Syria needs fuel biggest ever Red Cross budget

The Red Cross says it will need a record $1.3 billion (one billion euros) to cover its humanitarian activities next year, amid the soaring need for aid in places such as Syria.

Syria needs fuel biggest ever Red Cross budget
Red Cross chief Peter Maurer. Photo: AFP

"We consider that this is a realistic estimate of the resources required," International Committee of the Red Cross president Peter Maurer told reporters in Geneva on Thursday.
The biggest budget ever requested in the ICRC's 150-year history is needed due to soaring humanitarian needs, but also the organization's growing access to areas that were previously impossible to get to, like Myanmar, he explained.
"Armed conflict and other situations of violence are affecting the lives and dignity of countless men, women and children," Maurer said.

"Our ambition is to reach them and provide a wide range of services." 
In 2014, Syria will account for the ICRC's biggest expenditure.
Ten percent of the organization's total outlay will go to the war-ravaged country, where more than 120,000 people have died since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, and nearly nine million have been driven from their homes.
The ICRC is continuously increasing its distribution of food and water in Syria, but is struggling to reach all those in need of medical assistance, Maurer said.
He pointed out that aid workers who rush in to help the wounded are often accused — by both sides — of assisting the enemy, decrying that ambulances have repeatedly come under attack.
"In Syria alone, 32 Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers have been killed while carrying out their humanitarian duties since the beginning of hostilities," said Maurer.
He also lamented that his organisation had not been able to visit a single prisoner or detainee in Syria for the past two years.
Large chunks of next year's budget will also go to projects in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Iraq and Mali, among other places.
The Central African Republic, which has plunged into chaos and sectarian violence after the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted the president in a coup in March, will also be a central focus next year.
As the United Nations Thursday authorized a French-backed military intervention in the imploding, impoverished nation, the ICRC said it would hike its aid budget for the country by 65 percent.
The ICRC counts some 13,000 employees, who work closely with the national Red Cross societies around the world, as well was with other international and local aid groups.

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Spain’s basic income scheme hits backlog dead-end

Three months after Spain rushed to launch a minimum basic income scheme to fight a spike in poverty due to the coronavirus pandemic, the programme is at a dead-end because of an avalanche of applications.

Spain's basic income scheme hits backlog dead-end
Red Cross volunteers bring food packages to elderly and low income people. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP
The measure was a pledge made by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's leftwing coalition government, which took office in January, bringing together his Socialist party with far-left Podemos as the junior partner.
The scheme — approved in late May — aims to guarantee an income of 462 euros ($546) per month for an adult living alone, while for families, there would be an additional 139 euros per person, whether adult or child, up to a monthly maximum of 1,015 euros per home. It is expected to cost state coffers three billion euros ($3.5 billion) a year.
The government decided to bring forward the launch of the programme because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has hit Spain hard and devastated its economy, causing queues at food banks to swell.
Of the 750,000 applications which were filed since June 15 when the government started accepting requests, 143,000 — or 19 percent — have been analysed and 80,000 were approved, according to a social security statement issued on August 20.
'Months of waiting'
But Spain main civil servant's union, CSIF, paints a darker picture. “Nearly 99 percent of requests have not been processed,” a union spokesman, Jose Manuel Molina, told AFP.
The social security ministry has only really analysed 6,000 applications while 74,000 households that already receive financial aid were awarded the basic income automatically, he added.
For hundreds of thousands of other households, the wait is stressful. Marta Sanchez, a 42-year-old mother of two from the southern city of Seville, said she applied for the scheme on June 26 but has heard nothing since.
“That is two months of waiting already, when in theory this was a measure that was taken so no one ends up in the streets,” she added.
Sanchez lost her call centre job during Spain's virus lockdown while her husband lost his job as a driver. The couple has had to turn to the Red Cross for the first time for food.
“Thank God my mother and sister pay our water and electricity bills,” she said, adding their landlord, a relative, has turned a blind eye to the unpaid rent.
'Rushed everything'
A spokeswoman for the ministry acknowledged that the rhythm “was perhaps a bit slower than expected” but she said the government was working to “automate many procedures” so processing times should become faster from now on.
“The launch of a benefit is always difficult … and this situation is not an exception,” she added.
But Molina said this was a new situation, that was made worse by years of budget cuts to the public service which has lost 25 percent of its staff over the past decade.
“The problem is that they rushed everything, did it without training and a huge lack of staff,” he added.
The social security branch charged with the basic income scheme has only 1,500 civil servants, who also process most pension applications, Molina said.
These officials are facing an “avalanche” of requests, which already match the number of pension requests received in an entire year, he added.
About 500 temporary workers have been recruited as reinforcements but their assistance is limited because they do not have the status of civil servant, so they cannot officially approve requests for financial aid.
Demand is expected to increase. The government has said the measure was expected to benefit some 850,000 homes, affecting a total of 2.3 million people — 30 percent of whom were minors.
When the scheme was launched the government said all it would take is a simple online form, but this is a problem for many low-income families without computers and internet access, especially since the waiting time for an in-person meeting to apply is about two months, according to the CSIF union