0409 GMT October 04, 2022
This is a very critical period in the history of humankind. The world is experiencing an unprecedented number of crises and conflicts, particularly in countries like Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
Although we, as human beings, normally feel sympathy for our kind and give other people [and even other species] assistance when we are in comfortable and ideal situations, it is extremely difficult to extend the same sympathy and assistance at the time of war and natural disasters as well as in hardship.
Nevertheless, this is what the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), a humanitarian organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, has been doing since 1863.
Last week, Pascal Hundt, the head of Assistance Division at ICRC in Geneva, visited Iran to hold a number of meetings with Iranian officials and discuss issues of common interest. He also participated in a workshop and round-table (held November 22-25),co-organized by the ICRC, the Iranian Ministry of Energy and the Department of Environment, to explore different approaches to overcoming environmental challenges.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Iran Daily, Hundt expounded on the goals of his visit, the workshop, ICRC's cooperation with the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS), ICRC's programs and the institution's main challenges in terms of providing assistance to victims of war in affected countries.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
IRAN DAILY: What are the aims of your visit?
PASCAL HUNDT: The main aim of the visit was to participate in a regional workshop and round-table discussion. Representatives from related ministries in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria also participated in the workshop. Serious problems require shared solutions. We organized the workshop with Iran because the country has a lot of expertise in the fields of water and environment, which is interesting both to us as well as other countries in the region.
The ICRC shared its experience and expertise with the participants in this workshop. Because of its main mission and objectives, the ICRC works in a large number of war-affected countries, coming to the aid of victims, and conducts a wide range of activities pertaining to the water sector which represents quite an important proportion of its programs, particularly in the Middle East.
Currently, challenges faced by the ICRC have become a lot more complex. Wars are taking place in urban environments and last much longer than they did previously. The present circumstance requires that we put efforts and brains together and work out more comprehensive solutions to such problems.
The other objective of my visit was to discuss a number of issues with our long-standing partner, the IRCS, with which we have favorable cooperation, and to review the joint projects currently underway.
In talks with the IRCS, I also explored the possibility of using Iran's medical expertise in ICRC’s programs abroad.
Another aim of the visit was to meet the officials of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to express our appreciation for the favorable relationship we have with the Iranian government, the support they are providing us with and for the co-organization of the workshop. In the meetings, I also underlined the important role Iran can play in terms of supporting the ICRC's humanitarian efforts and in promoting the implementation of international humanitarian law.
I also visited a number of water projects in Isfahan. I was really impressed by the Iranian experts' high level of expertise and competence.
Water problems cannot be tackled in isolation because they are linked with other issues such as agriculture, energy and trade. There are a large number of factors that have [and are] contributing to the exacerbation of water shortage problems in the region, including demographic growth, urbanization, limited water reserves and climate change.
Some 25 percent of the ICRC's budget is spent on water projects and programs in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.
How do you evaluate the IRCS cooperation with the ICRC?
Both organizations do their best to help each other to achieve their humanitarian goals. We have a very good bilateral cooperation. We also have a favorable collaboration in the framework of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
How can Iran contribute to the implementation of the ICRC programs?
Conflicts are lasting longer these days; partly, because in some cases effective political solutions seem to be lacking. It is becoming increasingly dangerous for humanitarian actors, such as physicians and practitioners, to work and help people in critical situations. Iran can play an important role in supporting the ICRC’s efforts and fulfilling its obligations with respect to international humanitarian law. Also, given its favorable geographic location, Iran can very well support the ICRC's operations logistically.
What are the main challenges faced by the ICRC in terms of assistance?
We are currently carrying out operations in contexts such as Syria, South Sudan, The Central African Republic, Yemen, Afghanistan and Ukraine.
The biggest challenge is security. We have to talk to a large number of people to explain what we are doing and make sure that they consent to our plans. In addition, it is more difficult to discuss with some people than with others. Maintaining our neutrality is also a tough challenge, for we are often told by parties involved in conflicts that you are either with us or against us.
Another challenge the ICRC has to address is the funding of its operations.
There are a large number of crises and conflicts around the globe that people hardly know about. International media barely provide people with sufficient information about conflicts in countries including Somalia, Congo, Mali, Colombia and Philippines.
Therefore, the ICRC’s another challenge is to bring the problems of these countries to international attention. The media can play a very important role to this end. We are victims’ advocates; if we do not speak on behalf of them, other people will hardly care about them. During the years I have worked with the ICRC, I have never seen such a large number of crises and conflicts at the same time.
Would you please provide us with updates on your operations in Syria, as one of the ICRC’s biggest operations?
Providing food to the people is our main program in Syria. The ICRC also supplies water to Syrian people. In addition, a number of medical programs are being implemented there. Moreover, the ICRC is providing assistance to Syrian people in Lebanon and in Jordan. We are helping the host communities in these countries as well, because they also suffer greatly and feel the burden.