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Update No. 98/09 on ICRC activities in Afghanistan

28-07-1998 Operational Update No 98/09

 Emergency operation for quake victims almost completed  

Eight weeks ago an earthquake shook the very foundations of some 113 villages in northern Afghanistan, resulting in loss of life, injury and destruction. The ICRC, in close cooperation with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Federation) and the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), immediately launched an emergency medical and relief operation to come to the survivors'aid. As lead agency in Afghanistan, the ICRC coordinated the activities of the Movement and worked closely with the UN and other humanitarian organizations. Under the lead of the ICRC, Movement members carried out over 100 medical evacuations and treated some 1,500 wounded patients on the spot. Medical supplies and food for patients were distributed to the region's clinics and referral hospitals.

Once the initial emergency medical phase was over, the focus shifted to the provision of food. and non-food items, 8'000 tents, 77'000 blankets, soap, jerrycans, plastic sheeting and tarpaulins were distributed to some 100'000 quake survivors to provide temporary shelter and tide them over until the next harvest.

The earthquake survivors are currently rebuilding their homes with tools produced locally and distributed by the Red Cross/Red Crescent teams. Life is slowly taking on an air of normality, with farmers preparing to harvest their crops. The ICRC scaled down its operation as urgent needs have been met. Moreover, the delegation in Afghanistan strives to encourage the Afghans to help themselves and rely on their own coping mechanism s. The ICRC withdrew from the area one week ago and has therefore dismantled its sub-delegation in Faizabad and office in Rostaq; the ten last expatriates returned to Geneva and the earthquake taskforce has been disbanded. The fleet of helicopters has left the area.

However, the delegation will continue to monitor the situation in the disaster-stricken region. During the next few months regular missions will be conducted by Red Cross / Red Crescent teams in the area to evaluate developments and whether the local population has sufficient foodstuffs and adequate shelters to survive the bitter Afghan winter and will evaluate whether any more needs will have to be addressed. The Federation will continue to provide technical support to the ARCS personnel that will continue to work in the earthquake affected area.

 Tension in the north  

The Taliban forces have recently gained territory in the north, with fighting concentrated in the environs of Maimana. In addition, the situation remains tense in the northern coalition stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif with regular clashes between the different factions. Although ICRC expatriate staff withdrew from the city in mid-March because of insufficient security, delegates returned at the beginning of April. However, no new permanent presence has been set up in the town and delegates now stay intermittently to carry out essential tasks. The ICRC is currently thinking of setting up a base for its expatriates working in this region in the neighbouring town of Termez (Uzbekistan). The prosthetic/orthodic centre in Mazar-i-Sharif is being run by Afghan staff with the ICRC's regular support. Emergency stocks of medical supplies have been set up in various towns in the north where the ICRC or ARCS have offices, such as Pul-i-Khumri, Mazar-i-Sharif, Maimana, Taloqan and Shibirghan.

The Federation maintain s its office in Mazar-i-Sharif with daily operations being managed by local Federation staff with support from and regular visits by its delegation in Kabul. 

 Displaced return to Badghis province  

Although the general situation in the north-western province of Badghis remains uncertain, some displaced families living in camps in and around Herat have decided to return. To help them start up again, the ICRC has launched a community-based assistance programme around Bala-Murghab, the region from which most displaced fled more than a year and a half ago. Food-for-work projects include the digging of water wells, cleaning water irrigation canals, distributing locally manufactured tools, handing out vegetable seed and running a poultry project for 100 households headed by a woman.

The 4,000 displaced families remaining in the two camps have received 340 tonnes of food and 3 tonnes of soap within the last three months.

 Helping the most vulnerable  

Between April and June the ICRC distributed a total of 4,200 tonnes of mixed food commodities and 70 tonnes of non-food items to some 250,000 beneficiaries throughout the country. In Kabul the delegation continued to assist over 24,000 families headed by a woman or disabled breadwinner.

Whenever possible, the ICRC strives to provide relief assistance through food-for-work projects and agricultural and veterinary programmes rather than through direct aid. Some 500,000 anthrax spore vaccines have been produced for use in ICRC veterinary clinics and in clinics supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization. With 80% of the Afghan population involved in farming, agricultural support remains paramount and contributes to food availability and accessibilit y. Thousands of tools, such as shovels, sickles, scissors and knives, have been produced locally and distributed to farmers. In nine provinces the ICRC runs food-for-work projects whereby water irrigation canals are restored, benefiting thousands directly and countless more indirectly. In five provinces the ICRC distributes vegetable seed and in Kabul and the Shamali plain, trees and vineyards are treated against disease.

The Federation continues with its developmentally focused activities in support of the ARCS through its health programmes, in disaster preparedness, and capacity building.

 Personnel  

The ICRC employs 88 expatriate staff, of whom 27 are seconded by the National Societies. Some 1000 locally hired staff are also working in the ICRC delegation in Kabul and its sub-delegations and offices in Herat, Jalalabad and Mazar-i-Sharif.

The Federation has 13 delegates in Afghanistan (Kabul, Jalalabad, Herat, Kandahar, and Mazar-i-Sharif), including its support office in Pakistan.