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New Humanitarian Approach Needed for Long-Lasting Conflicts

  • Lisa Schlein

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says humanitarian assistance for victims caught in long-lasting armed conflict must be sustained and flexible. In its annual report, the ICRC says the humanitarian response to an emergency situation is different from the approaches needed in dealing with prolonged periods of armed conflict.

The report offers a snapshot of the decades of suffering people have faced in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and the Philippines.

Last year, the International Committee of the Red Cross was present in more than 80 countries around the world. The report says prolonged periods of armed conflict cause severe socio-economic problems, which require a long-term humanitarian response.

ICRC President, Jakob Kellenberger, says it is far more complex to mount a humanitarian operation in the context of a protracted war than it is in an emergency situation.

"I think when you are in a very short-term emergency situation, normally there you can have an extremely focused approach," said Kellenberger. "You know exactly in the very short term what are the main needs. I the long-lasting armed conflicts you have to be prepared to be flexible to changing situations."

Last year, ICRC operations cost nearly $1 billion. Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan were among the organization's biggest operations, accounting for almost one third of the budget.

The ICRC has been present in a number of countries for decades. They include Colombia, Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Kellenberger says all ICRC operations involve very worrying situations. But, he says Somalia is the country about which he is most worried.

"Somalia is now a typical case where we have this combination of pressures I have mentioned," he added. "This whole combination-food prices, energy prices, no infrastructure, remittances going down, a population weakened since a long time. Somalia is a context of huge humanitarian needs and with very limited possibilities of humanitarians, for security reasons, to look after these needs."

Kellenberger cites Somalia and Afghanistan as presenting major operational challenges. He adds year after year, the chaos of war and uncertainty in these and other countries has slowly eroded prospects for economic, social, scientific, educational or political stability and growth.