Funding Gap: ICRC Calls On Big Donors To Step Up

(MENAFN- Swissinfo) Français (fr) crise budgétaire: le cicr appelle les grands donateurs à se mobiliser

“My call on states, and especially the big donor countries, is to come in and to support us and to help fill the gap,” said Mirjana Spoljaric, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), at a rare press conference in Geneva on Wednesday, where she addressed the organisation's dismal financial situation.

Earlier this year, the ICRC announced that it would reduce its budget from CHF2.84 to CHF2.4 billion ($2.64 billion) as well as lay off 1,800 of its 22,700 employees. Of its 350 operations around the world, 26 are to be closed, while others will be scaled back. These are unprecedented cuts for the 160-year-old Geneva-based humanitarian organisation. But despite these cuts, the ICRC still faces a CHF400 million funding gap.

“I am speaking to all the large donors,” said the ICRC president. Top donors include the United States, Germany, Switzerland, the European Union, and the United Kingdom.“But of course, Switzerland is important. Historically its support has been essential, and it sends a signal to other donors to act as well,” she added. For Switzerland, the ICRC is also an important partner as about a third of its humanitarian aid budget goes to the organisation.

The Swiss newspaper, the sonntagszeitungexternal link , reported last week that a CHF200 million Covid-19 loan write-off from Switzerland was on the table. But Spoljaric simply said the organisation was looking for additional funds above the country's current CHF160 million contribution. She said talks were still ongoing between the ICRC and the Swiss government.

Spoljaric said the organisation would have to wait until the end of the year to know the response to its appeal.“These things take time. [...] We don't and cannot expect a solution overnight. There is no quick fix.”

New strategy

Like others in the humanitarian sector, the ICRC suffers from higher costs due to inflation of food and commodities and is seeing lower levels of support from donors, most of whom have had to cut their oversees budgets drained by the pandemic and the Russian led war in Ukraine.

Skyrocketing humanitarian needs driven by protracted conflicts – from Syria, to Yemen, and Afghanistan – combined with climate change offer a bleak outlook for the sector. In 2013, roughly 140 million people worldwide needed aid. Now, ten years later, that number has reached 340 million. Meanwhile the ICRC's budget has more than doubled.

But some employees are frustrated with the direction the organisation has taken over past decade. Last week, Swiss public radio, rtsexternal link reported that 2,500 of ICRC employees had signed an open letter to the organisation's management to express their anger. They blame previous executives for what they call a“budgetary drift”. They argue that the ICRC is too big and has lost sight of its core mission: protecting civilians in conflict, visiting prisoners, and reuniting lost relatives.

“We have to close programs and lay off a considerable number of colleagues, and this is extremely difficult for them. I understand their frustration and anger, but our goal – and our obligation – is to ensure our financial stability and operational continuity,” said Spoljaric, who joined ICRC in October 2022.

Spoljaric took the opportunity at the press conference to give a glimpse of its four-year strategy, which she expects will be adopted in November.“We will sharpen our operational focus on our core activities where the ICRC can make the biggest impact and be of the biggest help to the people,” she said. This job takes place in armed conflicts, across frontlines; places to which other humanitarian organisations often do not have access.

War in Ukraine

“It continues to be our largest operation, the largest in the history of the ICRC,” said Spoljaric about the war in Ukraine. The organisation has some 800 staff members on the ground.

A key part of the ICRC's job in Ukraine is to visit prisoners of war, on both sides. Last year, it had on several occasions deplored the lack of access offered by Kyiv and Moscow. Asked about the situation today, Spoljaric said:“We are progressing.” But she did not give any figures. Through the work of its Central Tracing Agency in Geneva, the ICRC could in 5,500 instances re-establish links between families and their missing relatives, she added.

The collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam in the Russian-controlled area of southern Ukraine, which unleashed a massive flood, was a strong reminder of the need for warring countries to comply with international humanitarian law, said Spoljaric. Targeting civilian infrastructure is prohibited under the Geneva Conventions, which all states have ratified. Kyiv and Moscow blame each other for its destruction.

“What we are always concerned about in such situations, is the overwhelming humanitarian pressure that arises. Because they create humanitarian fallout that cannot be met. The more incidents like this happen, the less will we be capable to reach people in an adequate way to prevent massive suffering,” the ICRC president said.

Edited by Virginie Mangin


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