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ICRC Appeal for victims of the earthquake in Afghanistan to cover a two-month emergency operation


Earthquake killed thousands of people and makes thousands more homeless.

Following the earthquake that shook the province of Takhar in north-eastern Afghanistan in the first days of February, the ICRC, with the help of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and in cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society, launched an emergency operation on Sunday 8 February. The present appeal for funds is intended to cover assistance for the stricken population during a two-month emergency phase. The most urgent need is for non-food relief supplies to help people resist the extreme cold, medicines to treat injuries and water and sanitation work. Assessments are still ongoing to determine the exact extent and nature of needs. A detailed plan of action will be issued to donors in due course.

 Picture of the situation  

On 4 February the first shockwaves of an earthquake rocked the north-eastern province of Takhar. There have been further tremors and landslides since. So far, the cataclysm has taken an estimated toll of 4,750 lives, wounded some 600 people and has made an estimated 20,000 inhabitants of 30 villages homeless. They are stranded in schools and mosques or have been taken in by local families whose homes have not been destroyed. Many are in a state of shock.

The situation of the survivors is exacerbated by two factors: a) climate and geography, b) the fact that Afghanistan is a country at war. The disaster area is in rough terrain at an altitude of over 2,000 metres. Villages are scattered and hard to reach as there are neither a proper infrastructure nor easy access roads for vehicles. Access is rendered even more difficult by heavy snowfall, and low temperatures. The road from the nearest airstrip in Khow Gherar to Rostaq (80 km) has been temporarily closed but should soon be cleared of snow with the help of the local population. It still means a ten-hour trip for trucks. Elsewhere, roads have been blocked by rivers of mud.

Although the remote region of Takhar has been largely spared the consequences of the 18-year conflict there is no national structure left to provide help to the impoverished population. Any efforts to bring in supplies depend on the possibility to cross front lines and the border from neighbouring Tajikistan. For the time being, the parties to the conflict - Takhar is controlled by the northern coalition - have declared a cease-fire to allow international help reach the population in need.

 Immediate response  

The Rostaq branch of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) was first on the spot. Despite its limited operational capacity it has provided 550 blankets to earthquake victims and medical stocks to a health facility in need and has distributed tents, cooking pots and shoes. Their presence also gave hope of further assistance to the survivors, who were in a state of shock and disbelief at the terrifying natural phenomenon they had experienced.

On Sunday 8 Feburary an ICRC aircraft succeeded in landing on the Khow Gherar airstrip, bringing medicine and sanitation materials. These supplies reached Rostaq by road on the same day. In the next two days only two ICRC flights took place, all others being cancelled because of the weather (poor visibility due too heavy rain and snowfall). The last ICRC aircraft to land in Khow Gherar was damaged during take-off because of the bad state of the landing strip.

The local authorities in Taloqan and in the Panjshir valley made some helicopters available to aid organiza tions, but their use is hampered by the bad weather.

So far the only way to get to Rostaq is by road from Khow Gherar. Several convoys sent by the UN, the ICRC and NGOs have reached the town, bringing food and non-food supplies, medicines and sanitation materials. The ICRC trucks brought material taken from existing ICRC and Federation stocks in Mazar-i-Sharif and Pul-i-Khumri.

Several other ICRC and Federation trucks are on their way from Dushanbe (Tajikistan) carrying additional relief supplies, such as vitamin-enriched biscuits, blankets, plastic sheeting, tarpaulins and other non-food assistance. Blankets, clothes and shoes from the ICRC emergency stock intended for prisoners in the Panjshir valley are also ready to be flown in as soon as the weather permits.

Further personnel are travelling to Rostaq to strengthen the ten ICRC and Federation staff already in place.


 ICRC plans airdrop  

Because of the logistical constraints, the ICRC and UNOCHA have joined their efforts to find a solution ensuring that additional assistance reaches the region as soon as possible. UNOCHA and the ICRC are currently preparing a plan of action to organize airdrops of an estimated 1,500 tonnes of food and non-food supplies. This operation will be run jointly by the two organizations and will be made available to other aid organizations working in the region. An appropriate piece of land near Rostaq has been designated and prepared for the airdrop. The present appeal shows the ICRC's share of this joint operation with the UN, which should be added to the UN appeal launched on 12 February.

In addition to the airdrop operation, truck convoys will continue to be organized from the neighbouring provinces and from Tajikistan.

 Relief assistance  

The main priority for the time being is to reach all the villages affected by the quake. So far, about half of the 30 or so localities have been reached and provided with emergency assistance, despite the adverse conditions. To boost the relief effort, the ICRC is planning to charter a helicopter to operate between Rostaq and the villages.

While the UN is concentrating on providing food, the ICRC will emphasize non-food assistance such as blankets, tents, tarpaulins, plastic sheeting, shoes, clothes, cooking materials, essential to the survival of the victims given the harsh climate. These items will be taken from ICRC and Federation stocks in the region or purchased locally.

