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Red Cross in 'record expenditure'

By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Geneva

An Iraqi Kurdish man next to an ICRC vehicle on May 19
The Red Cross, seen here in Kurdistan, is active in war zones across the world

The International Committee of the Red Cross spent over $1bn (£0.6bn) last year on humanitarian work in war zones, a record expenditure for the group.

In its annual report for 2008, the ICRC said escalating conflicts and a lack of respect for international law combined to put more people into need.

Red Cross hospitals treated almost 3.5 million victims of war last year.

ICRC delegates visited half a million prisoners of war and detainees in 83 countries, the report said.

Worsening humanitarian situations in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of Congo stretch the Red Cross budget and look set to continue to do so.

But another reason for the record expenditure is the ICRC's success in gaining access to conflict zones that other aid agencies have difficulty operating in - Iraq, Somalia and Georgia, for example.

The Red Cross is quietly pleased that its record for impartiality continues to allow it to work in such regions, but the organisation also says 2008 was marred by an especially high toll of civilian deaths and injuries caused either by deliberate targeting or by indiscriminate and disproportionate use of weapons.

Much suffering could have been avoided, the Red Cross says, if warring parties had complied with international humanitarian law.



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