• Send page
  • Print page

Overview of the ICRC's operations in 2012

08-12-2011 Report

This document presents the ICRC's worldwide operational priorities for 2012. 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 2012 Emergency Appeals, 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 2011.

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

Trends in contemporary armed conflicts

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

First, there are the multiple consequences of the major crises that marked the past twelve months, particularly those that occurred in the context of what has become known as the Arab Spring. These situations underlined that, despite all ef­forts to analyse, plan and prepare for various eventualities, the challenges of dealing with the unexpected will remain central to crisis management, including in terms of providing a humanitarian response.

While sharing some common features, the events that took place in North Africa and the Middle East clearly differed in a number of aspects. The situation in Libya, for instance, amounted to a full-fledged armed conflict, with both interna­tional and non-international dimensions. Other countries were affected by other situations of violence which resulted in serious repression by State security forces. 

It is too early to predict the medium- to longer-term outcomes of these events. Some countries appear to be on track to peacefully determine a different constitutional, political and social future for their peoples. Others are likely to experi­ence prolonged instability, unrest and conflict.

Secondly, 10 years after the attacks of 11 September 2001, the so-called “fight against Al-Qaeda and its affiliates” con­tinues to evolve. The larger conventional deployments by NATO and the United States of America in Afghanistan and Iraq are gradually giving way to new strategies, involving the use of drones and lighter direct military engagements. 

Thirdly, a significant number of protracted, mostly non-international armed conflicts remains. These are rarely driven by clear ideological motives but rather by economic, at times outright criminal, rationales. The long duration of such confrontations – often over two, three or four decades - has led to widespread lawlessness. Entire regions are not only beyond the control of State security forces but also beyond the reach of State social, health and education services. Such regions harbour hugely diverse, fragmented and ruthless groups, including official and unofficial, State-based and non-State armed groups. In pursuit of illicit economic gains rather than ideological or political goals, they impose their con­trol over the territory and population with extreme brutality and violence.

The entire institutional fabric in certain countries has been taken over by structured war economies. Such situations are immensely complex to address in political or mediation terms. Many of the actors involved prefer lucrative conflict-related business opportunities to prospective ministerial or parliamentary positions. The logic of predation dominates those of social conscience and the common good.

In some contexts, transnational organized crime is beginning to emerge as a genuine threat, given the levels of organiza­tion of the groups involved and their ability to infiltrate State institutions, to secure control over swathes of national ter­ritory, and to act beyond national borders. The confrontation between State security forces, on the one hand, and crimi­nal gangs and cartels, on the other, exposes both local and migrant populations to a frightening pattern of abuse and bru­tality.

The world is further beset by the combined effects of the economic and financial crises. International food price indexes peaked in early 2011, affecting countless people already suffering armed conflict, social exclusion, unemployment and other pressures. Declining remittances in several contexts are weakening the resilience of populations relying on such income. These trends, triggered by increased food demand in several parts of the world and by the consequences of drought and floods, will continue to fuel unrest and conflict.

Vulnerability and resilience in armed conflicts and other situations of violence

Throughout 2011, ICRC field staff and employees of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies worked to address the multiple vulnerabilities and suffering endured by men, women and children in conflict zones worldwide. 

No matter what the context, it remains crucial to place the fate of individuals and communities at the very heart of our analysis and choices of action, taking into account their specific circumstances, the risks and violations they face, and their gender and age. In addressing people’s vulnerabilities, the ICRC seeks to build on their resilience, actively involv­ing them in coping with, improving or transforming their situation.

The excerpts below, taken from the planning documents of several ICRC delegations, illustrate the multiple ways in which conflict heightens people’s vulnerability.

Over the past twelve months, ICRC teams have responded to new emergencies with particularly serious consequences for the populations concerned, including multiple instances of threats, injury, ill-treatment, torture, displacement and killings. In parallel, there were many protracted armed conflicts causing both acute and chronic needs. 

“The civilian population is caught between the various parties to the conflict. Often, with the army controlling the roads, the militants are in control of the countryside. The armed opposition is forcing the population to give support (including shelter). The message of the armed forces is: ‘If you are not with us, then you are against us’. There are acts of retaliation against civilians and communities from all sides. Seeking humanitarian assistance or enrolling in an IDP return process may be perceived by the armed opposition as a form of association with the government and security forces. Refusing to return to one’s place of origin because of insecurity or lack of services may be inter­preted by the government as associating with the armed insurgency.”

In addition, the multiple consequences of armed conflicts and other situations of violence have eroded the wider fabric of entire societies.

“The country continued to deteriorate economically and socially while remaining in the grip of a 20-year armed conflict, with the following consequences: insecurity and displacement; shifting front lines and ethnic and tribal ten­sions within society; lack of basic infrastructure; environmental instability coupled with diminishing coping mecha­nisms; limited access to alternative pasture lands and water sources; supply shortages exacerbated by the lack of transport from urban to rural areas and the resulting high rates of inflation. All these consequences of course affect people’s daily lives. Moreover, they have also deeply affected the agricultural sector.

