World's ills trigger record billion-dollar Red Cross outlay

GENEVA - A lethal cocktail of war, natural disasters and economic volatility led the international Red Cross to paint a picture of rising global instability Wednesday as it announced record annual expenditure.
The Geneva-based humanitarian organisation's annual report shows it spent 724 million euros (just over one billion dollars) in 2008 with Sudan and Somalia ahead of Iraq and Afghanistan in the league table of aid priorities.

"Millions of people affected by armed conflict have become more vulnerable because of the combined effects of war, natural disasters and continued high food prices," the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
"Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan are three examples of countries where natural disasters and high food prices have made life even harder for poor people already struggling to cope with the effects of war," said Jakob Kellenberger, ICRC president.
Field expenditure amounted to 593 million euros, with 100 million euros accounted for at its Swiss headquarters. Africa swallowed up almost half of all operational spending, while another fifth went on the Middle East.
The report said the increase in expenditure is "due to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in many countries, such as Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Pakistan, but it also reflects improved ICRC access to people affected by wars."
Kellenberger cited Iraq, the northern African Sahel region, Somalia and Georgia.
The ICRC's breakdown showed over 121,000 tonnes of food distributed to 2.79 million people worldwide last year, more than twice as much as in 2007.
The body said its water, sanitation and construction projects benefited more than 15 million people, with nearly 3.5 million patients treated at health facilities supported by it.
Aid workers also visited almost half a million detainees in 83 countries.
Sudan received 71.8 million euros, Somalia 67 million, Iraq 62.5 million and Afghanistan 46 million.
Next were Israel and the Palestinian territories, on 40.8 million euros, with the Congo, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Chad and Pakistan each gobbling up between 16.4 and 33 million more.
Kellenberger said much of the civilians toll and suffering in war zones "could have been avoided if conflict parties had improved their compliance with international humanitarian law."
He also warned that the impact of the global economic crisis on the world's most vulnerable people would be particularly severe, citing growing extremes of poverty, rising global unemployment and "a significant drop in remittances from migrant workers to their families in conflict areas."
The ICRC employs almost 11,000 people worldwide.

Wednesday, May 27th 2009

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