Geneva (ICRC) – The devastating effects of acute crises that emerged at the end of 2013 in South Sudan and the Central African Republic are still being felt. The conflict in Syria has assumed the proportions of a catastrophe, with serious implications for the entire region. In Afghanistan, Israel and the occupied territories, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and other countries, large numbers of civilians continue to suffer the effects of protracted armed conflicts. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) strove throughout 2013 to mount an effective response to these and other complex situations, and to reach people in need, in greater numbers than ever.
"Throughout the year, we faced the increasing complexity of armed conflicts, the often disastrous human cost of violence, compounded by natural disasters and underlying socio-economic crises, and the difficulties in addressing the multiple needs of the people affected," said ICRC President Peter Maurer, speaking at a press conference in Geneva on the occasion of the presentation of the organization's annual report. "The ICRC focused its efforts on expanding access to people in need and on finding new ways of overcoming impediments to neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian action."
Despite numerous constraints in Syria, the ICRC together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent distributed food and household essentials to millions of people, most of whom had fled their homes. An estimated 80 per cent of the population had safe drinking water because their local water boards had been equipped by the ICRC with water-treatment supplies, spare parts, pumps and generators.
Northern Mali and Somalia continued to provide striking examples of the heavy humanitarian consequences of food crisis combined with chronically precarious security conditions, and of restrictions on humanitarian access. "ICRC staff in the field maintained as much as possible their proximity to some needy people and gained access to others. Sometimes they were among the few humanitarian workers on the ground," said Mr Maurer.
Building trust and securing acceptance among all parties of interest – primarily through bilateral, confidential dialogue – remained crucial. "For example, it was in this way that the ICRC was able in 2013 to resume visits to people detained in Myanmar and obtain greater access to detainees in Bahrain, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Somalia," Mr Maurer said.
Nevertheless, the challenges inherent in this approach were ever-present, not least in terms of the security risks. The attack on the ICRC's Jalalabad sub-delegation in Afghanistan in May, which resulted in the death of one staff member and in injuries to another, was one example. Another was the killing of yet more volunteers of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent – a key partner of the ICRC. At the end of 2013, the number of volunteers who had been killed since the beginning of the conflict in Syria stood at 33. The threat of abduction loomed ever larger for humanitarian workers: three ICRC staff members held in Syria have not yet been released.
Cooperation with the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, notably operational partnerships in which thousands of Red Cross or Red Crescent volunteers worked alongside ICRC teams, played a vital role in the ICRC’s activities. Such cooperation enabled the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to mount a strong response – in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic and Myanmar, for example; in some cases, National Society medical teams were deployed to reinforce ICRC operations, as in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan.
Health-related activities continued to be of central importance to the ICRC. Some 8.2 million people benefited from these activities in 2013. In Jonglei, South Sudan, three ICRC surgical teams were deployed on various occasions to help treat the hundreds of people who were wounded in violence; and in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, the ICRC continued to provide support for Mirwais Hospital, the only large-scale surgical facility in the region, serving over five million people.
The ICRC also continued to address, at all levels, the serious yet under-reported problem of violence against people providing or receiving health care, with many delegations collecting information on incidents and making representations to alleged perpetrators. Between January 2012 and July 2013, more than 1,400 such incidents were reported in at least 23 countries; over 90 per cent of these directly affected local health-care providers (private and public) and 14 per cent had a bearing on National Societies. Workshops and consultations were organized at which experts, health-care personnel and members of armed forces discussed various matters relating to the issue.
The ICRC reinforced its commitment to address both the causes and the effects of sexual violence in armed conflicts. "Sexual violence is a particularly brutal crime that has devastating consequences for the victims and their families, and for entire communities," said Mr Maurer. Over the next four years, the ICRC will enhance and expand the health-care, awareness-raising, assistance and other activities it carries out in connection with this violence.
The ICRC delivered strong responses as set out in its initial budget of 988.7 million Swiss francs for the 2013 Emergency Appeals and in eight budget extensions during the year, bringing the total expenditure to 1.045 billion francs (approximately 1.128 billion US dollars). It distributed food to 6.8 million people and over 28.7 million people benefited from ICRC water, sanitation and construction projects.