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Focus on Afghanistan: Why has the ICRC decided to stop its direct food distributions in Kabul?

18-01-2001 News Release 01/02

The devastation caused in Afghanistan by years of conflict compounded by a series of natural disasters has compelled the ICRC to take a two-tier approach, providing emergency assistance for those who need it while setting up projects that will help people to support themselves again.

The first priority is of course to come to the aid of people affected by the fighting that is still raging in some parts of the country – especially those who at the same time have been hit by drought. In the last quarter of 2000, for example, the ICRC provided food and other relief supplies for around 35,000 families in cooperation with the International Federation and the Afghan Red Crescent Society. A further 30,000 families will receive the same aid in the coming months. The most vulnerable sections of the population, such as orphans, are also continuing to receive help from the ICRC and the Afghan Red Crescent Society.

However, since most of the country is no longer directly affected by the internal conflict, the ICRC has also decided to launch programmes that will help people to rely on their own means and be less dependent on aid. These include the rehabilitation of over 800 irrigation systems a year and the distribution of seed, fertilizer and agricultural tools – a programme which will be expanded this year to help farmers recover from the drought. In Kabul, the ICRC plans to distribute seed as part of an income-generating project. At the same time it will continue its major programme to repair water-supply systems and latrines, which has considerably improved the health of tens of thousands of people.

The need to place the emphasis on projects that encourage self-sufficien cy is the main reason why the ICRC has taken the difficult decision to stop distributing food directly to vulnerable families in Kabul, as it has been doing for six years. Other factors which led to this decision were the increasing availability of food in the city, which has not been directly affected by the conflict for four years, and the possibility for many of the city's displaced people to return to their villages and cultivate their own land.

" For two years we deliberated long and hard about this, " said Olivier Durr, head of operations for the country in Geneva. " It is always difficult when you are faced with such large-scale needs as those in Afghanistan. In the end, however, we felt that priority had to be given to an approach that enabled people to support themselves instead of relying on humanitarian aid. "