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Afghanistan: civilians still pay the price of conflict, 10 years on

03-10-2011 News Release 11/202

Geneva/Kabul (ICRC) – Ten years after the start of a new chapter in Afghanistan's 30-year war, Afghans remain caught in the midst of continued armed violence. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), security and health care are the biggest humanitarian problems facing the people of Afghanistan today.

"Despite improvements in the quality of life for certain sectors of the population over the past decade, the security situation in many areas of the country remains alarming," said Jacques de Maio, the ICRC's head of operations for South Asia.

"It is imperative that the victims of this continuing and multi-faceted armed conflict receive protection and assistance," he added. "We are particularly concerned about civilians in the line of fire, families displaced with nothing left, the sick and wounded who cannot obtain health care, and health workers harassed while providing care for a desperate population."

Access to medical care is at a critically low point in conflict-affected areas, with local clinics closed in some places because of fighting, attacks on premises, or intimidation of staff. "Roads are mined or blocked by checkpoints, so that people carrying the sick and wounded to hospital face long delays, sometimes with tragic consequences," said Mr de Maio. In addition, because of widespread poverty, many Afghans simply cannot afford the cost of transport to get the sick and wounded to hospital from remote rural areas.

Many communities in rural areas feel vulnerable as never before. Conflict-related displacement is up over 40 per cent in comparison to last year in parts of the north. "People in many areas, including in the central regions of Wardak and Logar, say they no longer feel safe because they are being intimidated and coerced by all parties into taking sides," added Mr de Maio. "All they actually want to do is to keep out of harm’s way."

Malnutrition has increased in the south over the past year. There are many reasons for this – poor education, lack of security, poverty and poor hygiene, to name but a few – but the ongoing conflict is a contributing factor. Seasonal epidemics such as measles have risen significantly in places where conflict is raging.

As international troops leave, and responsibility for security passes back to the Afghan authorities, the ICRC is monitoring how the Afghan defence and security forces perform their tasks, including those related to detainees. The organization shares its concerns for the civilian population with all parties to the conflict, including the armed opposition, and discusses with them their obligation to respect, and ensure respect for, international humanitarian law.

The ICRC has worked for 25 years in Afghanistan, which is one of its largest operations worldwide. The ICRC remains committed to helping the people in Afghanistan who are most vulnerable. "We will continue our strictly humanitarian work, while remaining independent from all diplomatic and political initiatives and striving to ensure that people receive the assistance they desperately need," said Mr de Maio.

For further information, please contact:
Christian Cardon, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 26 or +41 79 251 93 02
Jessica Barry, ICRC Kabul, tel: +93700 282 719


Therapeutic feeding centre at Mirwais regional hospital in Kandahar. 

In the therapeutic feeding centre at Mirwais regional hospital in Kandahar, a father is waiting with his malnourished child while his temperature is read.
© ICRC / K. Holt / v-p-af-e-01674

Mirwais Hospital, Kandahar. Men receive rice, oil, animal feed and a milk churn as part of an ICRC agricultural project. 

Mirwais Hospital, Kandahar. Men receive rice, oil, animal feed and a milk churn as part of an ICRC agricultural project.
© ICRC / K. Holt / v-p-af-e-01691

Kabul, ICRC orthopaedic centre. A boy practises walking with his prostheses. 

Kabul, ICRC orthopaedic centre. A boy practises walking with his prostheses.
© ICRC / K. Holt / v-p-af-e-01786