Twenty years of conflict and the resulting insecurity have led farming communities to reduce their activities to little more than subsistence farming. The production even in a good year does not cover more than 50% of the food needs of the population in the entire country. Frequent seasons without sufficient rains reduce this percentage even fur­ther, curtailing food production. Since small-scale farmers produce mainly to cover their own needs and have barely enough yield left over to sell, their purchasing power is generally very low. The lack of food in the markets is leading to high food prices and imported food is unaffordable for poor families.”

“Successive wars and sectarian violence have left deep scars: decaying public infrastructure and services, declining agricultural production, the disruption of livelihoods, heavy weapon contamination and negative epidemiological trends. The authorities’ commitment to deliver basic services improved thanks to better security; however, to estab­lish effective governmental services, the country needs to overcome many constraints, including a crucial lack of qualified labour and civil servants (…) The efficiency of both the central government and local authorities is also crippled by numerous and contradictory procedures, poor administrative organization, widespread corruption, little responsibility/accountability and the failure of peripheral structures to act. According to ICRC field assessments, service delivery is worst in the disputed areas, of which large parts are beyond the reach of government officials be­cause of general insecurity and vested interests at the ground level.” 

As underlined by the ICRC’s current Health Care in Danger project, there are numerous instances of threats against medical services and infrastructure, as well as constraints hindering wounded and sick people’s access to care.

“The evacuation of the wounded and their access to proper treatment by the Ministry of Health is impeded if not made impossible at times (reportedly, authorities prevent the wounded from reaching hospitals, while the wounded do not seek treatment in public health facilities, fearing arrest and persecution).” 

“In 2011, access to health care has reached a low point. Increasing poverty, insecurity, closure of key health cen­tres [have] progressively jeopardized access to basic health services, particularly for children and women. Infant mortality rates (111/1000 live births) and maternal mortality rates (18/1000 live births) are still among the highest in the world. Under-five mortality rates (257/1000 live births) remain worrying: one child in four does not reach the age of five. The main causes of death are acute respiratory infections, diarrhoea and measles.”

Other causes for concern are the combination of physical and mental effects and gender- or age-based abuses resulting from armed conflicts and other situations of violence.

“An estimated 6 out of every 10 women (migrants) suffer sexual abuse during their journey, affecting both their physical and psychological health and generating unwanted pregnancies or diseases. Some women experience sex­ual abuse more than once. Medical, psychological or legal support is not readily available. Often women do not re­port these incidents for fear of reprisals, lack of trust in the authorities or fear of delaying their journey. 

Migrant children, especially if unaccompanied, are also easy prey for armed groups and human trafficking net­works. They are at risk of violent attacks, of permanently losing contact with their family or of returning to a dan­gerous situation, as authorities often repatriate children without assessing the circumstances which caused them to leave.”

The changing humanitarian sector

The above-mentioned trends and needs present the humanitarian community with significant challenges. The crises in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya appear to confirm that some key humanitarian actors have lost the ability to respond during emergency phases in armed conflicts. This may have resulted in part from the security-related concerns and constraints placed on UN humanitarian agencies during UN-sanctioned military interventions. More worryingly, some of the larger international NGOs failed to deploy meaningful activities in either context. 

While the new forms of rejection and instrumentalization of humanitarian action following 11 September 2001 are well known, the self-imposed constraints of humanitarian agencies are sometimes underestimated. Once again in 2011, hu­manitarian agencies called on foreign military contingents to provide protection for access to regions where other agen­cies were working without escorts. These contradictory approaches and standards can blur perceptions of the wider hu­manitarian community.

The growing diversity of the humanitarian sector is another important factor. The profound changes resulting from the increasing presence and assertiveness of agencies and charities from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East are as yet insufficiently recognized. In Libya and Somalia, two distinct humanitarian communities are working side by side without interacting.

Implications for current ICRC operations

In 2011, the ICRC adapted its response effectively to several sudden-onset crises, notably to those unfolding simultane­ously in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya. In Côte d’Ivoire, its longstanding relations with all sides and presence in the crisis-prone region enabled it to adjust swiftly to the post-election conflict. In Libya, it had first to establish a presence and re­lations to gain access to affected populations. The ICRC also responded to events in the Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia and Yemen.

The ICRC was able to adapt to these crises thanks to recent improvements in its rapid deployment systems, its commit­ment to emergency response and its essential partnerships with National Societies. 

Other factors enabling the ICRC to act in protracted armed conflicts and other situations of violence included its wide­spread presence, its proximity to populations, and its neutrality, independence and impartiality.

The ICRC sought to live up to the responsibilities and pressures resulting from a solid initial field budget (CHF 1.047 billion), from five separate budget extensions amounting to CHF 159 million (Abidjan regional and Liberia for Côte d’Ivoire, Tunis regional for Libya twice and Somalia), and from a range of other demanding operations in con­texts such as Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Pakistan, the Philippines, Iraq, Is­rael and the occupied territories, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen. As a result of lower levels of pledges in early 2011, the ICRC cut field budgets by CHF 79 million, which affected programmes in several countries.

Key challenges for the ICRC in 2012

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.

