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Red Cross needs SFr 1 billion

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger

(Keystone)

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which says it is heading for a funding deficit this year, is asking governments to contribute almost SFr1 billion ($590 million) to its budget for 2001.

The ICRC president, Jakob Kellenberger, who was addressing his first press conference since taking up his post 11 months ago, launched the appeal.

It came three months after the ICRC issued an urgent appeal for money to cover a record funding shortfall.

"Since then, the revenue situation has improved," Kellenberger told swissinfo. "But we are still heading for a deficit. It's not possible to say yet what that deficit will be, but we will try in the coming weeks to keep it as low as possible. I hope we can keep it within manageable proportions."

The budget for 2001 amounts to SFr995 million Swiss francs, of which SFr844 million will be spent on the ICRC's operations around the globe. The remainder, around 150 million, will fund the support provided by the headquarters in Geneva.

Kellenberger identified Africa as the biggest area of concern. Forty per cent of the ICRC's operations budget will be spent there, and of its 10 biggest operations, six - the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Sudan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Somalia - are on that continent. Indeed, the biggest increase in spending on any single operation will be in Sierra Leone.

There will also be a big budget increase for operations in Russia, and specifically the Caucasus.

Yugoslavia will remain the largest ICRC operation, but the amount spent on it has been drastically cut in relation to 2000, thanks to the political changes in the Balkans.

One question overshadowing the appeal was the so-called emblem issue - the adoption of an additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions that would create a third, neutral symbol, in addition to the Cross and the Crescent, which would open the way for Israel to be admitted to the Red Cross fold.

Switzerland, the depository country of the conventions, was forced to postpone the diplomatic conference that would have approved the protocol following the eruption of hostilities in the Middle East.

Since then, the American Red Cross has announced it will not pay its contributions to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, prompting fears that the ICRC could be similarly hit.

Kellenberger was keen to draw a distinction between the American Red Cross and the United States government, which is by far the biggest contributor to the ICRC.

"Over the past year, the United States have been very supportive, and I have no reason to believe that that won't be the case next year," Kellenberger told swissinfo.

"The US government has made it very clear that it wants an early solution to the emblem problem. That is absolutely legitimate. I have been working for an early solution since I took office," he added.

The ICRC is currently working in almost 60 situations around the world and these including at least 25 active conflicts, and a number of latent conflicts. Kellenberger told the press conference that the ICRC had detected no improvement in many of these conflicts.

Two areas on which the ICRC will concentrate a great deal of effort in 2001 are people displaced within their own country and the protection women and girls.

by Roy Probert


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