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Aid efforts ‘getting more politicised’

SINGAPORE — Humanitarian work is getting more politicised, presenting relief organisations with the dilemma of either staying neutral or working with groups with political agendas, said Dr Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), yesterday.

SINGAPORE — Humanitarian work is getting more politicised, presenting relief organisations with the dilemma of either staying neutral or working with groups with political agendas, said Dr Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), yesterday.

Dr Maurer said he was “profoundly puzzled” and “disconcerted” about such politicisation, which can involve selective humanitarian help along religious, racial and political lines, causing armed groups to distrust humanitarian workers, affecting relief efforts in conflict zones such as Syria.

Adding to such problems is the rising complexity of armed conflicts due to cyber, remote and intra-state warfare, he added.

“All these are challenges and one of the big questions for ICRC is how does the traditional humanitarian law of the Geneva Convention relate to those challenges, and I think Singapore is an excellent place in Asia and the Asia-Pacific to use as a platform for discussing those issues because of your academic stature,” he said.

Dr Maurer was speaking to reporters while visiting the Red Cross Home for the Disabled at Lengkok Bahru as part of a two-day visit to Singapore. He also met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, Second Foreign Affairs Minister Grace Fu and Second Defence Minister Chan Chun Sing.

In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the leaders and Dr Maurer “discussed ways in which Singapore and the ICRC’s cooperation could be enhanced”.

Dr Maurer will deliver a public lecture today, where he will touch on key regional and global challenges faced by the ICRC and the relevance of international humanitarian law. The 150-year-old organisation is keen to strengthen relations with the Singapore Red Cross (SRC) and possibly increase its operations here, Dr Maurer said.

This would allow the ICRC to tap on the Republic’s wealthy donor base and expertise in long-term post-disaster reconstruction.

Through such collaboration, Dr Maurer hopes that the SRC, which he described as a “formidable deliverer of services in the region”, could be “among the first and foremost” to be mobilised to deliver aid to disaster zones such as typhoon-hit areas in the Philippines.

Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines on Nov 8, devastating many villages and towns. The SRC contributed emergency relief supplies worth S$100,000 for survivors and sent volunteers and staff to affected areas to help with aid distribution.

The ICRC had a presence in the Philippine island of Mindanao before the typhoon struck and had prepared food, medication and household items in areas that were likely to be affected. After the typhoon, the organisation contributed trucks to deliver aid and collaborated with other agencies in relief operations.

Noting that the operations had been picking up in recent days, Dr Maurer said: “I’m relatively confident that we are on the (right) track.”

The ICRC, which has experience in bringing together families separated by conflict, has put up a website on missing persons and received 27,000 requests from people looking for family members.

To get help quickly to typhoon victims, cooperation between aid agencies and the Philippine government is necessary, Dr Maurer said.

While typhoon-hit areas are not considered conflict zones, the guerilla New People’s Army has been suspected of attacking aid convoys in the days following the typhoon, according to news reports.

Dr Maurer said: “There is no question that ... in many parts of the Philippines, we have to work together and to coordinate and to get the aid out quickly. But when you operate in a conflict region, you have to be very thoughtful (about) where your aid is going.”

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