Special report : Afghanistan : a forgotten and exhausted population

 Winter 1996 - 97  

   

 ICRC/J.Nachtwey [Ref.AF-224]  

 THE ISSUE:  

    

The operation for victims of the Afghan conflict is the ICRC's third largest and it remains seriously underfunded. Yet, with the rapid approach of the harsh winter, the needs of the Afghan people are increasing.

 THE SCENARIO  ...  17 Years of War :  

    

Afghanistan - laid waste by war and ten million landmines - has enormous humanitarian needs. Major political and military developments in the course of 1996 did little to ease the Afghan people's suffering caused by the direct and indirect effects of 17 years of bitter conflict. Amidst a backdrop of war and desolation, the basic necessities are even more difficult to find.

At the beginning of September the Taliban took over the town of Jalalabad and the surrounding provinces. A few days later they launched an offensive on the capital, pushing the government forces northwards. Kabul eventually fell on 27 September.

The current fierce fighting between the major factions has opened up new fronts in north-west Afghanistan and the area surrounding Herat.

 The Major Players Now:  

 The Taliban: A fundamentalist Islamic Pashtun group originating from the Koranic schools of Pakistan.

 The Coalition Forces: A combination of:

* General Dostom and his predominantly Uzbek Jumbesh party,

* Mr. Khalili's Hazara Hezb-i-Wahdat faction,

* the forces of the former government of Buranhuddin Rabbani and Commander Massoud.

 THE EFFECT ON THE PEOPLE :  

    

The civilian population now faces significant changes in its daily life. With the exception of hospital staff, women are no longer allowed to work outside the home. This has a dramatic impact on the economic situation of many families where a woman is the sole provider or on families now reduced to one meagre income.

As new fronts are created thousands of displaced families with new humanitarian needs flee the affected areas to seek refuge.

Whatever the political situation in Afghanistan, there will be victims whose living conditions deteriorate day by day. The vulnerable population - the destitute and those families headed by a disabled breadwinner or a widow - are in desperate need of assistance. It is the ICRC, operating under the principles of impartiality and neutrality, that is wellplaced to help all victims in a conflict where events are ever-changing.

 THE ROLE OF THE ICRC:  

    

The ICRC has been assisting victims of the Afghan conflict since 1980. It has witnessed major changes during this time, from the withdrawal of the Soviets in 1989 and the fall of President Najibullah's regime in 1992, to the appearance of Taliban militia in 1994. The ICRC has adapted to the fluctuating military   and political climate and developed pragmatic solutions to meet the needs of the Afghan people. Taking cultural norms into account and with the agreement of all the parties, the ICRC has arranged for separate distributions of food and other basic necessities for women.

The ICRC covers a wide spectrum of humanitarian nee ds such as:

* The distribution of food and nonfood items such as blankets, heating stoves, cooking pots, seeds and agricultural utensils;

* The provision of surgical equipment,   drugs and expatriate staff, including a teaching team, for five main hospitals and 60 dispensaries treating the war-wounded;

* The management of prosthetic/orthotic workshops which make orthopaedic components and fit amputees;

* Visits to prisoners held by all the major factions throughout Afghanistan and the restoration of family links.

* Support to the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) which acts as the ICRC's main operational partner in the field of relief.

In the coming months, the ICRC will provide a relief programme that will help the Afghan people cope with the harsh winter conditions. Data collected through the Afghan Red Crescent dispensaries show that malnutrition is up to a total of 57%, including severe malnutrition of 9%, indicating that the distribution of food is essential. However, there are other necessities. Tents and tarpaulins will provide, what may be for some, the only shelter available. The quilts, blankets, stoves, clothes, as well as charcoal, coal, candles and matches that will be purchased are imperative for cooking and surviving the sub-zero temperatures.

 Between July and September 1996,  

 the people of Afghanistan received the following support from the ICRC  

    

 Relief Assistance (with the ARCS) : 250,000 beneficiaries r eceived 5,200 tonnes of food and non-food items such as fuel and clothes

 Agriculture Programme (with the ARCS) : 60,000 family beneficiaries

 Prosthetic/Orthotic Workshops : 643 prostheses and 437 orthoses manufactured; 1,792 crutches and 145 wheelchairs produced

5,168 war-wounded admitted in five hospitals: Karte Seh, Wazir Akbar, Jalalabad, Mirwais and Ghazni

 Detention : 39 visits to 31 places of detention, with 1,092 detainees seen

 Red Cross Messages : 3,036 collected and 2,844 distributed