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First Aid in armed conflicts and other situations of violence

By ICRC (Author)
Published : 2006


A practical manual presenting the specific knowledge, skills and practices that First Aiders should have to act safely and effectively when caring for people caught up in armed conflicts and other situations of violence, such as internal disturbances and tensions. Built on the field experiences of the ICRC and of others, it demonstrates how prompt administration of life-saving and stabilizing measures can prevent death, complications and disability, and result in better and easier surgery. It also explains that is not enough for First Aiders to be experienced in helping the sick and the wounded; they must understand the significance of the distinctive emblems, the Fundamental Principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and their rights and duties in armed conflicts as laid down in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols.   The manual is accompanied by a CD ROM which can be used as a resource for information on the Movement and its work in this area including key publications and documents. It also includes useful pocket-sized cards presenting essentials on important first aid topics.  FOREWORD   First Aid is not simply performing artificial respiration, bandaging a wound or taking an injured person to hospital. It is also taking someone’s hand, reassuring the frightened, giving a bit of one’s self. In armed conflicts and other situations of violence, First Aiders take the risk of suffering harm from such dangers as gunfire, collapsing buildings, burning cars, unstable rubble and tear gas. They step forward to help the wounded when the most natural reflex would be to run the other way. Ultimately, providing First Aid puts one’s self on the line, for no one comes out of these close encounters with others, in times of crisis, unscathed. First Aiders have enriching experiences, it is true, but they must sometimes cope with despair, when – despite their best efforts, despite all their skill – the breath of life they have struggled to maintain slips away. Through their commitment, their selflessness and willingness to expose themselves to possible physical and psychological harm, First Aiders demonstrate their humanity in the fullest sense of the term, and we owe them an immense debt of gratitude – all the more so because they frequently perform their tasks away from the “limelight”, seeking not to be recognized but only to help others thereby giving added meaning to their lives. Turning to the ideals of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, there is a particular meaning attached to providing First Aid in situations of violence. It is in keeping with the humanist vision of a world in which the dignity of an enemy deserves as much respect as that of a friend or indeed as one’s own dignity. The gesture is disinterested. It carries no political meaning or message, although it may have a political impact when it symbolizes international solidarity. He or she who dresses the wounds of another, listens and offers renewed hope, is not defending a cause. First Aiders are impartial, neutral, independent and not prompted by desire for gain. Above all, they are humane, as was Henry Dunant, the Movement’s very first First Aid worker, on the battlefield in Solferino in 1859. Let us recall the words he used to describe what he felt as he surveyed the scene: “The feeling one has of one’s own utter inadequacy in such extraordinary and solemn circumstances is inexpressible.” It would be a mistake to see in a First Aider nothing more than a local actor in the dramatic events unfolding around him, be it an armed conflict, a violent street demonstration or a natural disaster. The significance of what First Aiders do is universal: not only because they belong to a Movement that carries out relief work all over the world but also because every day their actions create bonds that triump h over differences, prejudice and intolerance. First Aiders do not live in a world where “civilizations clash” with one another, in a Manichean universe in which everyone must take sides. To be sure, First Aiders have their own ideas, political opinions, secular or religious convictions, and identities, but they succeed in transcending them. And they build bridges. Such feats are not within everyone’s reach. First Aiders are there when you need them, and they steadfastly remain by your side. They do what they can to prevent emergencies through awareness-raising, training activities and vaccination campaigns. At the same time, they prepare themselves to swing into action in the event that an emergency does occur and to rally others to join with them. In crisis situations they interrupt their everyday lives and take selfless action without concern for the time or energy involved. Yet, they are well compensated for their personal sacrifices before, during and after a crisis by what they receive from the men, women and children in difficulty whose paths they cross and with whom they remain for as long as it takes to ease their pain and soothe them in their distress. Because of all that they represent, all that they do and all that they are, the men and women who become First Aiders bring us comfort at a time when people fight in a bid to secure power or material goods, in the name of beliefs or ideologies, in pursuit of nationalist interests, and for so many other reasons. All these spirals of violence combine to leave us vulnerable, frightened, stunned and shocked. We find it hard to believe in mankind, to hope for a better world for our children, to look forward to the future that will be theirs. We almost feel guilty about leaving them such a legacy of danger and violence. And then our paths cross those of a First Aider, on the battlefield, in a riot, in our street or simply on a television screen, and we are moved. We adm ire their resourcefulness and are impressed by their quickness and skill. We are filled with concern when we see their features drawn with fatigue, their spattered faces and their bruised hands. Hope returns. First Aiders leave their mark of humanity not only on the lives of the sick and wounded but also, in a certain way, on ours.  Marion Harroff-Tavel Political Adviser to the ICRC