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Afghanistan - Activities overview, September 2001-March 2002

10-05-2002 Operational Update

The ICRC has been present inside Afghanistan since 1986.

Previously operations were conducted in favour of thousands of war wounded from ICRC surgical hospitals based in Quetta and Peshawar (Pakistan).

During its 16 years of presence inside the country, the ICRC has conducted a wide variety of activities to protect and assist the victims of the conflict in Afghanistan, including visits to detainees, medical, food, non food assistance and economic security, agricultural rehabillitation, water sanitation, orthopaedic, mine data collection and mine awareness programmes, and sensitization to humanitarian law.

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Afghanistan plunged into a period of renewed combat, bombings and confusion. For the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the crisis lead the institution to scale down some of the longer term activities to concentrate on emergency actions like medical supply and evacuations, water and electrical repairs, and food deliveries. During October and November these activities were carried out thanks to the 1000 national staff of the ICRC who took risks to serve over half a million Afghans badly in need of aid.

Suspended activities were resumed in early Novembe when the security situation permitted this. Programs were adapted to the new situation and new projects were started to cater for the needs of the population.

Currently, the ICRC in Afghanistan carries out its activities from its head office in Kabul and from sub-offices in Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Gulbahar, Chaghcharan, Bamyan, Ghazni, Faizabad and Kunduz.

Some 1,000 nati onal and 140 expatriate staff are employed for the operation in Afghanistan which has been and remains one of ICRC's biggest operations in the world.

The ICRC is co-operating closely with the Afghanistan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) and its nation wide network of 8000 volunteers and, together with the International Federation, will lead the efforts of the other Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to help the Afghan population.

 Protection Activities  

 According to its international mandate, in Afghanistan, as in conflicts all over the world, the ICRC works to secure respect for the rights of the victims.  

 Detention visits  

Since November 2001 and up to March 2002, the ICRC has visited and registered about 5800 detainees including prisoners of war in 46 detention places around Afghanistan. The ICRC also visits the detainees transferred to Guantanamo bay in Cuba since mid January.

The purely humanitarian purpose of these visits is to assess the physical and psychological conditions of the detainees, to monitor the health and sanitary conditions and to provide assistance if required (blankets, food, sanitary items, clothes).

The findings of the ICRC visits are shared in a constructive and confidential manner with the detaining authorities so that they can improve the situation according to international humanitarian law standards. Visits are repeated regularly and all detainees are able to exchange news with their families through the Red Cross Message (RCM) network. The ICRC also assists released detainees to return home to their families.

 Family News  

Families scattered across the country or abroad, children separated from their parents, people detained, breakdown of communications are some of the consequences of 23 years of conflict in Afghanistan. To put people back in touch with each other the ICRC in co-operation with the ARCS, collected and exchanged during 2001 over 15,000 Red Cross Messages between civilians separated by front lines, or residing overseas, and between detainees and their families.


 Collection of Mortal Remains  

Following the renewed fighting in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan, after the 7th of October 2001, a number of bodies were left abandoned in cities. The ICRC, in the context of conflicts, is called on to perform the sombre duty of collecting dead bodies in order to facilitate dignified burials and to help preserve minimum standards of public hygiene. In Kabul city, in the Shamali plains, north of Kabul, in Mazar i Charif, and after the incident in Qala-i-Jangi fort, the ICRC in co-operation with the ARCS collected over 600 mortal remains. After being numbered and photographed for later tracing and identification, these remains were buried.


 Monitoring the situation of civilians  

During field visits, ICRC delegates monitor the security situation of the civilian population and, when violations are observed, the ICRC discusses these issues in a confidential manner with all interlocutors in order for them to take action.

 Emergency Relief  


 The ICRC in Afghanistan focuses its relief assistance on the most vulnerable populations and has reached more than one million individuals since September 2001, with distribution of more than 17,700 MT of food and over 245,000 non-food items.  

 Ghor – Preventing economic migration     

Ghor province, located in the central, mountainous region of Afghanistan has been affected by the conflict, and since 1998 by a severe drought. Because of the conflict and the drought, cultivation has dramatically decreased and most families have had to sell their cattle and other assets. The lack of food and income has led to a widespread migration from Ghor. The ICRC continues food distributions started in August 2001, to enable the population to remain in Ghor.

 Mazar-i-Sharif – Alleviating the effects of conflict and drought   

Prior to September, the Southern districts of Samangan, Sar-i-Pul and Balkh Provinces, were virtually under an embargo, and very few supplies were available to the population. The area was also severely affected by drought. Between December and February 2002 the ICRC distributed assistance to over 40,000 families in the area. Wheat seeds were distributed to 14,000 families.

