efforts to establish deeper and more diversified relations with a range of other National Societies committed to working internationally, to sound Movement coordination and to innovative partnerships.  

Beyond this, the ICRC will continue to maintain structured relations with a range of NGOs and UN agencies, for dialogue at strategic and field level.

Budget features and operational priorities in 2010

The present document contains an initial appeal for CHF 1,046.9 million to cover ICRC field activities in 2011.

A central feature of the ICRC’s 2011 budget is that, while being the largest initial budget presented by the ICRC, it re-flects the organization’s current overall level of commitment and capacity worldwide to address in a credible fashion the needs of populations at risk.  

This high level of commitment is explained in part by the significant access the ICRC has managed to preserve in many key conflict zones. In tandem, the ICRC will retain the flexibility to deploy its rapid-response teams in unforeseen crises or major new emergencies.  

The 10 largest operations worldwide will be: Afghanistan (CHF 89.4 million), Iraq (CHF 85.8 million), Sudan (CHF 82.8 million), Pakistan (CHF 82.4 million), Israel and the Occupied Territories (CHF 64.8 million), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (CHF 63.1 million), Somalia (CHF 53.0 million), Yemen (CHF 48.8 million), Colombia (CHF 40.9 million) and Niamey regional (CHF 29.3 million).


From a humanitarian perspective, armed conflicts and violence are about people, the suffering they are exposed to, and about the action that must be taken to prevent, mitigate or put an end to that suffering. They are also about the resolve and commitment shown by ICRC and National Society staff in dealing – including personally and emotionally – with the multiple effects of armed conflict and violence on people’s safety, integrity, dignity and livelihoods. Understanding the context, showing creativity in searching for solutions, avoiding the temptation to judge, and engaging in open – and when needed critical – dialogue with parties to a conflict are fundamental for making progress in such delicate environments.
Achieving concrete results also requires – and this is essential – donor support: from governments, National Societies, civil society and the private sector. In a time still marked by uncertainty resulting from the financial crisis, the ICRC is particularly grateful for the donors’ outstanding support and confidence in a year that has seen several fresh emergencies and persistent conflicts that required ongoing attention.  

The strength and quality of that support is critical to the ICRC’s ability to give meaning to its mandate and assume its related responsibilities. The ICRC is also grateful for the deep respect shown by donors for the organization’s independence and neutrality.

The ICRC’s energy and commitment are generated by its sense of duty to make a difference for people affected by ar-med conflict and other situations of violence. Every single day, our 12,000 staff members work towards that fundamental objective and their determination to succeed is immense.

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