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Update No. 98/01 on ICRC activities in Afghanistan

10-02-1998 Operational Update

 Earthquake hits war-torn Afghanistan  

On Wednesday 4 February the first seismic waves shook the north-eastern province of Takhar, a region largely spared from the consequences of the 18-year conflict. The earthquake itself and the subsequent tremors are thought to have killed some 4,000 civilians, wounded hundreds and destroyed countless homes. Those living within a 12-kilometre radius of the earthquake's epicentre, in Rostaq, have either sought refuge in the few remaining houses left intact or else have fled 80 kilometres to the town of Taloqan, where they are being accommodated in private houses and public buildings, such as schools.

Takhar is an isolated region held by the forces of the northern coalition. To bring in any vital medical or relief supplies by road, a cross-line operation is necessary. The parties to the conflict have given the ICRC their authorization to transport assistance across the front line.

 Afghan Red Crescent provides immediate assistance  

The Taloqan branch of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) acted without hesitation. Red Crescent employees left straight away for the affected region, bearing some 550 blankets for those suffering from a combination of shock and the effects of sub-zero temperatures, and dressing sets for the treatment of the wounded.

 ICRC launches emergency operation  

On 8 February an ICRC-chartered plane flew in emergen cy medical supplies and staff from both the ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Where possible, they have given on-the-spot assistance and have started to assess the situation in the region with a view to adapting assistance to the population's needs. Initial assessments point towards the launch of a medical programme, water and sanitation work to restore the supply of safe drinking water and emergency relief assistance. 

A small aircraft landed today at an airstrip 40 kilometres to the west of Rostaq with some 1.5 tonnes of medical supplies aboard. These were then loaded onto a truck coming from Pul-i-Khumri with 5,500 blankets and plastic sheeting. Fortunately, the road to Rostaq is passable, but its use could be impaired by heavy snowfalls.

The ICRC currently has two health delegates, a water and sanitation engineer and an Afghan surgeon working in Rostaq.

The ICRC, which is the lead agency of the Movement in war-torn Afghanistan, will conduct its operations in close cooperation with the Federation, the Afghan Red Crescent and other humanitarian agencies active in the area. As stipulated in the agreement accepted by the Council of Delegates in Seville in November 1997, if a natural or technological disaster occurs in a situation of conflict where the ICRC is already engaged, the ICRC will call upon the Federation to provide additional appropriate expertise to facilitate relief.

To ease and speed up the consultation process, the ICRC has put office space in its Kabul delegation at the Federation's disposal.

 ICRC structure allows for rapid reaction  

The ICRC, using its office in Taloqan, has set up a small warehouse in cooperation with the ARCS. If the initial results of the survey - hopefully available on 10 F ebruary - show the need for food relief, the ICRC will buy produce locally in Taloqan. However, if the relief operation proves to be more extensive, the ICRC can bring in supplies from its warehouses in Turkmenistan or Pakistan, involving a cross-border flight or a cross-border and cross-line operation if relief items are transported by road convoy. The International Federation will be closely involved in this part of the operation.

As Afghanistan is the ICRC's largest operation in terms of surgical assistance, medical supplies are already available in both Kabul and Peshawar, Pakistan.

 Action of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies  

The International Federation currently has both a logistician and relief delegate in the area, conducting assessments with ARCS and ICRC personnel. Some Sfr 500,000 have been released from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to begin procurement beyond what is available from the warehouses in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, should the need arise. Federation personnel in neighbouring Pakistan and Tajikistan are providing logistical support, identifying sources for procurement of relief goods, transportation, and assessing different supply routes, in coordination with the ICRC. Technical support is being provided to the ARCS both at the local level and in Kabul.