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Update No. 98/04 on ICRC activities in Afghanistan

03-03-1998 Operational Update

 No major casualties reported following quake on 20 February  

Despite the force of another earthquake on 20 February, which rocked the area surrounding Faizabad in the north of Afghanistan, no major casualties have been reported by the authorities. Delegates working for the ICRC and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Rustaq area confirmed that those houses which had remained intact after the first series of tremors had not been significantly damaged and no additional action was required.

 A break in the clouds  

Until 24 February the atrocious weather conditions thwarted the ICRC's attempts to deliver substantial relief supplies to the survivors of Takhar's earthquake. With aircraft grounded, every other logistical means was used to bring essential supplies to Rustaq's outlying villages. Trucks negotiated their way along snow- and mudbound roads transporting vital assistance to some 15,000 people who had been made homeless and are particularly vulnerable to the extreme cold. A convoy of 200 donkeys carried relief supplies to the remotest communities not accessible by road or helicopter.

Finally, an improvement in the weather has enabled the ICRC-chartered Hercules to carry out three rotations a day from Peshawar, Pakistan, to Rustaq. To date, 19 rotations have been made. Non-food items (including more than 13,000 blankets, 500 tents, 850 rolls of plastic sheeting and 200 tarpaulins) have been airdropped to the town which currently houses most of the displace d. The supplies are then transported to their final destination by truck, helicopter or donkey. The ICRC, in cooperation with the International Federation, has been concentrating on non-food assistance such as personal hygiene items (soap), household goods (blankets, stoves, jerrycans, cooking sets and coal), clothing and shelter (tents and tarpaulins). ICRC emergency relief rations, consisting of BP5 biscuits, wheat flour, beans, oil and rice, have already been distributed.

As the most urgent needs of these communities have been mostly met, in the coming days the ICRC will focus on those villages which were partially destroyed by the seismic waves. The initial response to the emergency should be completed within a week. Consequently, the ICRC will reduce the number of expatriates working in the region and will conduct a survey to assess the needs for further rehabilitation within the framework of its existing agricultural and water and sanitation projects.

 Medical needs covered  

By now people injured during the earthquake have received emergency surgical treatment from the ICRC and other humanitarian organizations. A health delegate continues to tour the villages in order to ensure that no patients are left untreated. The ICRC also provided the homeless with water purification chemicals, water storage and treatment units, as well as sanitation material.

 Cooperation and coordination within the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement  

The ICRC continues to play the role of lead agency for the international relief operation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent in this context of armed conflict. There are currently eight expatriates on the spot, including a logistics officer and a relief expert from the Federation. With material and technical support from the ICRC and the Federation, the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) is carrying out distributions in the disaster-stricken communities and is implementing the ARCS/Federation Disaster preparedness plan of action.

The Federation, together with the Kabul ARCS branch, met the Taloqan Red Crescent branch to assess ways to increase branch disaster-response capacity and to identify the various tasks for which they will be responsible once this emergency operation winds down. Support given by both the ICRC and the Federation will be taken into account in the plan of action. Specific training on disaster preparedness, psychologoical support, logistics and relief, as well as material about the ARCS and the Movement, will be offered.

Various aid organizations, including the UN specialized agencies, are in regular contact with the ICRC, both in the stricken region and in Kabul, Islamabad and Peshawar. Coordination meetings are frequently held in the earthquake area, Kabul, Islamabad, Dushanbe and Geneva. Although humanitarian actors and individual initiatives abound on the spot, coordination is rather good.

 ICRC - still working for war victims  

Although the media spotlight currently falls on quake victims in northern Afghanistan, the ICRC is still pursuing its traditional activities to assist the hundreds of thousands of Afghans affected by the 18-year conflict.

Every month delegates visit detainees held by all parties to the conflict. There are currently more than 5,500 detainees who are regularly visited by the ICRC. Delegates check on their material and psychological conditions of detention and provide medical supplies to prison health facilities and winter clothing to inmates. Detainees are able to contact their families thanks to the Red Cross message service.

The ICRC supports more than a dozen surgical services in the major hospitals in Afghanistan and runs four prosthetic/orthotic centres. Water and sanitation programmes are conducted in the Afghan capital, in numerous places of detention and for the internally displaced.

The ICRC's relief operation in Afghanistan is the organization's largest, directly assisting over 300,000 vulnerable people (those families headed by a widow or disabled breadwinner, the displaced and the destitute) and providing indirect assistance through agricultural and food-for-work programmes to many more.

In a bid to prevent violations of international humanitarian law, the ICRC promotes respect for humanitarian law among Afghanistan's major players. The Afghan Red Crescent, which receives ICRC support, assists the ICRC in the fields of dissemination, relief and the restoration of family links.