The International Committee of Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC)

In 1859, Henry Dunant witnessed the scene of a bloody battle in Solferino, Italy, between the armies of imperial Austria and the Franco-Sardinian alliance.

Some 40,000 men lay dead or dying on the battlefield and the wounded were lacking medical attention. Dunant rallied the residents of a nearby village and together helped to treat the wounded and give comfort to the dying.

On his return to Switzerland, he called for the creation of national relief societies to assist those wounded in war and pointed the way to the future Geneva Conventions.

The Red Cross was born in 1863 when a small working group set up the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, which later became the International Committee of the Red Cross. Its emblem was a red cross on a white background - the inverse of the Swiss flag.

The following year, twelve governments adopted the first Geneva Convention, offering care for the wounded and defining medical services as "neutral" on the battlefield.

Over the years, the work of the International Committee of Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC) has broadened to incorporate overseas relief activities in conflict zones and also for victims of natural disasters.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)

In the wake of the First World War, the need was felt for closer cooperation between the Red Cross National Societies. Henry Davison, the president of the American Red Cross War Committee proposed the forming of a federation of all the National Societies and the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent was founded in 1919.

The first objective of the IFRC was to improve the health of people in countries that had suffered greatly during the four years of war. Its goals were "to strengthen and unite, for health activities, already-existing Red Cross Societies and to promote the creation of new Societies"

The five founding member Societies were

  • Britain
  • France
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • United States

This number has grown over the years and there are now 190 recognized National Societies - one in almost every country globally. With over 17 million volunteers, the IFRC is the largest humanitarian organisation in the world.