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Afghanistan: update on the humanitarian situation

16-09-2008 Operational Update

Latest report on ICRC activities in the field (January–August 2008)

Afghanistan is one of the ICRC's biggest operations. From its main delegation in Kabul and other offices countrywide, the organization visits detainees, restores links between dispersed families and runs health and rehabilitation projects. An overview of the latest activities.

The ICRC began helping Afghan people in 1979, operating out of Pakistan to provide medical and surgical care for war casualties in Peshawar and Quetta. The organization has been working inside Afghanistan since 1987. Today, Afghanistan is one of the ICRC's biggest operations, involving 88 delegates and 1,186 national staff. The ICRC delegation is located in Kabul with other offices in Herat, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad, Gulbahar, Faizabad and Bamyan.

The security situation in Afghanistan has worsened over the last year and a half, and the armed conflict has remained intense in 2008. Regular fighting between armed groups and national and international forces has continued in more than half of the country. Even in provinces not affected by open combat, roadside bombs and suicide bombings are regular occurrences. Early this year, fighting in the west of Afghanistan became as intense as it had been in the south, south east and east. Hostilities continue to claim the lives of Afghans, international aid workers and foreigners. Access to remote areas remains a major problem in most parts of the country.

The ICRC continued to respond to the needs of people affected by the armed conflict, though security constraints still hamper humanitarian operations in many areas. The organization continu ed to support selected hospitals and six physical rehabilitation centres that mainly work with landmine victims. The ICRC also continued to renovate water and sanitation services in rural and urban areas and in places of detention. Visits to people detained by the Afghan authorities, the International Security and Assistance Force or the United States-led coalition remain a top priority, along with efforts to restore or maintain contact between members of families separated by years of armed conflict.

At the same time, the ICRC continued to remind all those involved in the conflict of their obligations to respect civilian life and property.

The food shortage in the north has become an issue of great concern. Afghanistan was already suffering a food crisis due to the severe drought that has gripped the country since 2001. Unless the next harvest is a good one, the situation will demand an emergency response. The ICRC and the Afghan Red Crescent Society have launched a joint appeal to assist four provinces in northern Afghanistan in the coming months.

 

People deprived of their freedom. Restoring family links.  

The ICRC regularly visits people that the Afghan authorities or international forces (US and NATO) are holding in connection with the armed conflict. During those visits, the ICRC assesses treatment and conditions of detention, and verifies respect for fundamental judicial guarantees. It also helps members of families restore and maintain contact with each other.

Between January and August 2008, ICRC staff :

  • made 193 visits to 68 places of detention holding a total of 12,077 people;

  • followed up the cases of 2,687 people who had been arrested in connection with the conflict or the security situation, visiting 981 of them for the first time and registering their details;

  • helped 154 released detainees travel home;

  • collected almost 12,000 Red Cross messages and distributed around 11,500 with the help of the Afghan Red Crescent Society. The vast majority of messages were exchanged between detainees and their families;

  • set up a video-teleconference call programme, which allowed detainees in the US detention facility at Bagram to see and speak to their families for the first time since they were detained. Some 1,434 video calls were made during this period.

 

Promoting compliance with international humanitarian law  

In accordance with its international mandate, the ICRC verifies that arms bearers are complying with international humanitarian law. The organization therefore maintains confidential dialogue with all parties to the conflict: Afghan security forces, international forces and armed opposition groups.

The ICRC discusses allegations of abuse perpetrated upon people not participating in the hostilities 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 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. This support and training has enabled the surgical units of these hospitals to continue treating victims of the conflict and responding to other emergencies.

Work is under way on implementation of the ICRC’s joint project with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) to ensure the provision of essential hospital services at Mirwais Hospital. Between January and August 2008, and the above three hospitals treated a total of 33,114 inpatients and 165,117 outpatients and performed 13,233 operations.

The ICRC also provided hospitals in Kabul and elsewhere with medical supplies. The hospitals concerned were the Afghan National Army hospital (which has 400 beds), Aliabad, Istiqlal, the Infectious Diseases Hospital, Wazir Akbar Khan, the Geology Centre, Maiwand and Herat plus the Central Blood Bank and Radiology Department of the MoPH. A war wounded kit (for up to 50 casualties) is pre-positioned at the MoPH for emergencies. Nine Afghan Red Crescent clinics in the south and east 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 therefore supplies emergency medical and surgical equipment to remote areas of the country where there are no medical facilities. Between January and August, the ICRC sent 648 emergency consignments of supplies for first-aid and pre-hospital care to remote areas of the country, where other health structures are unavailable.

