National Press Club

Red Cross President tells Press Club Newsmaker situation in Syria getting more serious

April 14, 2013 | By Keith M. Hill | khill@bna.com

The International Committee of the Red Cross has been able to expand humanitarian aid in Syria during its civil war but the needs of the population are growing exponentially, Red Cross President Peter Maurer said at an April 11 National Press Club Newsmaker.

Fighting in Syria has been going on for more than two years.

There has been an increase in fighting in Syria and because most people cannot return to their homes, they flee to neighboring countries, Maurer said. The Red Cross also is unable to respond adequately in certain areas of the country, he said.

Several tipping points are emerging in this war, Maurer said. For example, deaths from natural causes are exploding, and the economic and social systems are disintegrating, he said. These situations are becoming more difficult to turn around, he said.

The Red Cross has been negotiating with all arms bearers in the Syrian conflict to try to get help to as many citizens as it can, Maurer said. He urged nations to increase political pressure on the ruling regime in Syria to help the Red Cross do its job.

Maurer also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, which is its largest project. There are 1,650 ICRC workers in Afghanistan, he noted. The Red Cross hopes to maintain the same level of aid programs in the country once control of forces has been transferred from the United States to Afghanistan next year, he said.

The Red Cross is also conducting humanitarian actions in northern Mali, Maurer said, adding that the Red Cross is the only organization with substantial operations there.

In mentioning his discussions with U.S. government officials about the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Maurer called the situation an untenable political blockage and hoped that officials will come together to break that blockage. The relationship between the Red Cross and the U.S., its biggest supporter, is deep and broad, he noted.

Maurer concluded by saying that the conflicts in eastern Congo, central and southern Somalia, and southern Yemen are much more serious than the ones in Syria and Afghanistan. Congo, Somalia, and Yemen are forgotten conflicts because they are not currently on the front page, he said.