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ICRC Launches Record Appeal

The International Committee of the Red Cross has launched a record appeal for nearly $1 billion for lifesaving activities in some 80 countries next year. Iraq will constitute the ICRC's largest humanitarian operation, with the Horn of Africa running a close second. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

The International Committee of the Red Cross plans to increase its humanitarian budget for Iraq to nearly $95 million next year. That is a 20 percent increase over the previous year.

ICRC President, Jakob Kellenberger, says the extra money, in part, will be used to improve the country's water and drinking supply. He says it also will be used to meet the acute medical needs of the population by increasing support to hospitals and other medical facilities.

"Many do need medical supplies, medicaments, but also equipment. And we have to increase considerably our assistance for food and non-food to internally displaced people or to host communities who have internally displaced people and who are themselves already in a very difficult situation," he said.

The Red Cross employs 500 local staff to carry out its humanitarian operations. And, despite the ongoing security problems, Kellenberger says between 50 and 60 expatriate staff regularly go to Iraq.

One of their main activities is to visit detainees. Kellenberger says a few weeks ago, the organization was able to carry out its first visit to security detainees held by Iraq's central government.

He says he hopes the visit in October to Fort Suse near Sulaimaniya in northern Iraq would lead to a deal allowing the Red Cross to visit an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 prisoners held by Iraqi authorities.

Three of 10 of the agency's main operations are in the Horn of Africa. Kellenberger says protection and assistance to internally displaced people caught in armed conflict is at the heart of ICRC activities in Somalia, Chad and Darfur.

"It is very much true in Somalia where I think ICRC assists more than 200,000 people. It is true in Chad. We are about the only ones, almost the only ones, working in the border area between eastern Chad and Sudan where we are at present assisting about 60,000 to 70,000 IDPs [internally displaced people] and returnees and residents And, it is also true for Darfur," he said.

In Darfur, ICRC President Kellenberger says the U.N. and other aid agencies assist displaced people in the camps and in the urban areas. But, he says, the Red Cross is practically the only agency helping people in the more dangerous, remote rural areas.