In addition, support has been given to more than 100,000 internally displaced persons in camps in and around Mazar-i-Sharif, who rely heavily on humanitarian assistance, and were in a difficult position following the temporary withdrawal of most of the humanitarian agencies from the area in September 2001.


 Bamyan- Assisting Vulnerable ethnic groups  

Prior to September 2001, the Bamyan population, mainly Hazara, was heavily affected by the conflict and access to the province was difficult for security reasons. The area was also affected by the drought. By the end of January 2002, more than 2,000 MT of food and 55,000 non-food items such as pressure cookers, blankets, tarpaulins and jerry cans had been distributed to the population.

 Kabul - Helping the most vulnerable  

Kabul is among the most war ravaged cities in Afghanistan. After 20 years of fighting, life in the densely populated southern districts has become more and more difficult for average people.

- To help 10’000 extremely destitute families during the winter (December-January) the ICRC provided each household with one sandali (a low table placed in the centre of the room with a slow-burning charcoal fire underneath), two bags of charcoals (100 kg), two blankets and a sheet of plastic. - Between October and November 2001, the ICRC carried out an extraordinary food distribution for close to 8,000 disabled head of households and vulnerable households.

- The ICRC also helped the households affected by the bombardments in Kabul between October and November 2001. The assistance was delivered according to the level of destruction inflicted on their residences. Many were provided with shelter material, plastic sheeting and windows to replace shuttered ones and in some cases, food rations were delivered.


 Water and Habitat  

 One of ICRC’s core tasks : to maintain access to drinking water for populations as disruption or destruction of water structures and distribution systems during conflict can have ravaging health consequences .

Since 1996, the ICRC's Water Sanitation and Habitat programme in the Kabul area has aimed to increase the availability of clean water and to reduce the incidence of faecal -oral diseases (diarrhoea is considered the main cause of infant mortality) through the improvement of traditional latrines, the construction of tube wells equipped with hand pumps and the collection and disposal of waste. 

During the recent bombing campaign, Kabul's main water supply networks were damaged and the people faced severe problems of water shortage in the city. The ICRC water engineers conducted repairs allowing close to 500,000 people to have access again to drinking water.

 In other areas of Afghanistan  

MAZAR : In order to improve sanitation and living conditions in referral hospitals and prisons, rehabilitation of pumps, latrines and cells are being carried out and, in the case of Shibergan prison, water trucking was organised.

HERAT : Since January 2002, the ICRC has assisted the Municipal authority of Herat to maintain the distribution of water to the estimated 240,000 residents in the city with fuel for the generators and the pumps and tools.

JALALABAD : Construction of a septic tank and rehabilitation of the x-ray room for the 400 bed Jalalabad Public Health Hospital were recently completed.

KANDAHAR : The ICRC replaced all the windows of the surgical ward of Mirwais Hospital that were broken during the bombing campaign. A water pump was installed in the Spin Boldak hospital where it serves over 40,0 00 Internally displaced people living in five camps in the surrounding area.

Electrical work on several city water pumps was also done.

 Health Programmes  


 To re-establish and sustain medical and surgical services disrupted by over 20 years of conflict and provide adequate care for wounded and sick, the ICRC supports existing local medical structures .

The ICRC provides support to 6 referral hospitals that would otherwise be unable to provide an adequate level of care to the local population : Jalalabad, Ghazni, Kandahar, Gulbahar and 2 in Kabul (Karte Seh and Wazir Akbar Khan). These hospitals treated 140,000 patients last year, half of them women and children. Hospitals infrastructure and equipment has been rehabilitated and they receive medical, surgical and non medical supplies including fuel. Staff is also trained.

In the areas most affected by the conflict during the past, several medical structures were either heavily damaged or looted, and some had been neglected for so long that they were unable to face the medical and surgical needs in their areas.

Since December 2001, the ICRC has started a large rehabilitation project to upgrade the structures and their medical performance in Bamyan, Samangan, Shebergan, Taloqan and Kunduz hospitals. In some cases the hospitals have been re-equipped with regard to operating theatres including surgical, anaesthetic and sterilisation equipment and supplies. Water, electricity, heating were restored. Beds, mattresses, lights and stoves were delivered in addition to medical supplies. Supplies of fuel are regularly provided.

In Bamyan and Taloqan an expatriate surgical team works with and trains t he local staff.

Depending on their needs other medical structures are occasionally provided with medical supplies and equipment. In some cases, rehabilitation of basic infrastructure like water and electricity is performed. Hospitals in Mazar, Pul-i Khumri textile and Maimana are assisted in this way. Others are currently being evaluated.

