Afghanistan: ICRC activities in January 2009

18-02-2009 Operational Update

Afghanistan is one of the ICRC's biggest operations worldwide, with 90 delegates and around 1,240 national staff based in its main delegation in Kabul and eight sub-delegations and offices countrywide.


Humanitarian situation 

Security in many parts of Afghanistan remains fragile as the fighting between armed groups and international forces creeps ever closer towards Kabul.

Even in provinces not affected by open combat, roadside bombs and suicide bombings are regular occurrences. Hostilities continue to claim civilian lives. Access for humanitarian workers to remote areas where fighting is taking place remains extremely difficult.

Mounting civilian casualties, following night raids, aerial bombardments and indiscriminate suicide attacks, including in Kabul, continue to be a major concern for the ICRC.

Media speculation is rife about what will happen to people held at Guantanamo once the US facility is closed down.

The political situation, too, remains volatile, with presidential elections scheduled for this spring delayed until mid-August.

Thanks in large part to the timely distribution of food aid in drought-affected areas of the north and west of Afghanistan, the feared large-scale displacement of rural communities this winter did not occur. Conflict-related displacement from the eastern and southern regions continues, however.

ICRC activities 

The ICRC visits detention places run by the US, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and the Afghan authoriti es, where it monitors the conditions of detention, the treatment of detainees and respect for fundamental judicial guarantees. The ICRC also helps family members separated by conflict to keep in touch with one another, and responds to requests from families to trace missing relatives.

The ICRC monitors the compliance of weapon bearers with international humanitarian law through confidential dialogue with all belligerents. Allegations of abuse against civilians are discussed confidentially with the parties concerned to prevent any further incidents and to minimize the effects of war on the population.

Training courses on international humanitarian law are conducted for all parties to the conflict. Information sessions on humanitarian law are held for national and local authorities, religious and community leaders, NGOs, journalists, universities and schools.

The ICRC provides support for hospitals throughout Afghanistan. It sends emergency supplies of surgical and other medical equipment for treating people wounded in the fighting to remote areas where there are no medical facilities.

Since 1988, the ICRC has been involved in limb-fitting and rehabilitation activities and social reintegration of disabled people, from landmine victims to those with a motor impairment. The ICRC runs prosthetic/orthotic centres in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Gulbahar, Faizabad and Jalalabad, and a home care service offering patients with spinal cord injuries and their families medical, economic and social support.

ICRC water engineers work closely with local water authorities on projects aiming to improve water supplies. The organization is also attempting to improve water supplies, sanitation, and health and living conditions for inmates in provincial and district prisons. Hygiene promotion sessions are conducted in madrassas, hammams (bath houses) and other public places as well as with families in their homes.

ICRC staff and Afghan Red Crescent volunteers deliver food (rice, beans, sugar, salt, tea and ghee) and other items (blankets, tarpaulins, shawls, kitchen sets and jerrycans) to people displaced by armed conflict or natural disasters, and to families affected by drought and rising food prices.

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

Visiting places of detention and restoring family links 
  • ICRC staff carried out 21 visits to 20 places of detention holding 5,178 detainees.

  • Of the 325 persons whose cases were followed up after their arrest, 137 were visited for the first time and registered.

  • The ICRC paid the local transport costs for five ex-detainees to return home.

  • Over 900 Red Cross messages were collected with the support of the Afghan Red Crescent Society in January. More than 1,030 were distributed, including messages pending from previous months. Most of the Red Cross messages were exchanged between detainees and their families.

  • Some 180 video calls were made to detainees in the US-run Bagram Theater Internment Facility. This service enables inmates to speak with family members every two months. In addition, 33 families visited their detained relatives in person. These " face-to-face " visits are facilitated by the ICRC.

Promoting compliance with international humanitarian law 
  • Eight information sessions on int ernational humanitarian law were conducted for 252 Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police personnel.

  • Thirteen meetings were held with Afghan military authorities and international forces legal advisers and training mentors working in Afghan National Army headquarters, training institutions and field units.

  • Nine sessions on international humanitarian law were held for 355 community elders, six sessions for 126 Afghan Red Crescent staff, and five sessions for 163 members of religious circles. In addition, one session was held for 19 university students.

  • Work is under way to set in place the programme management of 50 Afghan Red Crescent health clinics countrywide. The restructuring will continue throughout the year. It is being carried out together with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Limb-fitting and physical rehabilitation services 


  • assisted 430 patients, including 54 amputees;

  • produced 1,016 prostheses and orthoses;

  • held 13,927 physiotherapy sessions;

  • granted micro-credit loans to 42 patients to start their own businesses;

  • provided training in various job skills for 221 patients, of whom 25 graduated in January;

  • assisted 1,235 patients with spinal cord injuries, making 604 home visits to assist patients and train their families.

Water and habitat 
  • A project is under way to supply water to 8,000 people in Herat.

  • Over 8,200 detainees are benefiting from improvements in the water supply and sanitation in three provincial prisons and one district prison.

  • Over 2,370 people from vulnerable communities in urban areas of Herat, Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif attended hygiene promotion sessions.

  • Private and public latrines under construction in Farah will result in improved sanitation for 4,000 people.

  • Two projects under way in villages in Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif provinces will provide safe water for 10,200 people.

  • The ICRC is continuing to renovate Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar.

  • The ICRC distributed 442 food kits (rice, beans, ghee, salt, sugar and tea) and 235 household kits (tarpaulins, blankets, shawls, kitchen sets and jerrycans) to 696 conflict-displaced families in 12 provinces.

  • The ICRC distributed 7,007 food kits to 11,458 families in Ab Kamari district of the north-western province of Badghis.

Cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society 
  • The ICRC supplied 4,410 first aid kits to 902 Afghan Red Crescent community-based first aid volunteers working in 22 provinces. The kits contain dressing materials and other basic items enabling first aiders to treat minor injuries and stabilize more seriously injured people before their transfer to hospital.

 For further information, please contact:  

 Jessica Barry, ICRC Kabul, tel: +93 700 282 719 or +93 700 279 078  

 Carla Haddad Mardini, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 2405 or +41 79 217 3226  

 or visit our website:  

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