The International Committee of the Red Cross is appealing for more than $800 million to fund its humanitarian work in 80 countries in 2005. The biggest change from last year is the substantial increase in the organization's budget to help people affected by armed conflict and internal violence in Africa.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says almost half the money will go toward operations in Africa, much of it directed to humanitarian activities in Sudan, particularly the war-torn Darfur region.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger says one of the organization's priorities in Darfur is to make it possible for people to remain in their villages. He notes more than 1.5 million people have fled their homes and are currently living and receiving international assistance in camps. He says more than three million people, half of Darfur's population, still live at home.

"If we want to prevent those people from leaving their villages and to go to the cities and the IDP [Internally Displaced Persons] camps, protection in the rural areas has to be improved very much?," he said.  "If one wants to create conditions where people can return home, then also two things have to be done. One; protection also in rural areas has to be improved, and second; people who return home they must know that they will also get assistance when they are at home."

Mr. Kellenberger says it is important that people know they do not have to remain in the camps in order to receive assistance.

The Red Cross plans to provide food, water services, essential household items, and medical programs for hundreds of thousands of people in Darfur. Most importantly, it also will provide protection for people caught in armed conflict.

Mr. Kellenberger says Iraq and Afghanistan are the only places where Red Cross workers have limited access. He says some areas in both countries are too risky to go.

The Red Cross withdrew most of its expatriate staff in Iraq after its headquarters in Baghdad was attacked. But Mr. Kellenberger says the ICRC is one of only a few international organizations working there.

"We do not feel that the security situation has improved and that is one of the reasons why at present we cannot envision an extension of our activities," Mr. Kellenberger said. "So, we do not really feel it has improved in our assessment? Our presence in the field is also pretty limited."

Mr. Kellenberger says Red Cross workers continue to visit about 4000 Iraqi prisoners held by U.S. authorities and another 1500 detained by Iraqi authorities.