Syria has moved ahead of Afghanistan to become the International Committee of the Red Cross' (ICRC) most expensive humanitarian operation this year followed by Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The ICRC says this shift in position reflects the increased needs of the Syrian population as the crisis in that country continues to escalate. The ICRC has just launched its 2012 annual report
Last year, the International ICRC spent more than $1 billion assisting millions of people in 80 countries. It says many of the emergencies and protracted crises to which it responded continue to devastate lives in 2013.
One of the most dramatic examples of this is Syria, which has moved up from fifth place in 2012 to become the agency's costliest operation this year.
ICRC President Peter Maurer says the escalating armed conflict in Syria has caused unprecedented suffering and extraordinary violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict. He says the situation in Syria is particularly serious because all parties are guilty of, what he calls, patterns of violations of international humanitarian law.
"I am not of the opinion that this is happening by chance. Patterns of violations happen because of a political climate of permissiveness and unaccountability," he said. "What is happening at the present moment in and around Syria politically is a space in which each and every side is encouraged to win militarily over the other. And, because it is encouraged to win over the other, it is encouraged to violate international humanitarian law."
The report says the deteriorating security situation in many parts of the world is creating significant challenges for Red Cross workers. Maurer says 2012 was the most difficult year since 2003 and 2005 when an ICRC delegate was murdered in Pakistan and another staff member was killed in Yemen.
Maurer says health care workers whose job it is to save lives run into many dangers. Some of these stem from, what he calls, the weaponization of certain facilities.
"Hospitals, but also schools, churches, mosques are attacked and some groups and fighters misuse hospitals, schools, mosques, churches and other religious installations to bring arms into those installations, which make them again susceptible to military attack," he said.
Maurer says aid agencies are doing their best to respond to the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people. But, he notes there is a huge discrepancy between the ability to cope with the Syrian crisis and the escalating speed with which the demands are growing.
The ICRC president says it is relatively easy for the agency to raise money for high-profile operations, such as Syria and Mali. But, he notes it is increasingly difficult to find funding for humanitarian activities in the world's forgotten tragedies.These include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Somalia.