Arab Spring creating major humanitarian challenges across Middle East – Red Cross

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Migrant workers gather near a Red Cross camp at Ras Jedir crossing between Tunisia and Libya. Photo - M Depardon/CICR/Getty Images

International Committee of Red Cross annual report said major crises that erupted in 2011 in the Middle East and North Africa caused immense suffering among millions of people that lasted well into 2012 and made them heavily dependent on aid.

The report added that increasing food demand in several parts of the world continued to fuel unrest and conflict, as did the consequences of drought and floods. The worldwide economic crisis further compounded the woes felt by many.

“The speed and scale of the events of 2011, and the massive humanitarian needs that arose, set major challenges for an effective and timely response,” Jakob Kellenberger, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President, said as he unveiled the organisation’s Annual Report at a press conference in Geneva.

The report lamented the fact that attacks against medical personnel and facilities continued in many places, often resulting in a lack of safe access to health care, and proved to be an extremely serious, yet largely overlooked, humanitarian issue.

“The ICRC’s efforts to provide medical and health care for the wounded and the sick – benefiting some 6.8 million people around the world, including in Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria and Libya – were stepped up in 2011,” Kellenberger said.

“Our wide-ranging activities in conflict areas and close proximity to people who need help enabled the ICRC to respond effectively to several unfolding crises, including a number of unforeseen conflicts, throughout 2011,” said the ICRC president. “In Syria, even now, together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, we are still the only international organisation working on the ground in connection with the fighting,” he added.

Operations in Iraq, Occupied Palestine and Yemen remained among the organisation’s largest worldwide. The ICRC also expanded its operational reach throughout the region, developing existing and introducing new protection and assistance activities, whenever possible with the region’s national societies, the report said.

The ICRC’s 2011 expenditures amounted to more than 1 billion Swiss francs ($1.2 billion). In Somalia, where food insecurity in conflict-affected areas worsened dramatically, the ICRC’s initial budget for the country more than doubled as the situation deteriorated and needs soared, making it the largest operation in terms of expenditure, at more than 92 million Swiss francs ($105 million).

The ICRC’s operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Occupied Palestinian territories and Yemen – all protracted situations of violence – were also among its largest in 2011, along with those in Libya.

“It was imperative that we mount a flexible, rapid and relevant response in a range of complex situations over the year. When the crisis erupted in Libya, we had staff on the spot within days,” the ICRC chief said. “In order to alleviate the suffering of men, women and children caught up in the fighting, it was essential to gain unhindered access to them and to engage with them,” he added.

“Throughout 2011, the value of our impartial, neutral and independent approach was put to the test. However, I remain convinced that the principled approach we have adopted and the relevance of our humanitarian activities are still indispensable elements in ensuring access to people most in need,” Kellenberger said.

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