International Committee of the Red Cross

International Committee of the Red Cross  
Regional Delegation for the United States and Canada
News and Notes
March 2009
The first months of 2009 have continued to be busy ones for the ICRC. In this newsletter, we bring you an interview with Juan-Pedro Schärer, ICRC Head of Delegation in Iraq who visited us in Washington, DC, earlier this month. We also share the latest information on our colleagues abducted in the Philippines two months ago. Our thoughts are with them and their families.
In addition, please find links to resources the ICRC has prepared to mark International Women's Day celebrated on March 8 and World Water Day coming up on March 22. 
As always, for all the latest news, please consult our website at
Kind regards,
The ICRC Washington Delegation
In this issue:
Interview with Juan-Pedro Schärer, ICRC Head of Delegation - Iraq
Philippines: ICRC Says Safety of Kidnapped Staff is Paramount
War Victims Need Better Access to Water and Sanitation
Women Need Safer Access to Health Care in War Situations
Interview with Juan-Pedro Schärer, ICRC Head of Delegation - Iraq 
Juan-Pedro Schärer Mr. Schärer has served as ICRC Head of Delegation to Iraq since 2007. During his March 2009 visit to the United States, we took the opportunity to ask him the following questions: 
Why is it important for ICRC's Head of Delegation in Iraq to visit the United States in the first months of the new administration?
It is important for us to have the opportunity to share our views and concerns with the new administration regarding the humanitarian situation in Iraq, with respect to the civilian population at large and other categories of people in need of protection, like those detained by Coalition forces or the Iraqi authorities.
The general impression in North America is that the security situation in Iraq has improved in recent months. Does the same hold true for the humanitarian situation?
It is true to say that the security situation has improved in many parts of Iraq, although there are areas where a high level of insecurity persists. With improved security comes increasing demand from the population for access to basic services, including health care, water, and educational or job opportunities. In Iraq, the government currently faces great challenges in meeting these demands. The turmoil of the last 30 years as well as the recent violence have had a lasting detrimental impact on the provision of these services.
How will the Agreement signed between the governments of Iraq and the United States in November 2008 change the ICRC's work?
The Agreement will not change the way the ICRC works in Iraq, but it does have certain implications for categories of people the ICRC visits. These include those who are detained by U.S. forces in Iraq, who are in the process of being released or transferred to the Iraqi authorities.
What are the ICRC's priorities in Iraq for the rest of 2009?
One of the ICRC's main priorities remains securing access to people who are deprived of freedom. In the coming months, the ICRC will place increased priority on visiting places of detention under Iraqi control. In addition, the ICRC will work to support the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Public Works to increase their capacity to respond to the basic needs of the civilian population. The ICRC will also continue to work to clarify the fate of missing persons in Iraq.
Philippines: ICRC Says Safety of Kidnapped Staff is Paramount
Alain Aeschlimann, Head of Operations, East Asia, Southeast Asia, PacificSunday, March 15, marked exactly two months since the abduction of ICRC staff members Mary Jean Lacaba, Eugenio Vagni, and Andreas Notter in the southern Philippines. The ICRC's head of operations for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific, Alain Aeschlimann, is in the capital of Manila and comments on the latest developments.

There have been reports of gunfire coming from the region where your colleagues are allegedly being held. What is your response?

The ICRC is aware that an exchange of gunfire took place in the region on Monday, March 16. We're very concerned to hear about this development in light of the consequences it could have on our staff. Their safety is paramount. We repeat our call that no action should be taken that could put the lives of Mary Jean, Eugenio, and Andreas in danger. The responsibility for their well-being lies with all those involved in this situation.

We do not have any further information at this time about these latest developments. Obviously, we hope that we will be able to speak with our colleagues as soon as possible to know they are okay.

When was the last time you spoke with your colleagues?

We were able to talk to Mary Jean, Andreas, and Eugenio on Wednesday, March 11. It was our first direct contact with them in almost three weeks so it was very good to speak with all three and hear that they were together. They sounded calm and composed, considering the enormous stress caused by this situation.

It has been just over two months since the three were snatched. How are the families coping with the ordeal?

It is incredibly difficult for them, especially when there is breaking news or conflicting information in the press. We are doing our best to keep them informed, comfort them and give them the support they need. It goes without saying that we are doing everything we can to obtain the safe and swift release of their loved ones.

