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Afghanistan and region: Growing humanitarian needs outpace ongoing aid programmes

17-10-2001 Operational Update





  •  Since air strikes on Afghanistan began on 7 October the situation of the long-suffering population, residents, IDPs and refugees alike, has taken a marked turn for the worse. However, the possibilities of delivering humanitarian assistance in response to still increasing needs have been severely curtailed.  

  •  The ICRC is focusing on medical aid and life-saving emergency assistance in the country, which it carries out wherever and whenever possible. However, the large-scale food assistance programme for drought and conflict victims in the Ghor region, begun in June, could not be completed. Similarly, visits to detainees and preventive action programmes are currently suspended. Efforts continue to obtain permission and the necessary security guarantees needed for expatriate staff to return to Afghanistan.  

  •  Despite the donor community's greatly appreciated contributions and pledges totaling Sfr 44 million so far this year, there is still a shortfall of Sfr 41 million (USD 25.4 million / EUR 27.9) needed to cover the revised annual requirement of Sfr 85 million.  



The plight of the Afghan people has been further exacerbated by the withdrawal of humanitarian organizations from Afghanistan during the period of heightened insecurity after the attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September. Afghanistan, one of the world's poorest countries, has b een exhausted by two decades of war and a protracted drought in recent years. Many inhabitants who have not already fled the country, whether they are displaced within Afghanistan or still in their places of origin, have come to rely on external aid. This has had to be drastically reduced over the past month as a result of the uncertainty regarding possible responses to the attacks of 11 September. Since the start of bombing on 7 October the situation has doubtless worsened for the population. Fear has triggered more population movements as people flee to localities they believe to be safer, either within Afghanistan or in neighbouring countries. There has been a particularly strong influx of displaced people into Mazar-i-Sharif, leading to urgent needs, notably for food and shelter.

However, the disruption of supply channels and withdrawal of expatriate staff have had devastating consequences for health care and food and material emergency assistance. Insecurity is worsened as the distinction between military action and humanitarian assistance for the population is not always made.

Conditions are bound to deteriorate sharply with the onset of winter, which is only a few weeks away. The preparations normally made at this time of year to ensure assistance through the cold season, crucial to the survival of large segments of the population, is seriously hampered by the current military situation. The risks to humanitarian action once again became evident on 16 October when an ICRC warehouse in Kabul was hit by bombs, injuring an ICRC staff member and damaging ICRC infrastructure and relief stocks.

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 2.1 ICRC set-up  

In addition to some 1,000 Afghan staff deployed at its delegation in Kabul and seven sub-delegations across the country (cf. map), the ICRC has four expatriates in northern Afghanistan. Since pulling its non-Afghan staff out of Taliban-controlled areas on 16 September at the request of the authorities, the ICRC has been monitoring the operation through 15 expatriates based in Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta (Pakistan), Mashhad (Iran), Ashgabad (Turkmenistan) and Dushanbe (Tajikistan).

The ICRC logistics set-up is now fully in place, with established supply routes running through Peshawar, Dushanbe/Khorog and more recent ones via Pakistan, Iran and Turkmenistan. Additional warehouses have been opened in Quetta, Mashhad and Turkmenabad.

Since the end of September first deliveries of medical and relief supplies have reached the new logistics bases outside Afghanistan, to be followed by others over the next few weeks. These pre-positioned stocks will enable the ICRC to assist more than half a million civilians inside Afghanistan as soon as the security situation permits.

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 2.2 ICRC activities for conflict victims  


  •  Medical programmes  

Two ICRC shipments of urgently needed surgical supplies to treat the war-wounded and other essential medical goods have arrived in Kabul and Jalalabad. All 16 hospitals and 14 first-aid posts supported by the ICRC across Afghanistan are still running. An ambulance service, set up jointly by the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) and the ICRC, is standing ready for emergency action in Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif. Since 7 October more than 30 war-wounded civilians have been treated in Kabul and Kandahar.

Physical rehabilitation programmes for amputees and disabled people are going on in four prosthetic/orthotic centres in Taliban-controlled areas and at two centres in Northern Alliance territory.

  •  Food and non-food assistance  

Over 35,000 displaced persons sheltering in Mazar-i-Sharif have received half rations of rice wheat, split peas and ghee adequate for six weeks. In addition, 1000 newly arrived families who fled fighting between Taliban and Northern Alliance forces have also been given shelter materials, blankets and jerrycans and three-month half rations. Preparations are being made for further assistance to be brought to the increasing numbers of displaced people in Mazar-i-Sharif .

The ICRC has put food stocks in Herat (1,000 tonnes of rice and 500 tonnes of split peas) at the disposal of the World Food Programme (WFP), for its programmes serving some 200,000 displaced people who have been gathered in WFP-assisted camps since before the current crisis. In return for the loan, negotiations are under way for WFP food stocks in Turkmenistan to be put at the ICRC's disposal for use in northern Afghanistan.

  •  Water and sanitation  

To ensure a safe water supply,   water and habitat teams continue to repair wells in Kabul. In addition, rehabilitation projects are ongoing at hospitals in Kabul, Jalalabad, Ghazni and Gulbahar.

  •  Agronomy and veterinary programmes  

Activities are going on, though on a reduced scale. While the provision of seed is uninterrupted in the Shamali plain and Mazar-i-Sharif, where 100 tonnes will be distributed over the next few days, it cannot be carried out in Dar-i-Suf. In both Taliban-controlled and Northern Alliance areas, the ICRC maintains Food-for-Work programmes to clean irrigation systems, albeit on a reduced scale, in cooperation with the ARCS.

Like many other activities that have been on standby since 16 September, ICRC support to the vaccine production laboratory of the Ministry of Agriculture in Kabul has ceased for the time being. This support is part of a broader agronomy programme carried out across Afghanistan. Since 1997 it has included efforts to control a number of animal diseases endemic to Afghanistan where up to 15 million people rely fully or partially on animal livestock, mainly sheep, cattle and poultry, for their livelihood. The laboratory produces annually some two million doses of safe ani mal vaccines. For the production of the vaccine, the ICRC only uses Sterne 34F2, a non-virulent strain of Anthrax commonly used throughout the world to make vaccines. Several other organizations supporting Afghan rural communities, including FAO, Madera and the Dutch Committee for Afghanistan, avail themselves of the vaccine.

  •  Protection  

The ICRC has regularly made representations to all warring parties, urging them to observe the rules of international humanitarian law (IHL), notably to respect the lives and property of civilians, the wounded and sick and captured combatants; and to respect humanitarian facilities and allow the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to work unhindered.

Negotiations are in progress with the Northern Alliance regarding visits to prisons under their jurisdiction, and with the Taliban regarding renewed access to the eight expatriate members of Shelter Now International detained since early August.

  •  Mine action and IHL dissemination  to arms carriers  

Owing to the highly dangerous security context, ICRC preventive action programmes, including direct dissemination of humanitarian rules to soldiers on the ground and mine data collection and awareness activities, have had to be put on hold for the time being.


For further information, please contact the External Resources Division.

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