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War, Armed Violence Takes Alarming Toll on Civilians

A new survey by the International Committee of the Red Cross shows war and armed violence take an alarming toll on civilians in conflict-affected countries around the world. More than 4,000 people were surveyed in eight countries - Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Georgia, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia and the Philippines. The study is being released to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Solferino on June 24, 1859.

Nearly 40,000 soldiers were killed or wounded in the Battle of Solferino. But, only one civilian was killed. Today's conflicts are very different.

To begin with, there is no such thing as a one-day battle. The majority of modern day conflicts is long-lasting and go on for two, three or four decades. Furthermore, it is civilians that suffer the brunt of deaths and injuries.

The ICRC's Director of Operations, Pierre Kraehenbuhl, says warfare today takes a more widespread physical and emotional toll on civilians.

"We have the example of the Democratic Republic of Congo where over now, again, decades of war, people will refer to individually immediate direct experiences of physical threat, sexual violence, multiple displacements, loss of access to health care, etc. as being at the very center of their experience," he said.

The survey reveals that displacements, separation from family members and a lack of access to basic necessities are among people's most common experiences and biggest fears.

It finds 76 percent of people In Afghanistan who personally experienced fighting were forced to leave their homes and 61 percent said they had lost contact with a close relative. In Liberia, a startling 90 percent of the civilian victims had been displaced.

The research also shows limited access to services, such as water, electricity and health care is a widespread problem, especially in Afghanistan and Haiti.

The ICRC's deputy director of communication, who oversaw the survey, Charlotte Lindsey, says people in war face a range of dangers to their lives, their health, their livelihoods, liberty, self-respect and their state of mind.

"And when questioned on what civilians would need most in situations of armed conflict, they report about food, security, health care, shelter," said Lindsey. "And, they also report on a range of barriers to receiving that help-be it because of corruption, social factors, discrimination, inaccessible locations, fear of rejection by the community or of who is giving the help."

According to the report, people most often turn to those closest to home for help. In all of the countries where the research took place, people said their families and communities were first to give assistance and best understood their needs.

Red Cross Officials say the research presents a more comprehensive overview of how victims of armed conflict and violence are affected across the board. They say this greater insight into how civilians struggle and cope with the horrors of war will be reflected in the way in which they try to help victims in the future.