As 2018 drew to a close, a paradox became more starkly evident: although overall, the global population is healthier, wealthier and better connected than ever, progress has not necessarily led to peace.
Conflicts raging in particularly vulnerable parts of the world continue to have a massive impact on local people and neighbouring countries, often fueling regional instability. In these conflicts we have seen regular breaches of international humanitarian law, disproportionate attacks in urban areas, and the targeting of civilians, civilian services and humanitarian workers. Men, women and children have suffered not only the immediate impact of death and injury, but the destruction of their homes, schools and livelihoods.
Today, it is the combination of threats – violence, “terrorism”, anti-terrorist measures and policies, together with developmental deficits, injustice, exclusion and climate change – that is driving people further into need.
In 2018, on every continent – in over 90 countries – the ICRC made a difference in people’s lives, with its biggest operations taking place in the Syrian Arab Republic (hereafter Syria), Iraq,
Yemen, the Horn of Africa, the Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. In some protracted conflicts, it has been operating for decades; in other places, it increased its activities in response to fresh emergencies.
In all contexts, the ICRC upheld the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence. With increasing restrictions placed on humanitarian action, this approach was challenging in many contexts, requiring the ICRC to gain acceptance through negotiation and diplomatic efforts to reach people in need and to protect humanitarian methodologies. The ICRC prioritized staying close to those who needed its support and in so doing, demonstrated the unique value of its approach.
The terrible images of the devastation in Eastern Ghouta, the eerie landscape of Rakhine, and the drawings of children in the camp in Kaga Bandoro stayed with me throughout the year – and so did the dedication of our colleagues, who put the humanitarian spirit into practice in the face of adversity, every day.
As every year, the ICRC stepped up when crisis struck – the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, renewed fighting in the Gaza Strip, the migration crisis in Central America – often with the support of its partners in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
In many places, from South Sudan to Ukraine, the ICRC maintained the capacity to act as a neutral intermediary. In the Astana and Stockholm processes for Syria and Yemen, it was recognized as having the legitimacy and expertise to speak about humanitarian concerns regarding detention and missing persons. The humanitarian forensic project it carried out in the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas, which involved exhuming and identifying soldiers buried there, not only brought real relief for the families, it also showcased a creative model of humanitarian action.
The generous support of our funding partners signaled continued trust and confidence in the ICRC. We are grateful for their contributions, which helped us cover our expenses in 2018 (CHF 1.93 billion for our field operations, headquarters and innovation initiatives, with an implementation rate of 94%), and are hopeful that the downward trend of flexible funding – so critical to the delivery of neutral, impartial, independent humanitarian action – will be reversed.
Despite this, the humanitarian funding ecosystem still needs to improve the way it functions and transition to a new business model – one where the needs of communities trapped in protracted conflicts are addressed through a wider lens, by breaking down silos in our approach through partners, and reinforcing the sustainability of the ICRC’s activities, which in turn will allow us to support the resilience of the communities we want to serve. We need to be innovative if we want to bridge the steadily growing gap between people’s needs and what we are actually able to deliver to address those needs.
The ICRC’s new Institutional Strategy 2019–2022 has identified key priorities for the coming years. Given the challenging dynamics of today’s conflicts, it focuses on areas such as strengthening protection and prevention, ensuring a sustainable humanitarian impact, digital transformation, and partnering with others. The strategy has been well-received by our donors and supporters, and I am confident that it will help us to meet the humanitarian challenges ahead.
In this respect, our ability to create partnerships and collaborate in new and different ways will be key. No single sector can respond alone to the depth and breadth of humanitarian crises: progress will require strong support from States, international organizations and civil society at large.
While the neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian space is still the best place to reset lives and reconcile, humanitarian practitioners can spearhead efforts at front lines and guide others through the landscape of fragmented societies, security challenges and multifaceted needs.
In the coming years, we will continue to work with our partners, relying on their skills, expertise, resources and financial contributions to make an impact. Thank you to all who championed the work of the ICRC in 2018. I look forward to your continued support into the future.