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Nothern Caucasus/Southern Russia : aid is still crucial to help vulnerable groups survive

14-12-2001 Operational Update





 Executive summary  

  • Another gruelling winter lies ahead for the over 180,000 people who have been displaced by the Chechen conflict and are living in Chechnya's neighbouring republics and southern Russia; for an estimated 100,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) within Chechnya; and above all, the thousands of people remaining in Chechnya's war-ravaged cities, of which Grozny is the worst affected. They all remain in dire need of extensive humanitarian assistance. In the face of major security constraints, a handful of organizations are coordinating their efforts to ensure that at least the basic needs are covered.

  • The ICRC has chosen to focus on the most vulnerable inhabitants of Chechnya's cities and the neediest IDPs in Ingushetia, working mostly in cooperation with the Russian Red Cross (RRC) branches in the region. In addition to a wide range of assistance programmes, the ICRC visits detainees; maintains contact between separated family members; and arranges for members of the Russian security forces to be trained in the basics of international humanitarian law (IHL). The ICRC's regional delegation in Moscow runs a range of innovative preventive action programmes to promote IHL throughout the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

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 General context  

 Lack of security  remains a major stumbling block  

The Republic of Chechnya is entering its third winter since renewed fighting broke out between Chechen fighters and federal troops in October 1999. Chechnya's war-weary population is currently estimated at between 600,000-700,000, including about 100,000 people who are still in the republic but have been displaced from their homes by the fighting. For vulnerable groups, life remains a struggle for survival.

Although large-scale military confrontations have ceased and Russian and Chechen negotiatiors have recently met in Moscow with a view to resuming dialogue, the situation in the major cities and the republic's southern parts is still a far cry from normalization. In addition to material hardship, security conditions remain extremely worrying. Reports speak of daily armed clashes between Chechen fighters and the Russian security forces, which are still massively deployed, of security incidents and widespread arrests and human rights abuses.

While the situation in Chechnya's northern part is relatively calm and public utilities and other services are functioning, Grozny presents a bleak picture. The degree of devastation and the frequency of security incidents continue to disrupt the lives of the city's 60,000 or so inhabitants. Only sketchy information is to be had about the conditions of the population in the southern mountain regions.

Civilians are no longer fleeing Chechnya in droves, and there is a constant flow of people crossing back and forth between Chechnya and Ingushetia, where the vast majority of IDPs are gathered. However, no consistent return movement can be observed, and lack of security is a major factor preventing ID Ps from going home for good.

Security problems, which in addition to war-related hazards, such as landmines, include the ever-present risk of abduction and other forms of crime, are also the main hindrance to a full deployment of humanitarian organizations inside Chechnya. In May and again in September, security incidents forced the ICRC to suspend its activities inside Chechnya for up to one month each time. During his visit to Moscow at the end of October, the ICRC President received renewed assurances from the Russian authorities for the safety of movement of ICRC staff, and activities have been in progress since.

In Ingushetia, despite the presence of between 140,000-160,000 Chechen IDPs, the overall situation has remained stable. Multi-ethnic Daghestan, the region's poorest republic, also has its share of IDPs, including both Chechens from Chechnya and people displaced within Daghestan following attacks by armed groups from Chechnya in August/September 1999. Scattered across the northern Caucasus and southern Russia , there are thousands more IDPs from Chechnya. Security incidents linked to the Chechen context are frequently reported in Ingushetia, Daghestan and southern Russia and, on a number of occasions over recent months, in Georgia. The unresolved issue thus remains a threat to the stability of the northern Caucasus as a whole and to neighbouring countries.

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 Humanitarian response  

 The ICRC’s operational priorities  


  • security permitting, maintain and develop humanitarian activities in Chechnya, without increasing staff levels and infrastructure

  • maintain a significant operational capacity in Ingushetia and be able to adapt to any new situation (e.g.return of IDPs to Chechnya)

  •  ICRC operational set-up  

The ICRC has 18 expatriate delegates and 331 national staff working at its sub-delegation in Nalchik (Kabardino-Balkaria) and its offices in Khasavyurt (Daghestan), Nazran (Ingushetia), Vladikavkaz (North Ossetia), Grozny (Chechnya) and Stavropol (southern Russia).

The Grozny office is run by experienced national staff who have worked with the ICRC over a number of years. They regularly liaise with expatriate staff who are based in the neighbouring republics and who frequently carry out missions to Chechnya. The permanent presence of over 80 ICRC national staff in Chechnya enables the ICRC to assess, and react to, potential security risks. In view of the high crime levels, all expatriate movements in the region are nonetheless protected by armed escorts. The ICRC maintains a pragmatic working relationship with both Chechnya's civil administration and government and with the various security forces active there so as to ensure that they understand and support its man date and work.

