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Our world.
Views from the field.

 

New research commissioned by ICRC as part of the Our world. Your move. campaign sheds light on the experiences of people living with armed conflict.

 

“Before we came to the city,we led a simple life,” says José, one of millions of Colombians forced to flee conflict. “We grew bananas, cassava and corn. Having enough to eat was never a problem.” Tears well in his eyes when he tells ICRC researchers that his children now subsist on bread and water.

Forced displacement is one of the most serious consequences of conflict, according to a global research study commissioned by ICRC as part of the Our world. Your move. campaign. In Colombia alone, millions of people had to abandon their homes, their land, their crops, their animals and familiar wellestablished ways of life to endure a life of poverty in big cities.

Our world. Views from the field. studied the experiences and opinions of civilians living with the everyday reality of armed conflict.

The research concentrated on some of the most troubled places in the world — representative of today’s Solferinos — where people experience armed conflict, armed violence or their aftermath. These countries were Afghanistan, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Georgia, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia and the Philippines. The study provides clear insight into how people experience armed conflict and its long-term impact on their lives. It also uncovers some valuable findings for the ICRC in conducting its humanitarian work, says Pierre Krähenbühl, ICRC’s director of operations.

“These figures represent millions of people who are struggling to provide for their children, who have been forced to flee their villages under threat, or who live in constant fear that someone they care for will be killed, assaulted or disappear. The research is a step towards acknowledging our accountability towards the people that we are there to serve.”



The big picture

Approximately 4,000 civilians were asked to relate their personal experiences through an opinion survey. In most cases, interviews were conducted face-to-face as the infrastructure in many of the countries rendered telecommunications inaccessible.

Of those interviewed, 44 per cent said they had witnessed armed conflict first hand and one in three had seen a relative killed. Across the eight countries, the research revealed a bleak picture. More than half of those interviewed — 56 per cent — had been forced to leave their homes and almost half had lost contact with a close relative. One in five said they had lost their means of income.

It also became clear through the research that displacement, separation from family members and lack of access to basic necessities were among people’s most common experiences and biggest fears.

Limited access to services such as water, electricity and health care emerged as a widespread problem, particularly in Afghanistan and Haiti, where well over half of the people directly affected by armed violence said they had experienced a lack of these basic necessities.

The consequences of armed conflict or violence were felt beyond those who were immediately affected. In total, twothirds of people (66 per cent) had been affected in some way — either personally or due to these wider consequences — and this included almost everyone in Haiti (98 per cent), Afghanistan (96 per cent), Lebanon (96 per cent) and Liberia (96 per cent).

The individual stories

To gain a more in-depth and personal understanding of people’s true experiences of war, the ICRC complemented the opinion survey by conducting person-to-person and focus-group interviews. This was a very important stage of the research process. It was invaluable to sit down and hear from the people themselves about the reality of living through these traumatic events. Similarly, the people involved in the interviews appreciated the opportunities to share their views.

In each country surveyed, the ICRC focused on the most vulnerable civilians, such as internally displaced persons, separated families, people injured by anti-personnel landmines and ‘first responders’ (e.g., health workers). The interviews covered a range of related issues including people’s needs, fears and expectations. Also under discussion was their experience of the ‘humanitarian gesture’ in times of need. Other questions focused on the law of war, the conduct of armed groups and people’s thoughts on the effectiveness of the Geneva Conventions. The interviews also uncovered interesting general perceptions of humanitarian organizations and views about respect for health personnel and services.

The emotional impact

Time and again, regardless of the country, similar stories emerged. Armed conflict was considered a vicious cycle that breeds poverty and further violence. Irrespective of the reason for conflict, there was a shared frustration with being dragged into a conflict that civilians believed was is completely ‘undeserved’ by them. Secondly, a predominant feeling emerged that armed conflict served no purpose whatsoever; instead, it only led to heavy losses. The research showed clearly that civilians caught up in conflict continually experienced a range of intense emotionssuch as fear, anxiety, sadness, depression, helplessness and even dissociation of their feelings as a way to cope with their situation.

Those directly affected by armed conflict or armed violence faced a range of dangers to their lives, health, livelihoods, liberty, self-respect and state of mind.

A woman in Georgia, whose son was missing, told of her extreme distress. “I was like a crazy person for four months. I stopped working. I was not even cooking food for the rest of my family. Life stopped. Neighbours and relatives could not make me change this attitude. I was thinking of burning our house: why do anything if my son was not with me?”

