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Afghanistan: ICRC activities, January 2008

15-02-2008 Operational Update

Afghanistan is one of the ICRC's biggest operations. With its main delegation in Kabul and other offices countrywide, it carries out programmes that include visiting detainees, restoring links between dispersed families, as well as health and rehabilitation projects. Overview of the latest activities.

The ICRC began helping Afghan people in 1979 from Pakistan, providing medical and surgical assistance to the war-wounded in Peshawar and Quetta. The organization has been working in Afghanistan itself since 1987. Today, with 79 delegates and 1,146 national staff, it is one of the ICRC's biggest operations. The main ICRC delegation is located in Kabul with other offices situated in Herat, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad, Gulbahar, Faizabad and Bamyan.

 People deprived of their freedom; restoring family links  

The ICRC regularly visits people held by the Afghan authorities or by international forces (US and NATO), in connection with the armed conflict, and assesses their detention conditions and treatment, and whether fundamental judicial guarantees are being respected. It also helps families restore and maintain contact with each other.

In January 2008, ICRC staff:

  • made 10 visits to 9 places of detention holding a total of 4,135 people;

  • followed up the cases of 606 people who had been arrested in connection with the conflict or the security situation - 71 of whom were visited for the first time and their details registered;

  • helped 11 released detainees travel home;

  • collected more than 2,200 Red Cross messages and distributed over 1,250, with the help of the Afghan Red Crescent Society. The vast majority of these were exchanged between detainees and their families;

  • set up a video-teleconference call programme, which allowed detainees in the US detention facility in Bagram to see and speak to their families for the first time. Some 170 families benefited from this.

 Ensuring respect for the provisions of international humanitarian law  

In accordance with its international mandate, the ICRC monitors whether weapon bearers are respecting the provisions of international humanitarian law. The organization therefore enters into confidential dialogue with all parties to the conflict: Afghan national security forces, international forces and armed opposition groups.

Alleged abuses against people not participating in the hostilities are discussed with the relevant authorities in an effort to prevent recurrences and minimize the impact of war on the population. The ICRC has often acted as a neutral and independent intermediary in prison riots and has also helped to arrange the collection of bodies from the battlefield, allowing families to complete their mourning.

 Health care  

Jalalabad Public Health Hospital 1, Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar and Sheberghan Hospital in Jawzjan all benefit from ICRC support and training. The surgical units of these hospitals have therefore been able to continue treating victims of the conflict and responding to other emergencies.

Work is also underway on implementation of the ICRC’s joint project with the Ministry of Public Health to ensure the provision of essential hospital services at Mirwais Hospital. In January 2008, these three hospitals treated a total of 2,076 inpatients and 15,452 outpatients and performed 1,437 operations.

The ICRC also provided hospitals in Kabul and elsewhere with medical supplies as required. Eight Afghan Red Crescent clinics in the east and south of the country received supplies and financial support. These clinics offer general consultations and vaccinations for women and children.

All combatants wounded in war have the right to medical assistance. The ICRC accordingly supplies emergency medical and surgical equipment for administering first aid in remote areas of the country where there are no medical facilities.

 Rehabilitation for the disabled  

The ICRC has been providing orthopaedic and rehabilitation services and helping disabled people reintegrate into the community since 1988. This has benefited not only landmine victims but also many people suffering other kinds of motor impairment. Some 81,386 patients (32,836 amputees) have been assisted to date.

The ICRC runs six orthopaedic centres - in Kabul, Mazar, Herat, Gulbahar, Faizabad and Jalalabad. They offer a home-care service for patients with spinal cord injuries, which provides them and their families with medical, economic and social support. In January 2008, the centres:

  • registered 314 new patients and produced 957 prostheses and orthoses;

  • delivered 11,975 physiotherapy sessions;

  • granted micro credit loans to 41 patients to start their own business ventures, while 25 were trained for various jobs;

  • assisted 1,112 patients with spinal cord injuries. In Kabul alone, 339 home-care visits were carried out.

 Water and habitat   

As part of its work in this domain, the ICRC repairs urban and rural water networks, carries out hospital renovation and sanitation work and covers hygi ene promotion and environmental health training. In January 2008, the organization:

  • continued to work on five water-supply projects in Herat, Jalalabad, Mazar, Kandahar and Maimana and other smaller projects in Bamyan which will benefit 35,000 people;

  • continued to ensure basic access to water and sanitary facilities for over 2,000 detainees in the Kabul, Farah and Kandahar provinces;

  • made 134 public presentations on hygiene to 1,322 people in hammams, schools and mosques, and gave information and practical advice to 488 households;

  • continued to maintain the general infrastructure of Kandahar hospital and the surgical wards of Jalalabad Public Health Hospital 1.

 Emergency assistance  

The ICRC provides emergency assistance to people displaced by the armed conflict who do not have adequate shelter and to those who have been severely affected by natural disasters. Emergency relief is distributed in cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society. In January 2008 this consisted of 1,140 food kits (rice, beans, ghee, salt, sugar and tea) and 843 non-food kits (tarpaulins, blankets, jerry cans, kitchen sets and soap).

These were distributed to 574 families (4,018 individuals) displaced by the conflict, in the Kandahar, Uruzgan and Helmand provinces, in southern Afghanistan and in parts of eastern and central Afghanistan, and to 566 families (3,962 individuals) affected by heavy snow falls and harsh temperatures all over the country but particularly in the west.

 Promotion of international humanitarian law   

The ICRC's mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and prevent suffering by promoting compliance with international humanitarian law. In January 2008, ICRC staff held ten dissemination sessions for a total of 266 people. These included provincial authority representatives, Afghan Red Crescent Society staff and volunteers, community elders, members of religious circles, journalists and university students.

The ICRC also held eight sessions for 348 officers, sergeants and soldiers of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, and five meetings with international mentors and legal advisors who train the national army.

 Cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) and mine action  

The ICRC gives the Afghan Red Crescent Society technical and financial support to boost its capacity to deliver programmes and services. In January 2008, the ICRC:

  • supported 1,396 trainees and their 698 teachers in the ICRC’s vocational training programme;

  • held 1,519 information sessions for 15,191 people who had come to ARCS health clinics for treatment or to the mosque to pray, with the help of 39 ARCS disseminators trained with ICRC support;

  • supplied more than 2,605 first aid kits to 1,489 ARCS volunteers and 30 team leaders who have been retrained in Kabul and provinces.

The ICRC supports the Afghan Red Crescent’s mine-risk education programme, which aims to prevent injuries and deaths from mines and explosive remnants of war. In January 2008, the mine action teams held 1,761 mine risk education sessions in 649 locations, for 15,673 adults and 25,454 children.