The 13 Russian Red Cross (RRC) branches in the northern Caucasus, 290 staff in all, are involved in joint relief programmes with the ICRC and are conducting a social assistance programme for IDPs and a home visiting nurses programme to assist elderly and bedridden people. The ICRC provides financial and technical support to strengthen their operational capacity.

The ICRC regional delegation in Moscow has 15 expatriate and 70 national staff working to support the operation in the northern Caucasus and, at the level of the entire CIS region, to run preventive action programmes. These programmes focus on promoting the implementation of IHL in national legislation and its integration in secondary school and university curricula and training of the armed and security forces.

In addition, the ICRC supports the ongoing RRC reform process, in close cooperation with the International Federation. The RRC with its total of 102 branches covers a vast territory. In a move to decentralize, it has divided the country into 8 geographic zones. In each of these zones, together with a strategic partner from the Movement (the ICRC is the RRC's strategic partner in the northern Caucasus), the zonal offices (Stavropol for the northern Caucasus) seek to enhance the capacity of their branches to develop local programmes, encourage sustainable resource development and support the reform process. The objective is for the RRC and all its branches to be in a position to alleviate the plight of the most vulnerable members of the population, and gradually provide social services to complement the federal social services, for which it could be refunded by the State.

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 Humanitarian coordination  

In Chechnya , most humanitarian assistance consists in food relief, provided mainly by implementing agencies funded by the UN and ECHO. Few NGOs are carrying out programmes inside the republic. Coordination mechanisms are still in the process of being set up with the authorities concerned and among the humanitarian organizations.

In Ingushetia and Daghestan , fewer restrictions are placed on expatriate staff of humanitarian organizations and NGOs. In Ingushetia, the IDPs are provided with assistance on a large scale, ranging from food and non-food relief to water and sanitation, medical support and mine awareness programmes. Overall, the IDPs'needs are well covered but coordination needs to be improved notably in the field of health and hygiene, so as to avoid duplication in medical assistance and promote sustainable programmes in hygiene, which are lacking at present. In Daghestan, the rest of the northern Caucasus and southern Russia, the number of NGOs and the assistance provided by them are very limited.

The ICRC works in close cooperation with the RRC and aims to maximize coordination with the national and UN-led assistance efforts.

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 Main ICRC activities by target group  


A number of population groups are particularly affected by the Chechen conflict, which first flared in 1994-96 and resumed in 1999. They include: the remaining population of Chechnya, especially the inhabitants of Grozny (worst off are members of the small Russian minority without any family support); the most vulnerable people throughout the whole northern Caucasus region: elderly and disabled people, residents of institutions and hospitals and families with many children; in several regions of Daghestan, people who are still suffering from the effects of the hostilities in 1999; and the IDP population, which forms the largest group.

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 1.1 Vulnerable resident populations  

 ICRC response: food and basic supplies, water/sanitation and heating  

To meet the basic needs of vulnerable groups, the ICRC, in many cases together with the local RRC branches, is running a number of assistance programmes. It reviews them regularly so as to ensure that the assistance corresponds to real needs and goes to the most vulnerable.

In Chechnya , 29,000 elderly and disabled people (roughly half of them in Grozny) receive bread distributed by the Chechen branch of the RRC, using a voucher system, and sugar, oil, soap and tea from the ICRC. The assistance given to this particular group in fact benefits a wider circle of people, as it is usually shared with the beneficiaries'extended families. In addition, the ICRC runs 4 supplementary programmes to provide food and material assistance and hygiene kits to destitute people in cities, people in social-medical inistitutions, schoolchildren and unpaid or poorly paid workers who provide an essential service to the community (mainly employees of Vodakanal, the local waterboard).

In   Chechnya's heavily damaged capital Grozny , efforts are underway to rehabilitate gas and electricity supplies, but water remains a major problem. The ICRC covers the daily fresh water needs of nearly 45,000 people in Grozny. In cooperation with Vodakanal, the ICRC is producing around 900 cu. m. of chlorinated water per day (20 l per person). The water is then distributed by privately operated trucks. In addition, the ICRC provides and instals stoves , at a rate of 30 per week, in schools, hospitals and other institutions to help them cope with the freezing winter temperatures.

In southern Russia [ 1 ] , 1,500 people regularly (monthly and quarte rly) receive food parcels [ 2 ] , wheat flour and hygiene kits [ 3 ] from the ICRC. In southern Russia and the northern Caucasus (except Chechnya), thanks to the home-visiting nurses and social assistance programmes, carried out by the RRC with ICRC support, some 6,100 elderly and bedridden people, vulnerable individuals, families and residents of social institutions receive similar assistance.

