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Afghanistan: After attack, ICRC adapts to the evolving conflict

23-07-2013 Operational Update

The proliferation and radicalization of armed groups in Afghanistan is aggravating an already unstable security environment. Ordinary people are suffering the effects in their daily lives, and civilian casualties are mounting. The ICRC remains strongly committed to helping people affected by the conflict and any other form of armed violence.

All too often, civilians are directly targeted or caught up in the fighting, and families are shattered as their loved ones are killed or maimed. In addition, far too many Afghans lack access to basic medical services, and attacks on health workers and on medical facilities and transports are making the situation worse. Meanwhile, international aid is being scaled back for political and security reasons.

"The deadly attack that took place on the ICRC's office in Jalalabad in May reflects a deteriorating situation," said Jacques de Maio, the ICRC's head of operations for South Asia. "We now have an environment in which armed men could breach one of the most ancient rules of war, according to which those helping non-combatants must be spared and protected, and by doing so deliberately deprive millions of Afghans of much-needed help. The ICRC has a unique role to play for millions of Afghans, and we cannot abandon them."

... far too many Afghans lack access to basic medical services, and attacks on health workers and on medical facilities and transports are making the situation worse.

The ICRC has decided to retain the capability to respond to the most pressing needs of the victims of armed conflict. It will continue to provide physical rehabilitation services for tens of thousands of amputees and other disabled people, as it has done for over 30 years, to support hospitals and to provide care for war casualties. In addition, it will carry on with its monitoring of the conflict's impact on civilians and intervene accordingly with warring parties. Its delegates will continue their visits to detainees within the country and abroad, and with its efforts to help family members stay in contact.

Emergency assistance for residents or displaced people caught up in the fighting will be maintained, where necessary in partnership with local organizations – in particular with the Afghan Red Crescent Society, whose role has become all the more vital in the circumstances. The ICRC will provide the Afghan Red Crescent with support, and encourage coordinated action by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

"We have to adapt our working model and procedures to reduce the overall exposure to risk," said Mr de Maio. "Regrettably, this will have an adverse effect on the quality and the quantity of some of our services." More time will be needed to measure the impact of the ICRC's scaled-back efforts to ensure that people have access to water and sanitation, and of its reduced ability to deliver food and to travel to remote places. This means that some activities will be downsized, handed over to local partners or simply discontinued.

In accordance with its mandate, the ICRC will continue to have a dialogue with the warring parties to promote awareness of, and respect for, the rules of war,...

In accordance with its mandate, the ICRC will continue to have a dialogue with the warring parties to promote awareness of, and respect for, the rules of war, and to ensure that its humanitarian work is understood and accepted. As a neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian organization, working without armed guards or escorts, the ICRC depends on everyone, especially armed entities, for the security that enables it to provide humanitarian assistance.

Visiting detainees and restoring contact between family members

The ICRC visits detainees in Afghanistan and other countries around the world to monitor the conditions in which they are held and the treatment they receive. ICRC delegates regularly visit prisons run by the Afghan authorities, by nations contributing to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and by US forces. The ICRC also helps family members separated by conflict to stay in touch with one another, and endeavours to trace missing persons.

During the first half of 2013, ICRC staff:

  • carried out 108 visits in 72 places of detention around the country;
  • monitored 2,398 detainees individually and visited 841 of them for the first time;
  • paid the transport costs for 13 ex-detainees to return to their home villages;
  • with the help of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, collected over 11,000 Red Cross messages and distributed nearly 10,400, mostly between detainees and their families;
  • enabled families of people held in the Parwan detention facilities to make nearly 3,300 telephone calls to their detained relatives;
  • enabled families to make over 2,700 visits to relatives held in the Parwan facilities by providing transportation.

Providing health care

Supporting health facilities is a major part of the ICRC's work in Afghanistan. The ICRC provides medicines and medical support to Sheberghan Hospital in the north and Mirwais Regional Hospital in the south, both of which are run by the Ministry of Public Health. In addition, it provides 44 Afghan Red Crescent clinics with technical and financial support, medicines and medical supplies. The ICRC also provides first-aid supplies in front-line areas, and conducts first-aid training for combatants and civilians to enable them to treat the wounded.

From January to June 2013, Mirwais and Sheberghan hospitals admitted 16,169 inpatients and held 82,734 outpatient consultations between them. Some 5,350 surgical operations were performed in Mirwais Hospital alone.

