Focus on the Horn of Africa

Focus on the Horn of Africa - ©ICRC/André Liohn

Focus on the Horn of Africa - ©ICRC/André Liohn

As the Geneva-based head of operations for the CORNE region, Daniel Duvillard supervises the work of eight ICRC delegation in ten East African and Horn countries. Sadly, recurrent crises characterize at least three of the contexts supervised by CORNE.  

Read on for the transcipt of a discussion I had with Mr. Duvillard last week on CORNE's current and future priorities and why Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan will continue to rank amongst our largest operations in 2013.

Photography by André Liohn/©ICRC (Somalia) and Tom Stoddart© Getty Images/ICRC (South Sudan).

Chronic needs

What we see in the Horn of Africa are chronic needs linked to poverty and under-development compounded by natural and man-made disasters. This is unfortunately a recurrent cycle and today, this pattern certainly exists in Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia, all of which will be among the ten largest ICRC operations next year. When it comes to Sudan and South Sudan, the aftermath of the independence of South Sudan means there are many problems that remain to be solved and agreed upon by both countries. As we have seen this year, this sometimes triggers clashes, with fighting between the two countries themselves or through proxies, and this inevitably generates significant humanitarian needs. 

In Sudan, assistance despite limited access

In Sudan, access-related problems remain. In particular, we have difficulties to assess or to have first-hand information about the humanitarian situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The ICRC is not present in either states, where the government is fighting the Sudan People Liberation Movement North. In Sudan, we are mainly present in Darfur, through our Sudanese personnel. Today, even if we have access to Darfur, it remains an area that is still too dangerous for our expatriate staff to operate in. This means that the main activities in Darfur today are carried out in partnership with the Sudanese Red Crescent or line ministries and they are assistance-related: we focus on water, health and food provision. Now that the Sudanese government has declared the end of the tripartite initiative that involved the United Nations, the African Union and the League of Arab States, we will also closely monitor the efforts that the international community is undertaking to convince the Sudanese authorities to allow foreign humanitarian organizations into South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

In South Sudan, narrow window of opportunity

In South Sudan, we are confronted with a multitude of humanitarian needs. The number of armed groups operating in different parts of the country is a major challenge. Inter-communal violence is another, for instance in Jonglei. The consequences of the fighting in neighboring Sudan, in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, is mass displacement of people across the border. Some 200,000 people are now living in refugee camps in South Sudan where the conditions, especially during the raining season, are quite dire. We are intervening in these camps, mostly in support of the NGOs operating there. The rainy season has now ended and substantial needs must be urgently addressed. The country remains an operational challenge for all humanitarians working there given the terrain and the narrow six-month window we have to operate while conditions permit.

In Somalia, food insecurity but improved access

In Somalia, the government, supported by AMISOM troops and the Ethiopian army, captured major Somali cities from Al Shebaab. The ICRC was banned from operating in areas controlled by Al Shebaab at the beginning of 2012 so this will give us the opportunity to resume our activities in certain areas and in some cases to expend them. Our main focus will be food security. There was a famine in 2011 and needs remain significant, with about one-third of the population still food-insecure in the central and southern parts of the county. Responding to these needs through livelihood activities will be one of the main priorities for the Horn region. We have already resumed our activities in places of detention in Mogadishu and, more recently in Puntland in an effort to assess the conditions of detention and treatment of detainees in the country. The government and AMISOM have captured many Al Shebaab in the wake of the recent military offensive. Many are now detained. Visiting them and other detainees will also be a priority for our Somalia delegation in coming months. Now that a new government is being formed, we will have to see to which extend it can operate outside of Mogadishu and provide services to the population. This being said, we will have to be careful with regards to security, particularly for our staff operating in rural areas. 

Defending principled humanitarian action

At the level of the Horn/East Africa region in Geneva, one of the things we try to do is to defend the concept of neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian action. We do it mostly through bilateral discussions with the governments and armed groups directly concerned. When appropriate, we sensitize and sometimes seek the support of the international community, be it traditional donors and supporters of the ICRC or governments well placed to help us defend our approach and objectives. We are trying also to develop partnerships with local actors throughout the region. When we don't have access or if it is too dangerous for our staff to work, it is sometimes easier for local actors like the national Red Crescent and Red Cross societies to operate. So we try to increase the strength of these partnerships, with the National Societies of the region but also with institutional actors like government ministries, local NGOs and even sometimes private associations. 

Access and security are main challenges

The main constraints for us at a regional level are linked to access and security. Either the ICRC is not granted access to areas where armed conflicts are taking place or prevailing security does not allow us to operate normally. The Somali Regional State in Ethiopia, from where the ICRC was expelled in 2007, is an example. The border areas between Eritrea and Ethiopia is another. The same applies to South Kordofan and Blue Nile in Sudan. In many areas, even when we are granted access, it is simply too dangerous for international staff to operate, as is the case today in central and southern Somalia and in Darfur. So our role at the level of the region is to support the efforts of our in-country teams, in particular when they face political or operational hurdles in the field".