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Earthquake in Afghanistan: ICRC launches appeal for 5.6 million Swiss francs

13-02-1998 News Release 98/07

Geneva (ICRC) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) today launched an urgent appeal for 5.6 million Swiss francs to fund aid operations for victims of the earthquake which rocked north-eastern Afghanistan last week. The amount is also intended to cover the work being done on the spot by the Afghan Red Crescent Society for an initial period of two months, and the support being provided by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for the operations currently under way.

Ten delegates - seven from the ICRC and three from the Federation - have been based in Rostaq, a town close to the epicentre, since Sunday 8 February. Despite enormous logistic difficulties they have succeeded in reaching the seven most densely populated of some 30  villages in the stricken area. The relief effort has been severely hampered by landslides which have destroyed the roads in this mountainous region, situated at an altitude of over 2,000 metres, and recent heavy snowfalls have further slowed progress. On 12 February a team of ICRC delegates and members of the Afghan Red Crescent reached a village about 15  km from Rostaq by jeep, saving 1,800 quake survivors from certain death in the severe conditions. In Rostaq itself, 4,300 displaced people have been housed in public buildings, and the number of people without shelter is estimated at more than 20,000.

Two surgeons from Médecins sans frontières and one from the ICRC are operating on the injured at Rostaq's small hospital. Since the arrival of the first relief teams, the hospital has treated over 600 casualties, many of them suffering from fractures and concussion. In a prov isional estimate issued on Thursday 12 February the local authorities put the number of dead at 4,750.

The main challenge now facing the humanitarian operation is logistics, and the main enemy the weather. While several road convoys carrying food and other relief items (tents, blankets and clothing) have arrived in the stricken region, the fog, rain and snow are holding up attempts to bring in supplies by air. The ICRC, in cooperation with United Nations agencies, is considering the possibility of using air-drops as soon as weather conditions permit.