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Update No. 97/02 on ICRC activities in Afghanistan

19-06-1997 Operational Update

 A country plagued by conflict  

In 1997 the bitter conflict in Afghanistan dragged on into its 18th year. Although some of the main players may have changed, those who bear the brunt of the fighting remain the same: the Afghan people.

In the first few months of the year the Taliban continued their advance northwards and captured positions held by the forces of the former government, such as Charikar and Baghram airport. Fighting was fierce between the Islamic students and the forces of Ahmad Shah Massoud near the Salang pass and at the entrance to the Panjshir valley. In Badghis province clashes between the Taliban and the combined forces of Ismael Khan and General Dostum forced several thousand civilians to flee towards Herat. The roads leading to Bamyan were the scene of military exchanges between the Taliban and Hezb-i-Wahdat forces.

In recent weeks, the situation in the north has changed with bewildering speed, the Taliban conquering within a few days all the territory formerly controlled by General Dostum's Jumbesh party. A few days later the Taliban lost these areas at great cost in terms of human life. During all these events, the ICRC's delegation in Afghanistan kept in close contact with all parties to the conflict.

The deterioration in the military situation in the Kunduz/Pul-i-Khumri/Mazar-i-Sharif area forced the ICRC temporarily to limit its operations in the region, as hazardous security conditions prevented its delegates from moving about freely. However, operations have now resumed and priority has been given to burying the dead, caring for the wound ed, visiting people arrested and supporting the hospitals in the region.

Once again, the political and military situation in Afghanistan is highly volatile and unpredictable. But one thing is certain: the war-weary Afghans need humanitarian assistance more than ever. To provide them with the support necessary for them to continue their daily struggle for survival, the ICRC will adapt quickly to any future developments.

 Providing vital relief assistance  

In its initial 1997 Emergency Appeal , the ICRC proposed to assist some 6,000 displaced families in the provinces (an average Afghan family numbers six). However, fighting at the beginning of the year forced thousands of civilians to flee their homes. The ICRC is now providing relief assistance to approximately 10,000 displaced families outside Kabul. Relief work in Afghanistan is coordinated with the UN agencies, but the ICRC has the leadership role in assisting the internally displaced people.

Some 5,000 familes seeking refuge from the clashes near Qala-i-Nau and along the Murghab River have poured into the town of Herat, in western Afghanistan. Families from these areas had been living in the most precarious conditions, with only the barest essentials and no shelter.

The delegation in Kabul set up a camp to the west of the town to receive the displaced fleeing the fighting in Badghis province. At the end of May the Maslarkh camp was fully equipped and could accommodate more than 5,000 families. Presently the delegates assist some 3,763 families in this region. Tents (originally donated by the German Red Cross for operations in the former Yugoslavia), water tanks and jerrycans were transported to Herat by air and road. Water and sanitation work was undertaken in order to provide the camp's inhabitants with safe drinking water and acceptable sanitary conditions. Afghan engineers, together with members of the ICRC's water and sanitation team, dug 20 wells in the camp's vicinity and built some 400 latrines. A dispensary was set up to provide basic first aid. The transfer of the displaced from the temporary transit camp to the Maslarkh camp was delayed as vital mine clearance took longer than originally planned. Nevertheless, the camp should be up and running by 20 June.

In the Pul-i-Khumri area, to the north of the Salang tunnel, the delegation distributed food and material supplies at the beginning of the year to around 4,000 displaced families. However, in May the security situation was so precarious that the two delegates based in the town were not able to make a precise assessment of the displaced people's needs and offer the assistance needed.

Although a further 4,000 displaced families have been assisted by the local authorities and the resident population in the Panjshir valley, the ICRC has prepared essential supplies to replenish exhausted stocks.

The ICRC and the United Nations do not provide any relief assistance to the 60,000 displaced people from the rural area to the north of the capital currently living in Kabul as the majority of them have found shelter with relatives or fellow tribesmen and should be allowed to return to their place of origin to cultivate their land. However, they are prevented from doing so by the authorities.

Through various programmes the delegation in Kabul, in cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), continues its monthly distributions of half rations of food and material supplies to around 50,000 families in the capital. These projects for the destitute residents of Kabul are carried out in coordination with UN agencies.

In the Tagab valley the ICRC delegation has developed a project with the Swedish Red Cross to rehabilitate a number of essential structures, such as schools and irrigation systems, through food-for-work schemes.

Relief activities

 

Families assisted

 

 

Jan-Mar 96

27,571

 

 

Apr-Jun 96

25,000

 

(First ICRC visit to the Tagab valley)

Jul-Sep 96

37,000

 

(Opening of the roads from Jalalabad and Salang)

Oct-Dec 96

57,750

 

(Beginning of the ICRC winter programme)

Jan-Mar 97

62,000

 

(Influx of displaced people in Kaboul, Herat, Panjshir, Pul-i-Khumri and Mazar-i-Sharif)

The ICRC has pursued its activities in the economic and agricultural sectors with the aim of restoring a degree of self-sufficiency to the population and preventing a further decline in the food situation. By the end of the year some 220,000 families are expected to have benefited from these projects, which include centres for producing farming tools, seed production, the spraying of fruit trees and the rehabilitation of irrigation canals and wells.

