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Update No. 98/05 on ICRC activities in Afghanistan

17-04-1998 Operational Update

 War-weary Afghans endure quake and floods  

Nature does not bear in mind the suffering caused by 18 years of bitter conflict, nor does it respect national, political or military boundaries. The plight of the Afghans has recently been exacerbated by earthquakes in the north and flooding in the areas around Kandahar, Maimana and Jalalabad. The ICRC, working in close cooperation with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), has once again come to the aid of countless destitute Afghans.

 Earthquake action nearing completion  

 International relief operation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent under the lead of ICRC  

In the night of 4 to 5 February an earthquake shook the north-eastern province of Takhar. The seismic waves, which measured 6.1 on the Richter scale, claimed more than 4,000 lives, injured hundreds of civilians and made thousands of families homeless. Relief efforts undertaken by national and international aid workers were hindered by the region's remoteness and harsh winter conditions. More than 100 tonnes of relief - dispatched by trucks from the ICRC's and International Federation's sub-delegations in Mazar-i-Sharif and Pul-i-Khumri and their delegations in Dushanbe (Tajikistan) - reached the area a few days after the disaster occurred. An ICRC-chartered Hercules made 15 rotations to and from Peshawar (Pakistan). Some 150 tonnes of non-food items such as blankets, plastic sheeting, tents, cooki ng utensils and soap were air-dropped near Rostaq, the quake's epicentre. From there every available means was used to transport the supplies to the 28,000 beneficiaries, be it helicopter, truck or donkey. After this emergency operation, the ICRC began to distribute seeds and tools for agriculture and reconstruction of housing. To date, some 1,480 shovels and pickaxes, 242 hammers 375 saws and 180 kg of nails have been delivered to the worst-off villages.

The ICRC coordinated non-food assistance in the disaster-struck region, whereas the World Food Programme provided food and Médecins sans frontières oversaw medical assistance. The ICRC worked closely with the components of the Movement, both at headquarters and local level. Please note that in accordance with the Seville agreement and on the basis of discussions with the Federation, the ICRC launched a Special Appeal for victims of the earthquake in Afghanistan on 13 February 1998, intended to cover a two-month period. The specific Red Cross/Red Crescent relief programmes for the victims of the February quake should be completed by the end of April. An in-depth evaluation is currently under way in the region to assess both the impact of the emergency assistance and possible needs for rehabilitation. The ICRC is planning to send a further update to donors in early May, summarizing the main elements of this evaluation and making proposals for the utilization of any funds remaining at the end of the period covered by the Special Appeal.


 The ICRC, the International Federation and the ARCS assist flood victims  

 International relief operation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent under the lead of ICRC  

Heavy rains in various parts of the country before and during Eid resulted in floods and landslides. The hardest hit were the regions of Kandahar, Helmand and Zabul. Flooding resulted in loss of livestock and considerable damage to fields. Joint missions were conducted by the ICRC, the International Federation and the Afghan Red Crescent to assess needs and distribute emergency assistance from existing stocks. To date, some 400 families have received blankets, tents and food. Some areas in Faryab are currently being assessed by a team composed of all components of the Movement in Afghanistan.

 ICRC caught up in inter-factional fighting  

On 14 March inter-factional fighting broke out in the northern capital of Mazar-i-Sharif. Troops loyal to General Dostom's Jumbesh party clashed with supporters of the Wahdat. Some 30 people were killed and 150 wounded. The following day the ICRC saw itself caught between the front lines: its residence was held by one party whilst the sub-delegation was in the other faction's camp. Both buildings were partially destroyed and looted. Insecurity and the flagrant lack of respect for the red cross emblem, its premises and personnel forced the ICRC to evacuate its expatriate staff on 16 and 18 March. Other humanitarian organizations also left the city. Lack of security on the road to Pul-i-Khumri also led to the evacuation of ICRC delegates based in the town. However, programmes are continuing thanks to the efforts of local employees. Although the ICRC no longer has a permanent presence in these towns, regular visits ensure the smooth running of ICRC programmes, such as assistance to medical facilities, the manufacture and fitting of artificial limbs, visits to detainees and support to the local Red Crescent branches.

 Largest ICRC relief operation  

In the first three months of 1998 the ICRC distributed 4,5 00 tonnes of food and 950 tonnes of non-food to some 280,000 beneficiaries throughout Afghanistan. Around 15,000 families headed by a widow and 10,000 others with a disabled breadwinner continue to receive bi-monthly rations consisting of wheat flour, rice, beans, ghee and soap. The ICRC also distributes relief assistance to displaced families from the Ghorband valley currently housed in the capital's public buildings. Some 4,000 families living in camps in the Herat area, who are prevented from returning to the north-eastern province of Badghis because of ongoing clashes, receive food and non-food items. Some 500 families in Qala-i-Nau are also assisted.

However, the ICRC is constantly looking at ways of switching from direct to indirect assistance. Its agricultural programmes (tool production, fruit and vegetable nurseries, tree plantations, seed distributions and rehabilitation of irrigation systems) assist some 400,000 beneficiaries.

Veterinary programmes are also aimed at supporting the population without creating long-term dependency on external assistance:

  • Anthrax spore vaccine has been produced in the Institute of Veterinary Biology. The quality control of this first trial batch of more than 300,000 doses is currently underway.

  • A poultry pilot project was launched at the end of March. Sixy selected families were provided with hens and a rooster. The ICRC will evaluate the chicken's economic impact on family life and extend the programme in urban areas if proven useful.

  • The vaccination of animals in the Panjshir and Kabul's environs will soon commence. The first peak season will take place from April to June.

 Other traditional tasks not forgotten  

The ICRC regula rly visits some 5,000 detainees held by all parties to the conflict. Delegates check on their material and psychological conditions of detention and provide them with medical supplies and winter clothing. Detainees are able to contact their families thanks to the Red Cross message service.

The end of Ramadan was marked by the release of detainees held by the Taliban or northern coalition. A total of 784 former detainees received the ICRC's logistic and financial support to enable them to return to their families. During Eid-i-Qurban, another group of almost 200 detainees were released by the factions.

The ICRC maintains its support to more than a dozen surgical services in the major hospitals in Afghanistan and runs four prosthetic/orthotic centres. Thanks to its pragmatic, step-by-step approach to the gender issue, female wards are open in all ICRC-supported hospitals and women directly benefit from other ICRC assistance programmes, such as relief, water and sanitation, agricultural projects or tracing, and, wherever possible, are employed for the domestic production of relief goods.