In Lebanon, a man grieved for his son. “During the war, one can accept that people get killed, but not after the end of the war when people have returned to their villages and homes. My heart has died since my son was killed by a cluster bomb.”

‘Post-conflict needs’ revolve around emotional and psychological needs. Feeling comfortable in new locations if displaced (e.g., by being welcomed by a supportive community and not being discriminated against), receiving support for the emotional toll of loss of belongings and loved ones immediately, having opportunities for communication (e.g., having a ‘shoulder to cry on’ and having their story heard) and getting in touch with separated family members were considered essential.

What does it mean for the ICRC?

A common theme across all the countries was an overall insatiable need for humanitarian assistance. However the research also revealed several areas for improvement. For example, people said aid needed to be delivered more quickly and on time, to ensure it reached all those in real need and the civilians directly rather than through intermediaries. The need to cover all areas affected by conflict and not just the cities was also flagged. In all the countries, people said their families and communities were first to give assistance and best understood their needs.

Krähenbühl says these findings give a clear direction for humanitarian assistance. “The importance of being close to affected communities is something we’ve picked up on in recent years in our own operational experience. It is important to enable local health workers, including our colleagues from National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, to respond on the ground, because we’ve seen that this makes a difference for affected populations. The survey underscores the importance of strengthening the capacity of communities at a grass-roots level to cope in the face of armed conflict. We will be focusing on this increasingly in the future.”

Throughout the research, psychological support and counselling were also considered very important and something that should be provided by aid organizations. According to respondents, humanitarian organizations should play a stronger role in education. Likewise respondents felt humanitarian organizations should deliver better tools and supplies such as housing and farming equipment to enable civilians to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

A number of barriers to receiving humanitarian assistance were also highlighted. Corruption, social factors, discrimination, inaccessible locations, fear of rejection by the community or by those giving help were often mentioned. Corruption emerged as the biggest single barrier to receiving aid for 59 per cent of those polled — rising to more than 80 per cent in Colombia, Liberia and the Philippines.

“It’s a striking finding and comes as a very strong reminder of all the precautions that one must put into place in the implementation of programmes, both during the evaluation phase and in carrying them out, in order to ensure that populations do not face discrimination or these forms of blockages. I think that this requires further close attention on our part,” explains Krähenbühl.

For a humanitarian organization such as the ICRC which is committed to assisting people according to their needs, this research serves as a reminder to place the individual at the centre of its approach and to see the situation through his or her eyes. Listening to a person’s experiences, needs, worries and expectations is key to ensuring that the organization tailors its response effectively in order to better protect and assist people affected by armed conflict throughout the world.


A 79-year-old is taken by her grandson to visit their abandoned village on Mindanao Island. Roughly 300,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, between government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an armed group, in the southern Philippines.
©JAMES NACHTWEY / ICRC / VII

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

60 years of the
Geneva Conventions

The ICRC marked the 60th anniversary of the four Geneva Conventions on 12 August by calling on states and armed groups to respect the rules which protect civilians as well as sick, wounded or detained combatants. “We see violations on a regular basis in the field, ranging from the mass displacement of civilians to indiscriminate attacks and ill-treatment of prisoners,” said ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger. “Even wars have limits and if the existing rules were followed to a greater extent, much of the suffering caused by armed conflict could be avoided. On a more positive note, many of these violations are no longer going unnoticed. Increasingly, those responsible are being held accountable for their actions and that is a sign of progress.” The conventions and their Additional Protocols form the backbone of international humanitarian law. All 194 countries are party to the conventions, making them universal. The ICRC also used this historic occasion to call for further clarifications and developments of international humanitarian law to respond to the ever-changing nature of armed conflicts.

 

 

 

 


Facts and figures

• In Afghanistan, 76 per cent of those who had personal experience of armed conflict
said they were forced to leave their homes and 61 per cent said they had lost contact
with a close relative.

• In Liberia, a startling 90 per cent said they had been displaced, followed by 61 per
cent in Lebanon and 58 per cent in DRC. The loss of contact with a relative was also high in Liberia (86 per cent), Lebanon (51 per cent) and DRC (47 per cent).

 

Eros Bosisio  
Eros Bosisio is ICRC Geneva communications officer and research coordinator.
Our world. Views from the field. can be downloaded at www.icrc.org

 

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