ICRC Maintains Field Presence, Local Engagement Despite Insecurity in Conflict Situations

A recent article in the Guardian highlighted findings from Presence and Proximity: To Stay and Deliver, Five Years On, a follow up study to OCHA's 2011  To Stay and Deliver. The former study collected and documented humanitarian organizations’ good practices in deploying and delivering relief in highly insecure environments. Presence and Proximity, which is based on interviews with 2,000 humanitarian workers showed that aid agencies often relied on local groups to carry out work in conflicts zones, distancing their own staff from the dangers on the ground.

The study found the majority of humanitarian agencies evacuated when violence erupted and if they returned when the situation stabilized, many agencies then focused their aid efforts on more stable areas. 

However the report did acknowledge that certain organizations, including the ICRC and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), have maintained a major field presence regardless of insecurity through consistent engagement at a local level.

Some other mentions of the ICRC as quoted in the report:


A wide range of security decision-making approaches can be found across the humanitarian community. Echoing the findings of the 2011 report, the field research found that the integration of program management and security and the devolution of security decision-making to the field with a clear chain of command had a positive impact on organizations’ ability to maintain operations while managing risks across the case study countries examined. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are strong, if somewhat unusual, examples of this. They do not distinguish between security management and the conduct of operations; programmatic and security decisions lie primarily with operational roles or missions and are generally based on their assessment of the operating environment. This level of autonomy is enshrined in operating frameworks and supported by institutional cultures, with a high level of dedicated resources and capacity to achieve it. This kind of operational autonomy facilitates agility and nuanced responses to crises...When insecurity does have an impact on operations, these organizations show more risk resilience, rebounding quickly from security shocks and restarting operations quickly.


One way in which humanitarians can and do enhance protection is to advocate for the protection of civilians in adherence with IHL, at both leadership and local levels. Private advocacy of this kind requires direct engagement with the belligerents and the cultivation of long-term relationships, which are generally best pursued through physical presence. However, much of the humanitarian community is simply not developing these relationships, and where these relationships do exist they tend to focus largely on access issues. Ad hoc negotiations might work for some access issues, but strategic engagement at all levels is required to disseminate IHL and advocate for respect for the law and humanitarian principles. In both Afghanistan and Somalia humanitarian workers routinely commented that they felt the humanitarian community was neglecting issues like the recruitment of child soldiers, increasing respect for humanitarian principles, and addressing violations. High-level engagement with armed groups on these issues was notably absent or lacking across all contexts, aside from the work of a small number of actors (like the ICRC) which undertake this dialogue on a routine basis in all operating environments.