The International Committee of the Red Cross reports millions of people caught in armed conflict are becoming more vulnerable because of the combined effects of war, natural disasters and continued high food prices.  The ICRC has just launched its annual report, which shows it is spending record amounts of money to support its global operations. 

Barely half a year has gone by, yet the International Committee of the Red Cross says it already has spent about $70 million more this year than last, when the budget hit an all-time high of nearly $1 billion.

Almost half of last year's budget went for operations in Africa, followed by the Middle East.  The Red Cross says the increasing expenditure is due to the worsening humanitarian situation in many countries, such as Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Pakistan. 

But, it says it also reflects improved ICRC access to people affected by wars, including Iraq, the Sahel region, Somalia and Georgia. 

ICRC President, Jakob Kellenberger, cites Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan as three countries where natural disasters and high food prices have made life harder for poor people struggling to cope with the effects of war.

"Many of them in regions where there is armed conflict, they do depend to a very large extent on remittances," he said. "That means money, which is sent to them by relatives who are working in other countries.  And, these remittances do play a very important part in their survival." 

Aid agencies have been complaining about their inability to provide humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of displaced Tamils in Sri Lanka because they are being kept out of the camps. 

Kellenberger says Red Cross staff also has difficulty entering the camps.  He says it has limited access to only a few places.

"What is still not clear is to what extent the government of Sri Lanka will really make it possible for us to carry out the tasks we find important with regard to the direct consequences of the armed conflict," he said. 

Kellenberger says priority needs are for clean water, medical care and protection for the civilians and detainees.  He says the Red Cross also has no access to people in the conflict-ridden Swat Valley in Pakistan.  But, in this case, he says aid workers cannot enter the area to provide assistance for security reasons.  He says there is no official prohibition against this.

Despite the dangers, he says the ICRC continues to work in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.  He says there is no permanent expatriate staff there, but international delegates go there periodically to work with local staff.