Unless you've lived through something like this yourself, I think it's impossible to imagine their anguish. The uncertainty and anxiety created by this type of situation is very difficult for the families to bear. It's frustrating for everyone that this has gone on for so long. Only the safe and rapid release of our colleagues can bring the families any real relief.

As ICRC workers, Mary Jean, Eugenio, and Andreas are responsible for alleviating the suffering of those who have been adversely affected by situations of armed conflict or internal violence. Our colleagues and their families have suffered immensely over the past two months. We hope it will not be long before they are home together again.
War Victims Need Better Access to Water and Sanitation
World Water Day 2009The ICRC is calling on governments taking part in the Fifth World Water Forum in Turkey this week to make a serious commitment to protect water and sanitation systems in times of war and to maintain services in conflict-prone areas to prevent them from collapsing.
"Water, sewage, and electrical power systems, along with medical facilities, are usually the first things to be disrupted when a war breaks out," said Robert Mardini, who heads the ICRC's water and habitat unit. "They can be damaged or shut down completely by shelling and explosions, or overwhelmed by influxes of displaced people. Such incidents are often followed by massive shortages and by rapidly spreading disease that can result in loss of life." Mr. Mardini cited Iraq, Gaza, Sri Lanka, and Somalia as examples of places where the delivery of water supplies and sanitation services has been severely hampered by recent armed conflicts.
Roughly a quarter of the estimated 1.2 billion people unable to obtain clean drinking water, and 15 percent of the 2.6 billion without access to proper sanitation, are in war-torn countries. "Access to safe water and adequate sanitation are fundamental for conflict-affected people," said Mr. Mardini. "The ICRC aims to use the World Water Forum to put this issue higher up the international agenda and to remind governments of their responsibilities in this respect."
Mr. Mardini drew attention to the double adversity faced by war victims struggling to survive a natural disaster. "When a natural disaster, such as a prolonged drought, exacerbates the devastation wrought by conflict, as in Somalia, people become far more vulnerable to poverty and disease."
Water and WarThe ICRC's efforts to improve water and sanitation involve working with communities and Red Cross and Red Crescent partners to provide emergency assistance where needed and to develop sustainable practices. The organization's neutral and impartial role enables it to talk to all sides in a conflict, and thereby to help restore access to water even as fighting rages on.
Click here to read the full interview with Mr. Mardini.
Click here to download ICRC's new publication Water and War.
Women Need Safer Access to Health Care in War Situations
Women and War - Health
In the run-up to International Women's Day, March 8, ICRC has warned that the specific health-care needs of women are often ignored or insufficiently taken into account in war situations.

"People wounded in fighting are given priority for medical treatment, but women, even pregnant mothers, are often given scant attention despite their special needs," said Nadine Puechguirbal, the ICRC's adviser on issues relating to women and war.

In the world's least developed countries, many of which are at war, women are 300 times more likely to die in childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications than in developed countries, according to UNICEF. While armed conflicts and other violence affect entire communities, women are particularly at risk of rape and other forms of sexual violence. Because of poor security conditions or because they have no means of transportation, it is often impossible for women to reach a health-care facility so as to give birth safely.

Sri Lankan Women with ICRC Hygiene Kit
"International humanitarian law stipulates that the specific health-care needs of conflict-affected women must be met, including in places of detention," explained Ms. Puechguirbal. "Parties to a conflict have an obligation to comply with the law and do everything possible to ensure that women receive the health care they require."
During the recent conflict in Gaza the lives of numerous women were put at risk when ambulances couldn't get through to them because of the fighting. The conflict also prevented women in labor from reaching a safe place to have their babies. Women are currently facing the same difficulty in Somalia, where the death rate of pregnant women and newborn babies is among the highest in the world. According to UNICEF, only nine women in 100,000 actually make it to a hospital to give birth in Somalia.
The ICRC is addressing the specific health needs of women in war-torn countries around the world by supporting hospitals and basic health-care services. In some countries, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is making counseling services available to victims of sexual violence. "The first priority after a rape is to obtain medical care," explained Charlotte, a Red Cross volunteer providing counseling. "But medicines can only treat the body. The victims of these attacks bear invisible, psychological wounds."

Contact Information
International Committee of the Red Cross
Regional Delegation for the United States and Canada
1100 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036 USA 
+1 202-587-4600  
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