 Orthopaedic Service  


 The ICRC has been involved in orthopaedic and rehabilitation assistance to the victims since 1988 and has treated 47,000 patients.  

Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mine and UXO (Unexploded Ordnances) affected countries in the world. Millions of such devices are said to be scattered over more than 1300 square kilometres in the country. Mines and UXOs claim over 100 deaths or injuries every month and there are some 200,000 handicapped survivors after two decades of conflict.

Throughout the recent crisis, all six ICRC Orthopaedic Centres managed to carry out most of its services without interruption, assisting the patients who required continual attention and treatment. The Centres located in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Jalalabad, Gulbahar and Faizabad provide services such as production and repair of prostheses, orthoses and rehabilitative aids (wheelchairs, crutches, walking frames), fitting of prostheses and orthoses, physical rehabilitation, assistance to reintegrate disabled patients into society (micro credit, primary education, vocational training, referral service, etc. ) and home care for spinal cord injured patients.

In 1995 the ICRC extended its services to non mine/UXO victims, to include those with disabilities from poliomyelitis, spinal injuries, cerebral palsy, and from con genital and acquired deformities. The ICRC Orthopedic centers employ mainly disabled persons and provide their staff with comprehensive training opportunities.


 Mine Action  


 The ICRC also aims at preventing further incidents of injuries and fatalities caused by mines and UXO, by gathering information on the cause and location of mine and UXO incidents and promoting safe behaviour to the population at risk.  


 Mine Data Collection  

The ICRC interviews victims through a network of over 300 health clinics and hospitals. The information collected (activity at the time of the incident, location, injuries suffered, medical treatment) is used to identify mine and UXO contaminated areas and to set priorities in surveying, demining, mine awareness activities and for victim assistance projects. The ICRC provides at present over 80% of the data concerning mine and UXO victims that is regularly shared with the 15 agencies of the Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan (MAPA). Last year the ICRC interviewed over 1000 victims, mainly men and boys.

 Mine Awareness Activities  

In order to change risky behaviour and reduce the number of mine and UXO casualties, the ICRC together with the ARCS visits villages to promote safe behaviour. The teams work together with the villagers to draw maps of the mine and UXO affected areas. They organise sessions for adults and for children wi th posters and pictures. They also alert MAPA when demining or clearance of munitions is urgently needed, and they refer patients to the orthopedic centers. The priority area is currently Parwan province, north of Kabul, where areas of former frontlines, heavily contaminated by mines and UXO, are again accessible to the population and returnees. Every month more than 100 sessions are attended by about 6,000 adults and children.

 Communication programmes  

 The ICRC international mandate is not only to aid victims of armed conflicts but also to promote the law that protects them  : International Humanitarian Law (IHL) also known as the Law of War .

In order for the law to be respected it has to be known. The ICRC works with a wide range of people to make IHL known, understood and respected, and to promote acceptance of humanitarian aid. The prime target group are commanders and arms carriers. Methods of promotion vary from direct dialogue to seminars and workshops, or regular sessions included in established training programmes. In 2002 the ICRC has focused its efforts to include IHL training within the curriculum of the new Afghan Army and to promote IHL education amongst children and youth in civil society. In cooperation with the ARCS dissemination programs are held to raise public awareness on humanitarian values. 

 Co-operation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society  

With its nation-wide branch network and over 8,000 volunteers, the ARCS carries out activities in every province of the country. These activities include vocational training, Food-For-Work schemes, Marastoos (institutional service for destitute families), distribution of food and n on-food items, youth activities, tracing, dissemination activities, to raise public awareness of the Movement and to promote International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and mine awareness sessions.

During the October/November 2001 crisis, the ARCS, with the regular support from the ICRC and the Federation, managed to continue most of its programmes aimed at assisting vulnerable Afghans. Since the establishment of a new governing body in Afghanistan, the ARCS has undergone major institutional changes and now has a new leadership. The ICRC is currently working with the Federation to support the ARCS in its efforts to re-establish itself : revision of its legal basis, reassessment of its capacities, identification of training needs, and redefinition of programmes in view of current needs. Priorities in 2002 will include mine awareness, tracing, dissemination, and conflict and disaster preparedness.

 In the framework of the Red Cross Movement  

With the goal of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the country, many National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies wish to help meet the enormous humanitarian needs in Afghanistan. The ICRC, assuming its lead role in the Movement in Afghanistan, identified potential long term projects which can be delegated to National Societies. These projects focus on health, water and habitat, relief and co-operation with the ARCS. Short assessment missions are currently being organised for over ten National Societies interested in participating in the ICRC's projects.

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