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Update 01/01 - War, drought and cold: the crisis deepens in Afghanistan

07-03-2001 Operational Update

 Executive summary  


  •  Drought and conflict have displaced over half a million people in the past twelve months in central Afghanistan. The resident farming population has been similarly affected by the drought and has run out of reserves and essential means of agricultural production. The main need of both the internally displaced and the resident population is for food.  

  •  The ICRC is planning to assist some 40,000 families (240,000 people) in spring 2001 by distributing assistance in the form of food and, in the case of resident farmers, seed. This assistance is in addition to the ICRC's ongoing assistance activities as described in the 2001 Emergency Appeals.  

  •  In stark contrast to the magnitude of the needs, the ICRC operation in Afghanistan is very seriously underfunded and urgently requires substantial contributions from donors.  

After deteriorating drastically in the last quarter of 2000, the situation of the Afghan people continues to worsen in early 2001. Consecutive droughts since 1998 have had disastrous effects, especially for rural communities in the greater central Afghanistan region. Meanwhile, the conflict rages on in parts of the country. Over the past year alone, hostilities and drought have driven up to 600,000 Afghans from their homes. They are s heltering in camps for internally displaced people or have sought refuge in neighbouring Pakistan and possibly Iran. Another estimated ten thousand people are stranded on islands in the Pjanji river which runs between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. More and more people are fleeing their villages as they have run out of food, their livestock has been decimated and other coping mechanisms have been exhausted.

Many more who lack the means to move on elsewhere are feared to be at extreme risk from drought and conflict in areas where fighting is going on and which are therefore difficult to access for outside aid, such as Dar-i-Suf and Bamyan.

In recent weeks, north-western Afghanistan has been struck by an unusual cold snap with temperatures plummeting to 25 degrees centigrade below zero. Near Herat town, more than 150 already weakened members of the internally displaced population succumbed to the cold. A similar situation prevails in Baghlan province.

Twenty years of war, exacerbated by recurrent natural disasters, have depleted the country's human, financial and material resources, leaving much of the population heavily dependent on external assistance. Current needs for assistance may be expected to increase further.

 1. ICRC/Movement response  


The ICRC has been operating in Afghanistan since 1980, first out of Pakistan and since 1987 from its delegation in Kabul. The ICRC works to protect people detained in connection with the conflict and imprisoned women and minors. It supports essential services such as health facilities and sanitation and water s upply systems and maintains people's livelihood by improving agricultural and livestock production and assisting vulnerable groups, and by providing prosthetic/orthotic services for the disabled. ICRC assistance programmes have a strong protection component, as they allow delegates to glean first-hand information on the situation of civilians and take action on their behalf if necessary. Together with other local and international organizations, the ICRC works to prevent mine accidents .  

As the lead agency of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in Afghanistan, the ICRC works closely together with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) to address the needs of the vulnerable population .  


The International Federation focuses its support to the ARCS on integrated community health care, comprising: community health education (including use of safe water); immunization; health observation and surveillance including nutritional status, epidemiological surveillance; curative medical care; and sanitation and access to safe drinking water. The capacities of the ARCS have been strengthened to that effect. Five additional mobile health clinics have been set up and have so far treated over 25,000 patients, in the south and southwestern areas. In addition, specialized teams have been deployed to construct wells there.


 1.1 Emergency assistance for victims of drought and conflict  

 In the run-up to winter 2000/2001  



When an extremely cold spell struck Herat in early 2001, the ICRC provided some 40,000 internally displaced people with firewood for heating and cooking, helped by the International Federation and the ARCS. It took a 25-truck convoy to carry 240 tonnes of firewood to the Maslagh camp 20 km from the Iranian border. Most of the displaced families had arrived at the camp fleeing the severe drought that struck central Afghanistan in 2000.

Between July and October 2000, the ICRC, the International Federation and the ARCS, provided newly arrived displaced people in camps with emergency assistance as follows:

 ICRC/International Federation/ARCS   

 assistance for IDPs in Herat  

 July - October 2000  


Wheat grain

211 tonnes

Split pea








Pressure cookers & pots

 3,625 units










  approx. 3,600 families  

* In November 2000 the ICRC stepped in to fill a gap in the provision of shelter materials and distributed, through NGOs, another 1,700 tents to new families arriving in camps in the Herat area. With UNOCHA recently receiving an additional 1,000 tents, the ICRC's commitment to bridge the shelter gap ended on 26 January, as planned.