 Health activities  

The hospital in Rostaq has quickly become the focal point for medical assistance in the region. Three surgeons, including two from Médecins sans frontières (MSF) and one from the ICRC, have treated hundreds of cases with the help of two local medical teams. Many patients have fractures, and some cases of paraplegia have been reported. One of the most urgent problems facing this hospital, the affected villages and all reception centres in the region, is water supply. Water pipes, which were largely destroyed by the quake, are in urgent need of repair, as there is a high risk of epidemics.

In close cooperation with the aid organizations involved in sanitation projects, the ICRC plans to contribute to the overall survey of water and sanitation conditions and to intervene in half of the affected villages.

 Coordination  and cooperation within the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement  

 Role of the ICRC  

If a natural or technological disaster occurs in a situation of conflict where the ICRC is already engaged, the ICRC will call upon the Federation to provide additional appropriate expertise to facilitate relief. In this context of armed conflict the ICRC has taken the lead role for the international relief operation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent.

The ICRC has extensive logistics and other infrastructure in the country, and has sent seven specialists to the Rostaq region from its base in Mazar-i-Sharif. The Afghan Red Crescent Society, pulling from its disaster preparedness stocks, was the first to provide dressings, blankets and kitchen utensils to the survivors. A logistics officer and a relief expert from the Federation are also on the spot.

The ICRC currently has 110 expatriates based in Afghanistan, including 31 seconded by the National Societies of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

 Role of the delegates provided by the Federation  

The Federation is complementing the relief operation with resources and personnel deployed from both south and central Asia. Members of the 14-strong Afghanistan delegation, the South Asia regional delegation and delegations in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan have joined the ICRC relief team. Technical services at the Secretariat in Geneva are also supporting respective ICRC units. ICRC and Federation stocks and transport are being utilized in a cohesive manner to allow maximum flexibility in responding to this very complex situation.

The ARCS/Federation Disaster Preparedness plan of action, set to cover the entire country, will focus on swiftly getting the branches in this province equipped. DP warehouses will be resupplied to give the ARCS the means to continue their role in the relief operation, and Federation expertise will be utilized to support this activity. In view of the vulnerabilities of country and region, the focus must be on developing the Society's human and material resources.

- Supplementary food, building and household materials, organized health care systems;

- Traditional RC services including branch development;

- On-going logistical and technical support, relief aid to sustain communities through the spring flood season;

- recruitment and training of ARCS volunteers;

- capacity building with ARCS;

- enhancement of the ARCS ability to respond to disasters, including advanced training, stock-piling of relief materials, communication and reporting, and disaster management skill building;

- supporting the local branches of the ARCS, folding them into the existing plan of action for establishing a national radio communication network.

In addition to relief and logistical support, a psychological support team from the Federation will be sent to the disaster area, in order to assess the need for a more formal structure for relief workers as they leave the country. Together with the ARCS, psychological support models will be refined to meet cultural norms so the ARCS can help the invisible impact on the lives of the victims.

 Role of the Afghan Red Crescent Society  

Members of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) mobilized by the National Society's Taloqan branch were the first relief workers in the area. This action highlights the indigenous strength National Societies need to respond to such situations. The ARCS is the only known national organisation on the spot - especially important as they have the cultural knowledge and language skills to provide psychological comfort to the victims and help them deal with the situation that has overwhelmed the m. In addition to assisting them in organizing help to meet the emergency needs of this community, the ICRC and the Federation have provided funds for local procurement in the area of the disaster. 

In view of the Society's limited stocks, lack of vehicles, and the branches'inability to communicate with their headquarters, immediate resupply and upgrading are required. The ICRC and the Federation, in its on-going assistance with the institutional development of the ARCS, will provide the necessary support to keep the local branches operational during this disaster, and after all of the international organisations have moved on. Given the forthcoming flood season when landslides are prevalent, the preparedness of the local branches and support to the ARCS are essential to assist the villagers in this devastated region of Afghanistan.

 Cooperation with other agencies  

The various aid organizations, including the UN specialized agencies, are in regular contact, both in the stricken region and in Kabul, Islamabad and Peshawar. Coordination meetings are held in the earthquake area, Kabul, Dushanbe and Geneva.

 Financial situation : ICRC budget extension appeal Afghanistan (earthquake)

Health activities: Sfr 378,780

Relief: Sfr 4,684,007

Cooperation with National Societies: Sfr 209,100

Overheads: Sfr 341,373

Total : Sfr  5,613,260 (US $* 3,782,520)

The ICRC requests that cash contributions be forwarded to this operation as soon as possible, and thanks donors for their generous support.

For further in formation, please contact the External Resources Department.

*US$ 1 = Sfr 1.484

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