 

Rehabilitation for disabled people  

The ICRC has been providing limb-fitting 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. The organization has assisted over 85,000 patients to date, of who m more than 33,000 had lost a limb.

The ICRC runs six limb-fitting 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. Between January and August 2008, the centres:

registered 4,188 new patients;

  • produced 9,750 prostheses and orthoses;

  • conducted 117,011 physiotherapy sessions;

  • granted micro-credit loans to 358 patients to start their own business ventures;

  • trained patients 172 for a range of jobs;

  • assisted 1,226 patients with spinal cord injuries. In Kabul alone, the ICRC conducted 2,896 home-care visits.

 

Water and habitat  

The ICRC repairs urban and rural water networks, renovates hospitals and sanitation facilities, promotes hygiene and provides training in environmental health. Between January and August 2008, the organization undertook the following work:

 Urban water supply  

  • Completed a project in Jalalabad (10,000 beneficiaries).

  • Continued three water supply/sanitation projects in Herat and Kandahar (44,000 beneficiaries).

 Rural water supply  

  • Completed four projects and continued to work on two others in Bamyan (about 13,000 beneficiaries).

  • Completed a project in Mazar (4,800 beneficiaries).

  • Continued work on three projects in Almar, Chemtal and Old Baghlan (about 29,000 beneficiaries) and one in Kunar (5,200 beneficiaries).

 Places of detention  

  • Continued to ensure basic water and sanitation conditions in places of detention in Kabul, Jalalabad, Heart and Ser-i-Pul provinces, for over 3,800 detainees.

  • Completed similar work in Badakhshan Kapisa, Farah, Baghlan, Samanghan, Sheberghan and Mazar provinces, for over 1,200 detainees.

 Hygiene promotion  

  • Held 721 hygiene promotion sessions for 10,577 people in hammams, schools and mosques.

  • Provided education and practical advice on hygiene to 4,114 households (22,143 individuals).

  • Continued to upgrade and maintain the general infrastructure of Kandahar hospital and to maintain the infrastructure of the surgical wards of Jalalabad hospital (JPHH1).

 

Emergency aid  

The ICRC provides emergency aid to people displaced by the armed conflict who do not have adequate shelter and to those who have been severely affected by natural disasters. These goods are distributed in cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society. Between January and August 2008, the two organizations distributed 8,018 food kits (rice, beans, ghee, salt, sugar and tea) and 7,241 non-food kits (tarpaulins, blankets, jerrycans, kitchen sets and soap).

The beneficiaries of this aid were:

  • 7,235 families (50,661 individuals) displaced by the conflict, in Kandahar, Uruzgan and Helmand provinces, in southern Afghanistan and in parts of eastern and central Afghanistan;

  • 1,918 families (13,426 individuals) affected by heavy snow and harsh temperatures all over the country last winter, but particularly in the west.

In August, part of this aid (1,800 food kits), went to Pakistani and Afghan families (about 7,200 people) in the Shegal district of Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan, who have been displaced by the armed conflict in Bajaur Agency, Pakistan.

 

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. Between January and August 2008, ICRC staff held 137 dissemination sessions for a total of 3,588 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 70 sessions for 2,360 officers, sergeants and soldiers of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, and 45 meetings with Afghan military authorities, international mentors and legal advisors who train the national army.

 

Cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS). Mine-risk education.  

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

  • supported 371 trainees and their 181 trainers through the ICRC’s vocational training programme;

  • supported 6 training sessions for 63 ARCS dissemination staff;

  • supported 155 training sessions for 3,565 Community Based First Aid (CBFA) volunteers;

  • supplied 35,832 first aid kits to 14,508 ARCS CBFA volunteers, ret rained 1,007 CBFA team leaders and trained 1,815 new volunteers in Kabul and provinces;

  • held 8,924 information sessions for 89,248 people who had come to ARCS health clinics for treatment, with the help of 39 ARCS disseminators trained with ICRC support;

  • completed 145 food-for-work projects that benefited 65,641 families.

The ICRC partially supports the Afghan Red Crescent’s mine-risk education programme, which aims to prevent injuries and deaths from mines and explosive remnants of war. Between January and August 2008, the mine action teams held 10,130 mine-risk education sessions in 3,035 locations, for 80,597 adults and 146,519 children.

 
For further information, please contact:
  Patrick Hamilton, ICRC Kabul, tel. +93 700 282 719
  Simon Schorno, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 79 251 9302