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Update No. 98/10 on ICRC activities in Afghanistan

28-08-1998 Operational Update

 Afghan Conflict shifts up a gear  

The turn of events over the last month has further exacerbated the plight of the war-weary Afghans. At the end of July most non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in Kabul were requested to leave the capital following their refusal to relocate to the city's polytechnic. Important humanitarian projects had to be abandoned, leaving the beneficiaries to fend for themselves as best they could.

The Taliban forces have pushed northwards, taking several cities such as Maimana, Shibirghan, the northern coalition's stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif, Pul-i-Khumri, Samangan, Taloqan and Doshi. Confirmed figures are unavailable for the number of dead and wounded among combatants and civilians, but casualties are thought to be high. Arrests were made during and after the takeover, but a complete picture cannot be formed. Although there was no mass exodus, some local residents did head off in search of sanctuary elsewhere.

The area devastated by earthquakes in February and May has now become a conflict zone, the remains of the villages forming the front line between the Taliban and the northern alliance. This region had been largely spared the consequences of conflict over the past two years, but has experienced a spate of misfortune in recent months, being hit by one catastrophe after another, both man-made and natural.

The US air strikes last week and the general climate of insecurity led to the complete withdrawal of NGOs and UN agencies throughout the country. The sole humanitarian organizations remaining on Afghan soil are the ICRC (32 expa triates on 25.8.98) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (1 expatriate).

 The ICRC stands alone  

Despite cutting back its expatriate staff for security reasons, the ICRC is pursuing its essential programmes on behalf of conflict victims, albeit at a reduced rate. This is only possible thanks to the invaluable contribution of its competent and experienced local staff.

 ICRC priorities  

 For detainees:  

Owing to reductions in expatriate staff, the ICRC's detention-related activities have been temporarily scaled down. However, the delegation has done its utmost to obtain access to detainees captured during or after the recent Taliban offensive. Delegates have already made contact with the new detaining authorities in Mazar-i-Sharif and have visited several places of detention in the area. As the ICRC has just received official authorization to check on the detainees'material and psychological conditions of detention according to standard ICRC procedure, visits will be carried out in the next few days.

 For those separated by the conflict:  

Thanks to the cooperation of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), Red Cross messages are collected and distributed whenever possible. Since the beginning of the year some 15,300 family messages have been collected and 11,300 distributed between detainees and civilians.

 For the wounded:   

The ICRC keeps up its support to the surgical facilities in the hospitals of Karte Seh (Kabul) and Wazir Akbar Khan (Kabul), Ghazni, Jalalabad and Kandahar. The hospital in Kandahar is almost stretched to its limit following the influx of war-wounded from the north. The hospitals in Bamyan, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Pul-i-Khumri have recently received ICRC medical kits and other essential supplies.

 For the war-disabled:  

The ICRC's prosthetic/orthotic centres in Herat, Jalalabad, Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif continue to produce orthopaedic components and fit amputees with artificial limbs. Whereas the number of patients in Kabul has increased over recent weeks, the centre in Mazar-i-Sharif is running at a slower pace owing to insecurity in the town.

 For civilians in Kabul:  

Together with the local population, the ICRC upgrades traditional latrines and constructs wells in parts of the capital. Water and sanitation work is also carried out elsewhere.

The nutritional status of children is closely monitored in five dispensaries run by the ARCS. A weekly market survey indicating price fluctuations which could further influence nutritional trends has taken on additional importance since the withdrawal of health and relief organizations. The ICRC is not in a position to take over their programmes owing to lack of expertise, personnel and funds, but any changes in nutritional levels will be followed closely and ad hoc assistance given if needed.

 For disabled breadwinners and families headed by a widow:  

The 23,200 vulnerable families have just received their bi-monthly food rations consisting of wheat flour, rice, beans, ghee and soap. This programme has not been affected by recent developments. Anot her round of distributions is planned for September.

 For returnees:  

To facilitate the return of those families who have decided to leave the camps in Herat, the ICRC maintains its community-based projects around Bala-Murghab, the region from which most displaced fled more than a year and a half ago. As the front line has moved away from this area, the ICRC has been able to step up its assistance and some 100 families have already resettled there. Agricultural projects are being pursued around the country through the distribution of tools and seed, as well as food-for-work projects.

To prevent too much dependency on external aid and to encourage a return to their places of origin, the ICRC has reduced its assistance to the displaced living in the camps near Herat.

 Federation activities  

The 46 ARCS health clinics supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Federation) continue to see thousands of people each day. The reduction in health services available has led to an increased demand on the clinics. The Federation delegation, which continues to operate from Kabul, Peshawar and Islamabad, has requested additional medical stocks. Additional information will soon be provided in the Federation's situation report on current activities in south Asia.


The ICRC is present throughout the territory. Thirty-two ICRC delegates, and one delegate from the Federation are based in Kabul, Ghazni, Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif. Some 50 others are on standby in Islamabad. Around 1,000 local staff are employed in ICRC operations.