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Afghanistan and region:Needs are growing but lack of safe access to victims hampers aid

08-11-2001 Operational Update





  •  Growing insecurity   and lack of safe access are jeopardizing effective delivery of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, needs are increasing because of the fighting between the Taliban and the United Front (formerly Northern Alliance), worsening weather conditions, ongoing air strikes and lack of proper food distributions.   

  •  Despite these difficulties, the  ICRC is keeping as many programmes running as possible  , thanks to its 1,000 dedicated Afghan staff members based at the Kabul delegation and 7 sub-delegations across the country.  


 These programmes comprise:  

  •  support to hospitals;  

  •  a physical rehabilitation programme;  

  •  food distributions to hospital patients, orphans and destitute families;  

  •  mine-awareness;  

  •  repairing water-supply systems.  


 Since 28 September, 6 trucks have reached Kabul and Jalalabad with medical equipment and supplies;  relief convoys continue to run  , with increased emphasis on winter assistance in the form of blankets, fuel and heating materials.  


 At the same time, the ICRC is pursuing  negotiations   regarding security guarantees which would allow expatriate staff to resume working everywhere in Afghanistan without further delay.  


  •  The ICRC has boosted its  operational capacity   with a view to stepping up its activities inside Afghanistan as soon as possible. Additional logistics structures have been set up in Iran, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan to ensure a constant flow of relief goods.  


 Pre-positioned stocks  include:  

  •  food for over 500,000 people;  

  •  shelter materials for some 240,000 people;  

  •  medical supplies, including surgical and first-aid materials,
    to treat nearly 150,000 patients;

  •  two 100-bed surgical units;  

  •  water and sanitation materials.  


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Given the departure of expatriates requested by the Taliban before the international conflict started on 7 October with a US-led bombing campaign, humanitarian organizations are facing problems of access to and communication with Afghanistan. Forming a clear picture of the current state of affairs inside the country, and resulting needs for humanitarian aid, is becoming increasingly difficult.

The ICRC's view of of the situation, and the resulting operational approach, are based on the patchy information coming out of Afghanistan as much as on its 15 years of experience in the country. These are the main points:

  • Afghanistan's population, exhausted by over two decades of internecine war and three years of drought, remains in dire need of substantial assistance. The combined effects of the present international conflict and the impending Afghan winter, with temperatures as low as -25 °C (-13 °F), will exacerbate these needs, especially in such regions as Ghor and Bamyan which are as a rule cut off by heavy snow.

  • The full impact of the ongoing bombing campaign is difficult to estimate, and the ICRC is not in a position to confirm or deny any figures given, but there is no doubt that people have been killed and wounded, water and electricity supply systems disrupted and houses damaged. In addition, the protracted bombing is bound to affect the population psychologically.

  • Fear of the air raids has driven hundreds of thousands of people from the large cities to seek shelter in villages which they consider t o be safer, or in neighbouring countries, though so far fewer people have been arriving at the border than humanitarian organizations had expected. Little is known about the situation in the villages as access to rural areas is difficult.

  • The security situation has worsened and the civil authorities appear to be losing control. Looting and pillaging by uncontrolled armed groups are on the increase and it is becoming more and more difficult for civilians, including humanitarian workers, to move around freely and go about their duties safely. In addition to the bombing and destruction of four of its five warehouses and looting of materials in Kabul, the ICRC's offices in Mazar-i-Sharif were occupied by armed men for more than a week.

  • While assistance continues to be shipped to Afghanistan, it remains limited to some areas. In the current circumstances, it is very difficult to ensure that any aid reaches the people most in need, as the crucial working conditions of effective delivery -- independent and impartial needs assessment, identification of the most vulnerable people, monitoring of distributions to make sure that food does not go to combatants -- frequently cannot be met.

Increasingly concerned about the worsening conditions of the population and the safety of civilians and humanitarian workers, the ICRC urges the parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law (IHL), so as to allow humanitarian assistance to reach the most vulnerable population groups inside Afghanistan.

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 2.1 Ongoing ICRC activities for conflict victims  



 2.1.1 Support to medical facilities and physical rehabilitation programme  

 Afghanistan : some 25 hospitals, both civilian and military, are currently visited by ICRC staff and supplied, from stocks in Kabul and Jalalabad which have been replenished by the convoys in September/October. An additional convoy left Quetta on 8 November with medical supplies for Kandahar and its surroundings. Stocks in Herat will shortly be replenished with 6 standard kits (each containing sufficient medicines and materials to treat up to 100 patients) via Mashhad, Iran, where they were shipped from Islamabad last week. Medical stocks in Gulbahar have been filled to cover the whole winter. Fuel deliveries to the ICRC-supported hospitals will be stepped up in view of the onset of winter.

In cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), ambulance services to transport wounded civilians have been set up and are running in the major cities.

Afghanistan's 6 prosthetic/orthotic centres continue to function in Kabul, Jalalabad, Herat, Gulbahar, Mazar-i-Sharif and Faizabad.

 Pakistan : ICRC health delegates have assessed the capacity of the hospitals in both Quetta and Chaman (a border town where refugees are arriving). They do not require support for the time being but the ICRC is ready to assist them if needed. Similar assessments are under way in health facilities in the Peshawar area.

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 2.1.2 Food and non-food relief  


 Kabul : a two-truck convoy with 10,000 blankets arrived from Peshawar the weekend of 3 November. Along with plastic sheeting provided by the International Federation, the blankets will be distributed to people whose homes have been damaged in the bombing raids. Food distributions to over 7,500 households with disabled breadwinners were completed on 31 October.   Food continues to be delivered to hospitals and orphanages.

 Herat : internally displaced people (IDPs) in camps will continue to receive food distributed by WFP and made available by the ICRC from its stocks in the city. ICRC staff are looking to identify beneficiaries for additional food distributions. On 30 October, 200 tonnes of rice donated by the United Arab Emirates Red Crescent Society reached Herat.

 Panshir valley : in late October/early November, food was distributed to over 2,500 IDP families in various camps.

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 2.1.3 Water and habitat  


 Kabul : water-supply networks throughout the city were rehabilitated at the beginning of November.

 Gulbahar: Support to local communities in the Shamali for the construction of wells is ongoing.

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 2.1.4 Agronomy programme  


 Gulbahar / Faizabad : food-for-work schemes (cleaning irrigation systems) continue to be implemented.   Similar programmes are being carried out in other regions, in cooperation with the ARCS .  


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 2.1.5 Mine awareness  


 Panshir valley : during the food distribution in the IDP camp (see above), ICRC staff from the prosthetic/orthotic centres in the area made presentations to alert the IDPs to the dangers of landmines and unexploded ordnance, and show them ways of avoiding the risk of accident and injury. In addition, the ICRC is preparing a radio spot with a mine-awareness message which will be broadcast by the BBC Dari and Pashtu services.

Furthermore ICRC is preparing a radio spot with a mine awareness message which will be broadcasted by BBC Dari and Pashtu services.

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 2.1.6 Protection  


 Faizabad : delegates will start visiting prisoners held by the United Front in the next few days.

 Mazar-i-Sharif : winter assistance including blankets and clothing was distributed to prisoners in the central jail.

Wherever possible, separated relatives are given the opportunity to exchange Red Cross family messages (RCMs). The RCMs are collected and distributed in cooperation with the ARCS.

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 2.2 Humanitarian coordination  

The ICRC coordinates its action closely with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the National Socie ties most concerned by the Afghanistan crisis. Support to the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) is ongoing as far as possible, both with a view to increasing its capacity to care for the war-wounded and to keeping existing programmes running, particularly the supply of medical materials to the 48 ARCS clinics across Afghanistan, supported by the Federation.

The ICRC delegation in Pakistan is supporting the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) in boosting its emergency response capacity while the PRCS is helping the ICRC with the difficult task of organizing access and support to war victims inside Afghanistan. In Iran, cooperation with the Iranian Red Crescent Society and mutual support are equally well established. In the neighbouring countries to the north, information is regularly shared and possible joint activities are being discussed. Both the ICRC and the Federation have stepped up their aÔpport to the National Societies most concerned so as to strengthen their emergency response capacity.

It is generally well understood, by both operating and participating National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, that the ICRC is responsible for coordinating all external aid from Movement members to victims inside Afghanistan, whereas the Federation coordinates the Movement's response to relief needs of refugees in the neighbouring countries. Information was provided to participating National Societies at the Federation's General Assembly on 6 November.

The ICRC maintains close contact and cooperation with other humanitarian organizations through OCHA coordination meetings in Peshawar.


For further information, please contact the ICRC's External Resources Division.
More about ICRC activities in Afghanistan