In autumn 2000 the ICRC, jointly with WFP and in cooperation with the International Federa tion and the ARCS, distributed 2,800 tonnes of food and non-food supplies to 30,000 drought-affected families (some 200,000 people). The International Federation provided some 7,200 particularly vulnerable families with warm clothes. This vast operation was a major logistical effort and a rush against time as it had to be completed before winter snowfall cut the victims off from the outside world.


 ICRC/International Federation/ARCS   

 assistance for drought victims in Ghor  

 Autumn 2000  


Wheat grain

211 tonnes

Split pea





60,000 units

Winter clothes

 700 blaes


  approx. 30,000 families  


 Kandahar and Helmand  

In June 2000 and again in January 2001, the International Federation and the ARCS, supported by the ICRC, provided internally displaced families with assistance (see table below). These mostly Baluch families fled the Registan desert as they were lacking water and their livestock was dying rapidly. They have gathered in various spots along the main rivers in Kandahar and Helmand. One of the five mobile ARCS health teams regularly provided health services to 1,800 of these families.

 International Federation/ARCS assistance for IDPs in Kandahar/Helmand  

 June 2000 and January 2001  


Cooking sets

 1,10 units










 3,557 families  


 Priority for spring 2001: seed and food distribution in rural areas  

During the coming spring, the ICRC will assist thousands of drought-affected families in the Ghor/Herat area with seed (wheat, chickpea and vegetable seed) and three-month half-rations of food**. In other areas, beneficiaries will receive only the food rations. Based on an average family size of six, the planned food distribution will reach close to a quarter of a million people in need.


 ICRC food assistance planned for spring 2001  

 in Afghanistan  



 Number of beneficiaries  

 (3-month half rations)  

Ghor (Chagcharan, Sharak)

10,000 families


7,000 IDP families


10,000 IDP families

South Ghor/Farah

10,000 famlies


3,000 families

 Total Beneficiaries  

 40,000 families


** in a drought/conflict context , a three-mon th half ration of mixed food comprises 100 kg cereals (rice or wheat); 15 kg of pulses; split peas or lentils; and 13.5 kg of oil (ghee).




The central province of Ghor is among the most severely affected by the drought in 2000. Thousands of people have already fled from this rural zone to the nearest large city of Herat where they are placed and assisted in camps.

The ICRC is planning to carry out a seed distribution in April 2001 in the central Ghor valley, providing:

I) up to 10,000 resident farming families in Chagsharan and Sharak with 500 tonnes of improved spring wheat seed, fertilizer and vegetable seed, in addition to a half-ration of mixed food to cover the population's food needs up until harvest time;


II) a three-month half-ration of mixed food each to 7,000 internally displaced families returning to Ghor from Herat . In view of the extremely short period between the spring thaw (the probable time of their return) and planting time, these people will be unlikely to benefit from any spring wheat distribution.


 Badakhshan /Takhar  


High military tension in this area combined with the drought has resulted in large-scale population movements. Until spring the food needs are fairly well covered by the World Food Programme (WFP) and international NGOs. After that, supplies through the WFP pipeline are not assured .  

The ICRC is planning to step up its presence in the area and assist some 10,000 families with a three-month half ration of mixed food. It had earlier assisted part of this target group with non-food relief.


 South Ghor/Farah (Baghran, Parchaman, Taywara, Pasaband)  


Sporadic fighting as well as serious drought conditions are reported from this region which is home to four ethnic groups (Tajik, Aimak, Pashtun and Hazara), though population density is relatively low. The region is only partly accessible during the winter months and no humanitarian agencies are present there.

The ICRC is planning to set up a buffer stock of food (three-month half rations of mixed food) for 10,000 families, to be distributed on the basis of assessments.




This region, controlled by commanders opposing the Taliban, is intensely conflict-ridden and extremely affected by drought, hence a top priority for assistance. Population density is low. Access is very difficult because of the ongoing fighting and insecurity.

