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Update No. 96/2 on ICRC activities in Afghanistan

21-03-1996 Operational Update

 Some 900 tonnes of food supplies flown into the Afghan capital  

In early February Kabul's food supplies, including those of the ICRC, were rapidly running out as all main supply lines to the city were cut. To ensure the continuation of its relief programme the ICRC decided to mount an air-lift operation between Peshawar (Pakistan) and Kabul. Between 3 and 29 February, an ICRC-chartered aircraft flew in a total of 900 tonnes of urgently needed supplies, thereby providing 100,000 Kabulis with enough food to last for one month.

 Blockade on Kabul partially lifted  

Two of the four access roads to the city (from Jalalabad and from Ghazni) have recently been reopened to humanitarian and commercial traffic. The institution has thus been able to replenish its stocks, which were almost exhausted, and to increase the number of beneficiaries by 60,000 people.

The ICRC's relief programme, carried out in cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), aims at reducing some of the enormous needs of Kabul's civilian population, which is suffering the effects of the ongoing conflict. At present, the institution meets the immediate needs of 160,000 people - more than 15 per cent of Kabul's estimated population. It provides food rations covering half the average daily requirements to some of the city's most vulnerable groups, including the families of disabled breadwinners, widows, recent returnees and the destitute.

 Malnutrition on the increase  

Although the partial lifting of the blockade on Kabul has resulted in a slight reduction in food prices, staples such as meat, potatoes, gandana (a vegetable similar to a leek) and kidney beans are still beyond the means of the majority of Kabulis. Many have been forced to reduce the variety of their diet, relying mainly on the traditional flat bread nan for their daily calorie intake. This has led to an increase in the level of malnutrition, particularly among children.

The ICRC is therefore sparing no effort in its negotiations with the parties concerned to open all the supply roads to Kabul so that more products are available at lower prices.

In order to assess regularly the nutritional needs in Kabul, health educators at ARCS dispensaries have been trained to measure acute malnutrition.

In addition, the prices of 20 items sold at three local markets will be monitored on a weekly basis. Both of these activities will be supervised by the ICRC delegation. An ICRC nutritionist based in Geneva will also conduct regular nutritional surveys, readjust the monitoring if needed and draw conclusions from the results obtained.

 Helping the Afghans help themselves  

In addition to its food distributions, the ICRC is continuing its agricultural and income-generating programmes in Kabul and the neighbouring provinces. These aim to restore a degree of self-sufficiency to the Afghan population. It is hoped that the ICRC will be able to reduce the number of beneficiaries of its relief programme once the crops have been harvested in spring.

 Protection of persons detained  

Since the beginning of the year the ICRC has stepped up its detention-related activities and has therefore increased its staff involved in this work. Since January delegates have visited some 800 detainees in 20 places of detention. They check on the inmates'material and psychological conditions of detention and enable them to write Red Cross messages to their families.

 Caring for the wounded  

The institution continues to support 65 hospitals and other health facilities such as first-aid posts and dispensaries which treats the war-wounded throughout Afghanistan.

As the ICRC has almost finished rehabilitating the Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar, it is now increasing its expatriate medical personnel and local Afghan personnel, in order to start running the hospital. In early April the ICRC plans to send a surgical team comprising a doctor, two nurses and an anaesthetist to start work in the surgical department, as well as a teaching nurse to train the Afghan medical staff. 

With the number of mine victims steadily increasing, the ICRC's orthopaedic centres in Kabul, Jalalabad, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif continue to produce orthopaedic appliances and fit amputees with artificial limbs.

 Promoting basic humanitarian rules  

Spreading knowledge of international humanitarian law among combatants, Red Crescent staff and the population in Kabul and the provinces remains a priority. This work is conducted in cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent.

 Personnel  

The ICRC currently employs 60 expatriates in Afghanistan, 11 of whom have been seconded by the National Societies of Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlan ds, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Some 24 expatriates, eight of whom have been seconded by the National Societies of Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Japan, Norway and the United Kingdom, work in Pakistan to support the Afghan operation and to run the ICRC hospital in Quetta.