In addition, during the same period, the ICRC:

  • delivered medical supplies to the front lines to treat people injured in the fighting;
  • provided first-aid training for almost 780 fighters, personnel of the national security forces, the local police and the Ministry of Public Health, and taxi drivers who take the wounded to hospital;
  • made monthly deliveries of drugs and other items to an ICRC-run local health post.

Providing limb-fitting and physical rehabilitation services

The ICRC runs seven prosthetic/orthotic centres around Afghanistan which provide rehabilitation services for amputees and other people with disabilities. The centres help disabled people regain their place in society by providing them with vocational training, micro-credit loans and home education for children. A home-care service offers medical, economic and social support to paraplegics who would have difficulty travelling to the centres.

During the first six months of 2013, the seven ICRC centres:

  • registered nearly 4,050 new patients, including 598 amputees;
  • assisted 47,086 patients;
  • fitted almost 8,520 prostheses and orthotic devices;
  • held more than 124,230 physiotherapy sessions;
  • granted micro-credit loans to 350 patients to help them start small business ventures;
  • provided vocational training for 145 patients, 103 of whom completed their training during this period;
  • conducted 3,921 home-care visits to treat patients with spinal cord injuries.

Distributing food and other aid

With the support of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, the ICRC distributes food and other items to people suffering the effects of conflict or natural disaster. The ICRC also organizes food-for-work projects in various provinces to enable breadwinners to support their families, and runs training programmes for livestock owners to provide them with basic veterinary skills.

From January to June 2013, the ICRC and the Afghan Red Crescent Society:

  • created employment for almost 4,300 participants in the cash-for-work project in the north of the country;
  • distributed one-month food rations and household items to more than 3,830 families displaced by conflict or natural disaster;
  • distributed chicks and chicken feed, and provided poultry-management training for over 1,200 households headed by women in 24 villages in the north;
  • trained almost 250 livestock farmers in animal husbandry, and distributed veterinary supplies to 60 para-veterinarian workers.

Improving water and sanitation services

The ICRC works closely with local water boards to help bring clean water to rural and urban communities by drilling wells, installing pipelines and training communities in hand-pump maintenance. The ICRC works with prison authorities to help improve standards of hygiene and sanitation in places of detention.

Between January and June 2013, the ICRC:

  • installed pipelines and drilled wells as part of an effort to bring clean water to over 10,900 people in urban areas of Paktiya, Nangarhar and Faryab provinces;
  • installed hand pumps and trained people to maintain them, and upgraded spring catchments as part of its effort to bring clean water to almost 213,500 people in rural areas of Parwan, Kapisa, Bamyan, Khost, Uruzgan, Herat, Badghis, Farah, Nangarhar, Kandahar, Kunduz and Faryad provinces;
  • carried out hygiene-promotion sessions for guards and detainees in detention places in the north, south and west, benefiting around 7,850 people;
  • helped improve water supplies and sanitary conditions for 9,400 detainees in three provincial prisons;
  • continued renovation work at Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar.

Promoting compliance with international humanitarian law

Reminding warring parties of their obligation to protect civilians is a fundamental part of the ICRC's efforts to promote compliance with international humanitarian law worldwide. The ICRC also spreads knowledge of and respect for international humanitarian law among civil-society groups, government bodies and academics.

From January to June 2013, the ICRC:

  • gave presentations on international humanitarian law to almost 1,770 members of the national army, the national police, local police units, the National Directorate of Security and the armed opposition;
  • held briefings on its mandate and work for over 6,600 people, including community elders, religious scholars, members of provincial councils, political authorities, NGOs and beneficiaries of ICRC assistance programmes;
  • held five train-the-trainer courses for nearly 170 national army officers who are instructors in international humanitarian law;
  • held three-day sessions on international humanitarian law for almost 4,800 members of the national army, the national and local police, and the National Directorate of Security.

Working in partnership with the Afghan Red Crescent Society

The ICRC works closely with the Afghan Red Crescent Society and provides technical and financial assistance to help it deliver services to the community and implement a range of humanitarian programmes.

Between January and June 2013:

  • the ICRC and the Afghan Red Crescent renewed their partnership framework agreement for 2013 and 2014, which is based on a commitment to joint delivery of humanitarian assistance;
  • the Afghan Red Crescent recruited almost 1,000 new volunteers in Khost and Paktiya provinces to support its humanitarian activities.

For further information, please contact:
Robin Waudo, ICRC Kabul, téE. : +93 707 740 526
Ewan Watson, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 244 64 70