Overall, the 2012 objectives are the second-most extensive ever presented by the ICRC. In real terms, the budget of CHF 969.5 million is comparable to the initial 2011 budget. It is the result of some of the following factors, reflecting the 2011–2014 institutional strategy:

  • consolidated or more thorough response in situations of armed conflict

The ICRC will begin 2012 with seven operations budgeted at over CHF 50 million. Its 10 largest operations will be in Afghanistan (CHF 88.9 million), Somalia (CHF 70.0 million), Iraq (CHF 67.3 million), Pakistan (CHF 66.2 mil­lion), Sudan (CHF 54.4 million), the DRC (CHF 54.2 million), Israel and the occupied territories (CHF 52.6 mil­lion), Yemen (CHF 37.6 million), Colombia (CHF 33.1 million) and South Sudan (CHF 24.6 million).

The ICRC’s response in situations of international and non-international armed conflict accounts for approximately 75% of the Emergency Appeals. It includes activities in phases of early recovery.

  • evolving response in other situations of violence

The ICRC’s efforts to address needs in other situations of violence, including situations of State repression, inter­communal violence or armed violence in urban settings, account for approximately 20% of the Emergency Appeals. While falling below the threshold of IHL applicability, such situations entail serious humanitarian consequences, in­cluding arbitrary detention, disappearances, ill-treatment and torture, sexual violence, forced recruitment of minors, and attacks against civilians and medical personnel. The ICRC’s activities in such situations are based on its statu­tory right of initiative and on its assessment of the level of organization of the armed groups involved, the scale of the humanitarian impact, the support it can provide to National Societies and its own added value.

  • increasingly operational regional delegations

The percentage of protection and assistance programmes in the regional delegations’ initial budgets has significantly increased since 2008, reflecting their enhanced operational profile.

Contextualized multidisciplinary response

Faced with these challenges, the ICRC must further develop its ability to define context-specific, needs-based ap­proaches. 

It will focus on its ability to address acute vulnerabilities in rapid-onset or emergency situations, while dealing with the multiple consequences of protracted armed conflicts. It will concentrate on enhancing the relevance of its response re­lating to detainees, health, the protection of civilians, and the needs of women and children, including IDPs and mi­grants.

Operational and security management

The ICRC’s ability to secure access to populations in need stems from its readiness to take initiatives in sensitive envi­ronments and its efforts to build relations with the various players involved in a given context.

Staff security remains a key component of the ICRC’s operational philosophy. While 2011 was an average year in terms of the number of incidents, the nature of risks is unchanged and the organization’s level of exposure worldwide remains high. Decentralized security management will remain key to the ICRC’s approach.

Relationships with actors of influence and dialogue with all

Contexts like Libya have underscored the ICRC’s ability to establish meaningful relationships in an emergency situa­tion where it has few or no prior contacts. In many other contexts, such as Colombia, Iraq, Israel and the occupied terri­tories and Sudan, for example, the ICRC can rely on longstanding networks.

The ICRC’s acceptance is strongly influenced by the perceived quality and relevance of its activities for affected peo­ple, the credibility of its efforts to seek respect for IHL and the compliance of its own staff with the Movement’s Fun­damental Principles. The quality of the ICRC’s dialogue with all those engaged in or in a position to influence an armed conflict or situation of violence is another important factor. 

Given the diversity and fragmentation of armed groups and influential actors, networking strategies will require con­stant adjusting. Acceptance by such players can never be taken for granted.

The ICRC is taking into account the changing international political landscape. While nurturing relations with its tradi­tional supporters, it will seek to diversify and broaden its contacts with other States with regional or global reach. The ICRC thereby aims to enhance its ability, where relevant, to act in those countries, and to promote mutual understanding and shared perspectives so as to gain support for its work internationally. This is a long-term effort requiring contribu­tions from the entire organization.

Partnerships and coordination

In 2011, the ICRC further strengthened its partnerships with National Societies in emergencies (Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen) and in most protracted armed conflicts. It will pursue this trend towards more systematic cooperation with National Societies working in their own countries as primary partners.

The ICRC will also reinforce the mobilization of partner National Societies for rapid deployment, building on the suc­cessful deployment of National Society medical and surgical teams in Libya in 2011.

National Societies working in situations of violence will continue to receive ICRC support. In contexts of State repres­sion and urban violence, the ICRC will seek to strengthen acceptance of and respect for National Society medical ser­vices and staff security.

Structured and substantial relations will be maintained with a range of NGOs and UN organizations, both at the central and field levels. In contexts like Libya and Somalia, the ICRC will seek dialogue with organizations and charities from other parts of the world that are raising their operational profile. Dialogue with the Islamic Conference Humanitarian Affairs Department (ICHAD) will be strengthened. 


In presenting the Emergency Appeals to the donor community, to partners and the public, the ICRC seeks to highlight the numerous and diverse ways in which armed conflict and other situations of violence affect the lives of millions of people worldwide.

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’s energy and commitment spring from its sense of duty to help people affected by armed conflict. Every sin­gle day, our 12,000 staff members work towards that fundamental goal, determined to ensure that we continue to do so.


Pierre Krähenbühl 

Pierre Krähenbühl
Download high resolution image

Related sections