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 1.2 Internally displaced population  (IDPs)  


 Ingushetia has the largest concentration of IDPs, estimated between 140,000-160,000. Roughly 25% have at least one family member commuting regularly into Chechnya. This is one of the facts making it difficult to assess the needs and numbers of IDPs with precision. The IDPs live with relatives or in rented accommodation (45%), in collective centres (35%) or in tent camps (20%). Humanitarian assistance, provided in cooperation with the Ingush authorities, guarantees at least minimum living conditions, with the focus on food, basic hygiene, water, shelter, counselling and health care.

 Daghestan has an estimated 7,000 IDPs (both Chechen and Daghestani, from the events of 1999), living in private accommodation or in collective centres provided by the authorities.

In Chechnya , the number of IDPs is estimated at 100,000, mostly living with their extended families, few in collective centres.

Elsewhere in the northern Caucasus and southern Russia, there are some 25,000   IDPs from Chechnya.

 ICRC response: food and basic supplies; water/sanitation, mobile clinics  

In Ingushetia , the ICRC regularly provides assistance (food parcels and basic items such as candles and hygiene kits) to some 160,000 people, covering virtually the entire IDP population; in addition, some 29,000 IDPs in camps and collective centres each receive 3 bread loaves weekly, distributed by the RRC. In North Ossetia , 1,400 IDPs are assisted with bread provided by the ICRC through the RRC. In Daghestan , some 18,600 IDPs receive food parcels, wheat flour and hygiene kits from the ICRC, and 3,700 are assisted with bread provided by the ICRC via the RRC. In southern Russia , 15,000 IDPs receive food parcels, wheat flour and hygiene kits from the ICRC.

ICRC expatriate staff visit the beneficiaries weekly and observe distributions to monitor the proper utilization of goods. Over and above its regular relief programmes, the ICRC responds to specific needs of IDPs, such as for clothes and shoes, as they arise.

In addition, the ICRC ensures that about 40,000 IDPs in Ingushetia' s camps have sufficient quantities of fresh water daily, by connecting camps to the local supply network and, to a lesser extent, by water trucking. It carries out construction and maintenance work on water distribution points and shower facilities. The ICRC is the only organization providing a large-scale water and sanitation emergency response for IDPs in the northern Caucasus.

ICRC/RRC Mobile medical units provide consultations and essential medicines for IDPs (see below Wounded and sick).  

Through the RRC, the ICRC also provides legal assistance for IDPs, mostly regarding their rights and legal status.

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 1.3 Separated families  

There is still a need for family links to be restored, mostly between people in the northern Caucasus and their relatives who have settled elsewhere in the Russian Federation or abroad. In Chechnya, people living in remote areas and elderly people whose families have left wish to maintain family contact. In addition, families are searching for relatives they believe to be detained.

 ICRC response: Red Cross messages, search for people allegedly detained  

The ICRC Red Cross message service handles an average of 140 RCMs for civilians each month.

From the relatives of people presumed to be in detention, the ICRC collects allegations of arrest -- 309 to date -- which it brings to the attention of the authorities, requesting them to provide information on the whereabouts of the person sought.

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 1.4 Children  


Youngsters are particularly vulnerable to the physical and psychological hazards of war and require special assistance to overcome traumatic experiences and settle back into a normal life. In mined environments, children are a high-risk group, but as they tend to be naturally communicative they also play a vital role in passing life-saving information about the mine threat on to their peers, parents and other adults. They are therefore the main group concerned by mine awareness activities.

 ICRC response: mine awareness, school kits, play rooms and  psychological help  


Through its mine awareness programme , the ICRC seeks to teach thousands of Chechen children how to avoid accidents, and involves them in relaying the message widely. The programme is carried out in Chechnya and for displaced children in Ingushetia, to prepare them for their return to Chechnya. It includes interactive classroom presentations, role plays and a puppet show using " Cheerdig " , a popular character from Chechen folklore. The puppet show has been performed by local professionals in Ingushetia and is currently shown in Chechnya, where several thousand of Grozny's schoolchildren and their teachers have already seen it. The next step will be to involve the children in producing their own play.

Chechen children on State-sponsored vacation in sanatoriums in the northern Caucasus, away from the dire living conditions in Chechnya, also benefit from these mine awareness activities. In addition, they receive school kits and shoes from the ICRC. Between January and November 2001, the ICRC distributed 16,500 school kits and 8,650 pairs of shoes to as many children.

