Summer interview 2013 – Yves Daccord, Director General of the ICRC
What are you working on this summer?
I am mostly focusing on three issues. First, on the very direct responsibility that I have in a few essential areas. I'm thinking in particular about Syria - where we may still be able, if possible, to broaden our response - but also in Afghanistan, for instance.
As far as Syria, we are facing one of the worst situations we've seen in a long time. I am very worried when it comes to the gap between humanitarian needs and our ability to respond to them. When I look at my teams, on the one hand I feel what we are doing is pretty ambitious, or even surprising, considering our security constraints. On the other hand, when I look at what needs to happen, it is just not all that much. There is something really frustrating when it comes to that. People need our help, especially for medical questions - hospitals aren't working at all for instance -, in prisons and also regarding water and sanitation issues. There is an acute need. And Syria isn't just Syria. We absolutely need to be thinking more broadly, including Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. At the moment, I am really worried when it comes to Iraq.
As far as Afghanistan, it is one of the areas we know the best. The ICRC has been there for 30 years now. We are currently living through a very tumultuous period in its history. Unfortunately I'm concerned this next chapter is also going to be a very tough one. Effectively, this chapter has only just started, with the announcement of the retreat of the American and international forces. As of a few weeks ago, we are beginning to see a lot more violence: there is an assault starting called the "springtime assault". There is a lot of tension and no one knows what tomorrow is going to bring. We have a lot at stake as far as security and acceptance, and we are very worried because we feel the international community is just not as interested in Afghanistan anymore. So we are afraid to find ourselves a bit stranded, without other institutions helping us contribute to the Afghanistan of tomorrow. And, as it happens, I actually feel like Afghanistan is going to need a fair amount of support.
Another aspect that I'm working on, an important one for me, is the upcoming strategy for our organization, for the next four years, 2014 through 2018.
And, thirdly and finally, I'm also taking care of budget matters: we're getting into the budget season.
Any vacations planned?
Yes. I learned a long time ago that it is important to take time off. So, at the end of July, I am leaving for four weeks. I am incredibly lucky, and, if it is possible I try and take three or four weeks off every summer, and I love it!
Every other year, we take a long trip. This year is our off year, so we are actually staying in Switzerland. We are heading to the mountains, in Ticino. If the weather is bad we will head to the seaside.
In Geneva what do you do during the summer?
I love doing all sorts of things! One really simple pleasure, for instance, is to head out early in the morning to read the newspaper and grab a coffee at a place with outdoor seating. Although I have been reading the newspapers more and more on my tablet, it is still pretty much the same enjoyment.
I also love going out for walks or heading to the cinema. It is a good time of year, as the films coming out of Cannes or other festivals are starting to come out. I also go to festivals from time to time.
Any place you're particularly fond of, in Geneva or the surrounding area?
There is one place I do like particularly, which isn't far from the ICRC or my home, and it is the Château of Penthes: It is an amazing park. Another place I am quite fond of, also on the right bank, is the Ariana Museum. Two places with something timeless about them, lovely places with lots of space. I love them!
A book to recommend this summer for our readers?
Yes, I have several! I am currently reading a book about Congo: "Congo, a history", by David Van Reybrouck published by Éditions Actes Sud. A magnificent book.
Other than that, I read and adored the book "Running" by Jean Echenoz. A fine little book, really well written.
I also enjoy crime novels. I just reread two of them, and enjoyed it tremendously: "Firewall", by Henning Mankell, extremely interesting, and also "Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand", by Fred Vargas-- some great writing.
And some music?
I am currently listening to a piece by Tom Odell, "Songs from Another Love" -- it is very cool, I recommend it. It is a little sad, but sad in that good way. And when the weather is good, it feels just right.