Based on its recent assessment mission to part of the region, the ICRC immediately began to provide food assistance to 3,000 families in precarious conditions, scattered across nearly 300 villages. This assistance - 380 tonnes - consists of three-month half rations and has to be delivered across the front line.

 1.2 Ongoing assistance activities  


In addition to the assistance operation for drought and conflict victims in spring 2001, the ICRC is running a number of ongoing assistance activities:

 For civilians  


In Afghanistan, some 80% of the population rely on crop and livestock farming. Farmers lack financial resources, equipment and such supplies as improved wheat seeds and fertilizer, and their irrigation networks have collapsed. Lack of water, fodder and good quality animal vaccines have reduced livestock (sheep, goats, cattle) by as much as 50 %, according to some estimates. To address these needs, the ICRC has developed three major programmes:

  • distribution of seeds in rural areas;

  • distribution of vegetable seeds in urban areas;

  • veterinary programme.

In 2000, the ICRC assisted 71,000 destitute families in urban and rural areas in 12 provinces by distributing wheat and vegetable seed; fruit and forest tree saplings; fertilizer and farming tools; rehabilitation of irrigation schemes; and through food-for-work programmes (food distributed as an incentive for work linked to agronomy projects).

The ICRC agro nomy programme started in 1995 and today is the largest carried out by any single humanitarian organization in Afghanistan.


 For the wounded and sick  

The ICRC provides financial, technical and material support to six hospitals and 20 other surgical facilities around the country, thereby improving access toquality medical care for over 40,000 people, including both war-wounded and civilians.

Five ICRC prosthetic/orthotic centres produce prostheses, orthoses, wheelchairs and crutches and provide care for some 45,000 amputees and other disabled persons. Concerned to improve their socio-economic integration, the ICRC seeks to facilitate their employment and training in " placement centres " in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat. It also provides for home treatment of paraplegic patients in these three cities, caring for up to 900 patients in all.

 1.3 Monitoring and evaluation  


The ICRC closely monitors all distributions and seeks to establish the fairest possible registration and distribution procedures in the best interests of the beneficiary populations. In addition, the ICRC keeps a close watch on the areas where it is operating for evidence of abuse (pillaging, intimidation) of the resident and displaced population at the hands of arms carriers and others. Should it come across any problems of that nature, the ICRC urges the authorities concerned to ensure that civilians are protected, as required by international humanitarian law.


 1.4 Constraints  


The main logistical constraints include long distances, rough high-mountain terrain, very poor roads and punishing weather conditions. Sharak remains accessible through most of the winter, while Chagcharan becomes inaccessible after the first snowfall. Other areas such as Shamali/Panjshir and Dar-i-Suf can only be reached crossing front lines. At times camels and donkeys have to be used for transport.

Most relief items will be procured by and transported from the logistics centre in Peshawar, Pakistan. The estimated transport time by truck between Peshawar and Herat (via Kabul and Kandahar) is 15 days, and an additional two to three days are needed to transport the goods into Chagcharan, which requires unloading and reloading them onto smaller trucks first.

The delegation will temporarily open an office with four warehouses in Chagcharan, and step up its presence in Fayzabad.



The security of humanitarian workers remains a major concern.

Ghor province is mainly under Taliban control. However, the region is mountainous and remote and communication systems are totally lacking. This has enabled armed opposition to control some areas in the northern part of Chagcharan, near the border of Faryab, Badghis and Jawzjawn provinces. The situation remains calm but tense overall.

In order to obtain access to all drought- and conflict-affected populations, the ICRC maintains a dialogue with Taliban authorities and the Northern Alliance, to gain assurances regarding the security and safety of personnel when car rying out its relief activities.

 1.5 Humanitarian coordination  

To ensure a coherent response to the needs of the conflict- and drought-affected population in Afghanistan, prevent possible overlap with other programmes and maximize the exchange of information, the ICRC is coordinating its programme with other humanitarian organizations. All drought-related activities are carried out in close cooperation with the ARCS and the International Federation, while the ICRC as lead agency is responsible for the financing of the operation.

In addition, the ICRC regularly exchanges information with the UN agencies and NGOs involved, often working in partnership to cover the various needs. Coordination may result either in distributing complementary relief goods to the same target group or in targeting different groups. Logistics are also coordinated closely with trucking companies in order to avoid competition.