In several IDP camps in Ingushetia , playrooms have been set up for young children to help them deal with their experience of war and displacement. The playrooms are run by the RRC, which provides psychological counselling . The programme branches out into local schools, which the displaced Chechen children attend, so as to foster tolerance and understanding of the IDPs'situation. In view of the success of this programme, more playrooms are being being constructed in other camps.

In Daghestan , 500 IDP schoolchildren receive hot meals, provided by the ICRC in cooperation with the RRC.

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People continue to be arrested by the Russian authorities in connection with the security operation in the Chechen Republic.

 ICRC response:  visits and dialogue with the authorities  


On the basis of an agreement with the Russian authorities, first concluded in March 2000 and renewed on 11 December 2001 following the ICRC President's mission to Moscow, the ICRC visits people detained in connection with the security operation in the Chechen Republic. The ICRC aims to ensure that detainees are treated in accordance with internationally recognized standards and offers them the opportunity to stay in contact with their families, which is often difficult as the detainees are transferred from detention centres to penal colonies. Since visits started in May 2000, the ICRC has visited 42 places of detention, including 13 in Chechnya, and registered 1,597 detainees.

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As a result of the security situation, there are both military and civilian casualties who require emergency surgical care. In Chechnya's neighbouring republics, with the joint support of local authorities and international organizations, health facilities are more or less coping with the demands placed on them. In Chechnya itself, the surgical and general health structures and equipment are crippled by both war-damage and lack of means and maintenance. The hazardous security situation makes it difficult for patients, particularly young men of military age, even to reach a hospital. Few international NGOs are implementing medical programmes in Chechnya so outside support is limited.

There are an estimated 5,000-7,000 people disabled by war and landmine injuries in Chechnya. Despite general awareness of the urgency of the problem, adequate facilities to cope with specific needs in terms of physical rehabilitation are still lacking.


 ICRC response: surgical/medical assistance and support for physical rehabilitation  


After reassessing needs and reviewing its surgical support programme , originally covering 27 hospitals, the ICRC is now focusing on 9 facilities in Chechnya and 1 hospital each in In gushetia and Daghestan. Rather than handing out standard kits, the ICRC now provides medicines based on the hospitals'requests. ICRC staff regularly monitor these facilities to check that the medicines are freely available to needy patients.

In Chechnya, the ICRC runs a joint primary health care programme with the RRC. The ICRC supplies the necessary vehicles and financial means for 4 RRC mobile units and 1 stationary unit to provide medical consultations and essential medicines for vulnerable residents. To avoid duplication of assistance, the ICRC ended its support to RRC mobile clinics in Ingushetia in late October. Support for the mobile clinics in Daghestan will go on until the end of the year.

To address needs for physical rehabilitation, the ICRC has recently signed an agreement with the federal Ministry of Labour regarding further training for specialized Chechen staff at a centre in Sochi. After training, they will return to work in Grozny's prosthetic-orthotic centre , which the authorities are planning to reopen. Meanwhile, the ICRC provides wheelchairs and crutches to people with disabilities through its surgical assistance programme.

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The Federal Mini stry of the Interior has some 1.5 million servicemen under its jurisdiction, including large numbers of Interior troops and special police forces deployed in the northern Caucasus.

 ICRC response: promoting humanitarian rules for combatants  

The ICRC is so far the only foreign organization which has a formal programme of cooperation with the Federal Ministry of the Interior, focusing on:

  • promoting IHL and human rights among personnel under the Ministry's jurisdiction

  • informing Interior personnel about the ICRC's mandate and activities so as to secure their assistance during humanitarian operations.

A special IHL training programme for police forces deployed in the northern Caucasus is under way at military training centres in Rostov and Stavropol, conducted on behalf of the ICRC by two retired Russian army officers. Between January and October 2001, they briefed over 5,000 officers and other ranks on IHL.

A two-day conference was held in November 2001 for 46 lecturers and trainers from training centres of the various police and Interior troop branches. Their analysis of the current situation and recommendations in terms of training will serve as a basis for continued cooperation between the ICRC and the Ministry of the Interior.

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  1. Adygea, Stavropol, Krasnodar, Rostov, Astrakhan, Volgograd, Saratov, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Kalmykia

  1. food parcel contains: 1.3 kg tinned chicken, 800 g tomato puree, 1.2 kg condensed milk, 720 g butter, 1 kg sugar, 3 kg pasta, 200g yeast, 500g tea, 2 kg rice

  2. 1 hygiene kit contains: 1 kitchen towel, 1 terry towel, 1 tube of toothpaste, 1toothbrush, 4 bars of laundry soap, 2 bars of body soap, 1.5 kg washing powder, 1 kg detergent, 1 l shampoo ]


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