Survey shows devastating impact of hostilities on civilians

By staff writers
23 Jun 2009

War and armed violence is taking an alarming toll on civilians in conflict-affected countries across the globe, according to new findings published by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) today (Tuesday).

The survey, which covers countries such as Afghanistan where British troops have been active, comes a few days before Britain celebrates its first Armed Forces Day.

The survey reveals that displacement, separation from family members and a lack of access to basic necessities are among people's most common experiences and greatest fears.

Of those people directly affected by hostilities, 56 per cent said they had been displaced by fighting, while almost half said they had lost contact with a loved one.

One in five said they had lost their means of income.

The report, entitled Our world: Views from the field looks at the personal experiences, needs, worries, expectations and frustrations of conflict-affected populations in eight countries: Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Georgia, Haiti, Lebanon, Liberia and the Philippines.

It was compiled by the Ipsos research agency and is being released to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Solferino on 24 June.

"What's new about this research is that it gives us a more comprehensive overview of how the victims of armed conflict and violence are affected across the board," said Pierre Krähenbühl, the 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. That's very disturbing."

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

In Liberia, a startling 90 per cent of people 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).

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.

As part of the research process, the ICRC conducted focus groups in the conflict-affected countries to gain a more in-depth understanding of people's true experiences of war.

"By talking to a wide range of people and really listening to what they have to say, we're able to see the situation through their eyes.

"This will greatly enhance and inform our approach towards helping them and others in need," said the ICRC's deputy director of communication, Charlotte Lindsey, who oversaw the survey.

Timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Solferino, which took place on 24 June 1859, the new research looks at "today's Solferinos" and their impact on people.

More than 38,000 soldiers were killed or wounded in 1859, when allied Franco-Sardinian troops clashed with Austrian soldiers in northern Italy.

The battle led to the creation of the ICRC, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the Geneva Conventions.

"When you look at Solferino, where only one civilian was reportedly killed, and you compare it with modern-day conflicts in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Gaza or Somalia, you find that warfare today takes a more widespread physical and emotional toll on civilians," said Mr. Krähenbühl.

"This clearly points to a need for warring parties to better respect international humanitarian law and the rules of war.

Civilians and their property must be spared and protected at all times."

Other key findings of the report Of the more than 4,000 people surveyed, 44 per cent overall said they had personally experienced armed conflict. The highest figures were in Liberia (96 per cent), Lebanon (75 per cent) and Afghanistan (60 per cent).

Around 66 per cent of all respondents said they had felt the consequences of hostilities, even if they did not consider themselves personally or directly affected. This includes almost everyone in Lebanon (96 per cent), Liberia (96 per cent), Haiti (98 per cent) and Afghanistan (96 per cent).

Almost 30 per cent of those directly affected by fighting said a close family member had been killed during fighting. This figure was dramatically higher in Liberia (69 per cent) and Afghanistan (45 per cent). In both Lebanon and DRC, the corresponding figure was about 25 per cent.

Across the eight countries, 18 per cent said they had been wounded in fighting. In addition, 17 per cent said they had been tortured, while 32 per cent said they had experienced humiliation.

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