All of the ICRC's relief activities are carried out with the logistical support of the ICRC delegation in Peshawar, Pakistan

 Dispensing care  

The ICRC currently assists more than 40 medical facilities throughout Afghanistan and entirely supports the surgical departments of five hospitals under the responsibility of the Ministry for Public Health (two in Kabul, one in Jalalabad, one in Ghazni and another in Kandahar). ICRC assistance is geared to improving the standard of surgical care given to the war-wounded - who include civilian victims of anti-personnel mines - and surgical operations (including obstetric cases), ensuring a regular supply of necessary drugs and equipment and providing monthly allowances to the Afghan staff.

Prior to the outbreak of fighting in Mazar-i-Sharif, the ICRC did the rounds of several local hospitals to assess their requirements. Medical supplies were delivered to the town's main hospitals.

Whenever possible, delegates and Red Crescent staff handed out medical supplies to facilities treating the war-wounded, evacuated casualties to hospitals and buried the deceased according to Islamic rites.

Support to Hospitals

 

Total admissions

War-wounded

Jan-Mar 96

3,288

861

Apr-Jun 96

4,171

1,080

Jul-Sep 96

5,171

1,362

Oct-Dec 96

4,625

1,787

Jan-Mar 97

4,129

1,791

Despite the changes in the Afghan arena, the ICRC's programme for the war-disabled continued without interruption. The centres in Kabul, Herat, Jalalabad and Mazar-i-Sharif fitted a record number of patients with artificial limbs and provided components for other organizations working in this domain.

 Safe water and hygienic conditions a priority  

Constructing latrines and storm water channels, equipping wells with hand pumps and providing health education are all part of a programme in Kabul for an integrated approach to low-cost water supply, sanitation and general hygiene. In addition, the ICRC has improved water and sanitation facilities in several prisons by rehabilitating latrines, bathrooms and evacuation systems, digging new wells and supplying hand pumps.

 Detention-related activities  

Orthopaedic Programme

 

Prosteses/orthoses manufactured

 

 

Jan-Mar 96

1,264

 

 

Apr-Jun 96

1,482

 

 

Jul-Sep 96

1,538

(Capture of Kabul by Taliban,

26-27 September 1996)

Oct-Dec 96

1,368

 

(Initial decrease in female patients)

Jan-Mar 97

1,621

 

 

Between January and May delegates visited some 3,602 detainees, of whom 1,790 were registered for the first time, in 51 places of detention throughout Afghanistan. They checked on the detainees'physical and material conditions of detention and enabled them to re-establish and maintain contact with their families by means of Red Cross messages. Some 1,700 family messages were exchanged between detainees and their next of kin. The ICRC had access to prisons in Taliban-controlled areas and in territory held by the northern coalition.

As a result of the fierce fighting in northern Afghanistan in May, many prisoners were taken by all parties to the conflict. A number of detainees had been wounded in battle, and were often living in precarious hygienic conditions. The ICRC set up a dispensary in the prison in Mazar-i-Sharif and, with the agreement of the authorities, evacuated serious cases to the military hospital in the town, where they were operated on by an ICRC Afghan surgeon.

However, the ICRC has not been granted permission to visit some high-ranking detainees held by the Taliban and northern coalition.

 Cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent  

The ICRC, in cooperation with the Federation, supports the ARCS'efforts to ma intain unity among the 30 Red Crescent branches by providing cash, kind and the training of personnel. The Afghan Red Crescent is involved in almost all ICRC activities. Relief distributions are carried out in cooperation with ARCS staff and volunteers and some branches in conflict areas have their own stocks of relief supplies to hand out to vulnerable groups. The National Society is also active in restoring family links, drafting the lists of amputees in need of ICRC assistance, evacuating the wounded and promoting international humanitarian law.

Protection Programme

 

Number of detainees visited

Red Cross messages collected

Red Cross messages distributed

Jan-Mar 96

1,050

2,547

1,466

Apr-Jun 96

1,382

2,712

1,623

Jul-Sep 96

1,158

3,036

2,844

Oct-Dec 96

2,422

3,900

3,100

Jan-Mar 97

3,148

5,583

4,056

Through various income-generating projects - such as a car workshop in Kabul operated as a project delegation with the British Red Cross, a poultry farm in Taloqan and the rehabilitation of properties in a number of towns - the delegation has been helping the Afghan Red Crescent to achieve greater self-sufficiency.

The ICRC has also offered support to both the ARCS and the Federation in the wake of the natural disasters that have hit northern Afghanistan by putting the organization's logistical structure and stocks at their disposal.

 Promoting international humanitarian law  

The ICRC's dissemination department has focused on promoting international humanitarian law through the media, particularly with local radio stations broadcasting throughout the country. The delegation has also participated in and contributed to the British Broadcasting Corporation's educational radio drama New Home, New Life .

Publications such as calendars and notebooks printed with mine-awareness messages have been produced. As the Taliban have implemented strict regulations regarding foreign journalists, the ICRC press office has strengthened its relations with the local media and foreign correspondents accredited in Kabul.