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Update No. 97/01 on ICRC activities in Afghanistan

10-04-1997 Operational Update

 A country on the move: hundreds of thousands of displaced  

Renewed fighting in Afghanistan has caused thousands of civilians to flee their homes. Taking with them only what they can carry on their backs or transport by donkey or cart, families have sought shelter in towns where the resident population is already struggling to scrape together a meagre living. Although countless families have received hospitality from distant relatives and friends, others have been accommodated in public buildings, such as schools and mosques.

However, in Herat, in western Afghanistan, there is no more place available. The town is overflowing with people newly displaced by clashes near Qala-i-Nau and along the Murghab River. Some 1,500 families - approximately 9,000 people - are living in the most precarious conditions, with only the barest essentials and no shelter.

 ICRC to set up a camp for the displaced in Herat  

With no accommodation available for the latest influx of displaced people in Herat, the delegation in Afghanistan has decided to set up a camp on the outskirts of the town. The ICRC plans to charter an aircraft to fly in 1,500 tents from Zagreb, Croatia, to Mashad, Iran. From there the tents, originally donated by the German Red Cross as emergency supplies for the former Yugoslavia, will be transported to Herat by road. The convoys will also bring in urgently needed water tanks and jerrycans which, like the tents, had been allocated to the ICRC's operations in the former Yugoslavia.

Wate r and sanitation work in the proposed camp is essential for the prevention of water-borne diseases. Afghan engineers, together with members of the ICRC's current water and sanitation team, will strive to provide safe drinking water and acceptable sanitary conditions. The 1,500 families living in the camp need around 180 cubic metres of water per day for drinking, cooking and washing. A water and sanitation team will dig 20 wells in the camp's vicinity and build some 400 latrines. 

According to UN sources, approximately 34,000 internally displaced people have arrived in Herat since early November 1996. In cooperation with the local branch of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), the sub-delegation in Herat currently distributes monthly half-rations of food in various locations to some 18,000 vulnerable and displaced people. At present, the ICRC has sufficient stocks for two months and food can be bought in Mazar-i-Sharif. However, if the number of displaced increases further, the ICRC may have to transport supplies by road from Peshawar (Pakistan).

Only two additional delegates will be required for this operation as the sub-delegation will rely primarily on expatriate staff already active in Afghanistan and on locally hired employees.

 Cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent  

The ICRC directly assists more than 400,000 vulnerable people throughout Afghanistan with food and non-food items. Relief operations are carried out in close cooperation with the Afghan National Society. Distributions to the vulnerable population are made by ARCS staff and volunteers. Red Crescent personnel are also actively involved in overseeing food-for-work schemes. Some relief operations are carried out independently by the ARCS, with financial and technical support from the ICRC, such as the assistance provided to 6,000 destitute families in Kabul . The delegation organizes training sessions for members of the ARCS relief department and for National Society personnel involved in the programme aimed at restoring family links. Red Crescent employees also staff small local offices for the ICRC's orthopaedic centres in Jalalabad, Kabul, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif.

The ICRC assists 17 local ARCS branches by providing cars and fuel and helping with administrative tasks.

 Other ICRC activities  

Delegates currently visit some 3,500 detainees in 60 places of detention. They check on detainees'material and psychological conditions of detention and enable them to re-establish and maintain links with their families through the Red Cross message service.

The ICRC assists more than 60 medical facilities throughout Afghanistan and entirely supports two hospitals in Kabul, one in Jalalabad and another in Kandahar. Medical staff are also present in Ghazni. The ICRC's four centres for the treatment of war-disabled make its prosthetic/orthotic programme the largest in Afghanistan. Dissemination officers, both expatriate and Afghan, strive to promote greater understanding of and respect for the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law.

The Afghan Conflict is the ICRC's largest relief operation in terms of the number of tonnes of food and non-food assistance distributed. It is also the operation with the largest number of expatriate staff (106). The figures below include the appropriation for logistical support by the sub-delegation in Peshawar (Pakistan).