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Afghanistan: ICRC activities in May 2009

10-06-2009 Operational Update

Afghanistan is one of the ICRC's biggest operations worldwide, with 96 delegates and around 1,255 national staff working at the delegation in Kabul, five sub-delegations and six offices around the country.

 Humanitarian situation  

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The protection of health care services and medical personnel during conflict is one of the ICRC’s most pressing concerns in Afghanistan. This, and the protection of the civilian population, are among the delegation’s main operational priorities. Another is to ensure that all parties to a conflict recognize and accept the ICRC's neutral, independent and purely humanitarian position. The ICRC is disseminating to a wider audience, in the political arena and civil society, key messages about parties’ obligations under international humanitarian law (IHL) to protect and respect civilians, and spare them from harm. The same messages form the basis of dialogue with the Taliban and other members of the armed opposition, as well as with the Afghan and International Military Forces.

There was a breakthrough in the ICRC’s efforts to encourage the Afghan government to ratify Protocols I and II additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions in May, when the Protocols were voted through both the Lower and Upper houses of Parliament. The purpose of Protocols I and II is to protect civilians affected by conflict, as well as the wounded, and others who are not, or no longer, taking part in fighting.

In May an Afghan nurse from Jalalabad – who has made an extraordinary contribution to care for the sick and wounded during her long career – was awarded the Florence Nightingale medal. Nominated by the Afghan Red Crescent Society, the nurse is the first Afghan to win the prestigious award since it was first instituted 97 years ago by the ICRC for'exceptional courage and devotion to the wounded, sick or disabled, or to civilian victims of conflict or disaster'.


 Detention visits and the 'restoring family links' programme  

The ICRC visits detention places run by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, the US Forces, and the Afghan authorities, where it monitors the conditions of detention and the treatment of detainees. The ICRC also helps family members separated by conflict to keep in touch with one another, and responds to requests from families to trace missing relatives. During May ICRC protection teams:

  • carried out 25 visits to 24 places of detention holding 5,838 detainees

  • followed up on the cases of 702 detainees, 169 of whom were visited for the first time

  • paid the local transport costs for 29 ex-detainees to return home

  • collected 1 ,321 Red Cross messages, some with the support of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), and distributed 1,216 RCMs. The significant increase over the previous month was due to the ICRC’s latest visit to Bagram Theatre Internment Facility which took place during May and provided the opportunity for detainees and their families to send Red Cross messages to and receive them from each other

  • facilitated 184 video telephone calls between families and their detained relatives in Bagram. The calls were made from the ICRC delegation in Kabul. Forty-four families visited Bagram in person. The ICRC provides transport for the family visits


 Promoting international humanitarian law  


Reminding parties to a conflict of their obligations to protect civilians, is a fundamental part of the ICRC’s dissemination work on IHL worldwide. Knowledge about IHL is also promoted within civil society. Detailed discussions were held with parliamentarians about accession to Additional Protocols I and II to the 1949 Geneva Conventions by the government of Afghanistan. In addition, ICRC delegates and national staff held:

  • six sessions on IHL for 187 officers, sergeants, and soldiers of the Afghan national army and five sessions for 179 members of the Afghan national police

  • nine meetings with Afghan military authorities

  • eighteen dissemination sessions for a total of 349 members of civil society. The audiences included community elders, members of religious circles and university students.




The ICRC supports two hospitals run by the Ministry of Health in Shiberghan (Jawzjan province) and Mirwais in Kandahar, where some 20 ICRC medical, administrative and technical staff assist and train the hospital personnel. Five ICRC first-aid posts in conflict areas of south and central Afghanistan provide emergency medical care to the war-wounded and others affected by the fighting. Staff running the first-aid posts receive training and are provided with medicines and medical material by the ICRC. Training and supplies are also provided to Afghan Red Crescent community-based first-aid volunteers and to staff in ten ARCS basic health units. During May:

  • Shiberghan and Mirwais hospitals treated 3,192 in-patients and 20,618 out-patients; a total of 1,025 operations were performed

  • 304 patients received assistance in the ICRC’s first-aid posts

  • 200 community-based first-aid volunteers received training

  • 157 kits for the treatment of the war-wounded were sent to front line areas

  • gauze, needles, drugs and other medical material were donated to Aliabad hospital in Kabul

  • 1,425 first-aid kits were given to 905 community-based first-aid volunteers.

 Orthopaedic services  

Since 1988, the ICRC has been involved in limb-fitting and rehabilitation activities and the social reintegration of disabled people, from landmine victims to those with a motor impairment. The ICRC runs prosthetic/orthotic centres in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Gulbahar, Faizabad and Jalalabad, and a home-care service offering patients with spinal cord injuries and their fam ilies medical, economic and social support. During May orthopaedic centre personnel:

  • registered 591 new patients, of whom 67 were amputees

  • assisted a total of 6,436 patients in the six ICRC orthopaedic centres

  • made 1,292 prostheses and orthoses

  • provided 15,522 physiotherapy treatments to patients

  • granted micro-credit loans to 45 patients to start their own small business ventures

  • facilitated the ongoing vocational training of 254 patients; eleven patients graduated in May

  • made 769 home visits through the Home Care programme, which is assisting 1,264 patients with spinal cord injuries, and training their families.


 Water and habitat  

ICRC water engineers are working closely with the local water authorities on a range of urban and rural-based programmes. In addition, hygiene promotion sessions are conducted in madrasas and other public places, as well as with families in their homes. During May, the ICRC water and habitat teams carried out:

  • one urban project to supply water to 12,000 people in Herat

  • hygiene sessions for over 4,503 people from urban communities countrywide 

  • improvements to the water supply and sanitation in five provincial prisons, one female prison in Kabul, and one juvenile detention centre in Samangan, for the benefit of 1,242 detainees

  • one new rural water supply project, in addition to the seven that are ongoing in Kabul, Bamyan, Herat, Baghlan and Mazar provinces to provide safe water for 30,563 beneficiaries.



The ICRC provides assistance to families affected or displaced by conflict and natural disasters. Assistance distributed in May included families affected by the events in Bala Baluk. In total, the ICRC:

  • distributed 740 food kits with rice, beans, ghee, tea, sugar and salt, and 507 household kits containing blankets, tarpaulins and toiletries to 740 families in seven provinces of southern, central, and western Afghanistan.


 Cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS)  

The ICRC provides the ARCS with technical and financial assistance to help it deliver services to the community and to implement a range of programmes. During May this included:

  • support for two, three-day refresher courses for eight ARCS's provincial dissemination/tracing field officers in Kandahar and Herat

  • structural support given by the ICRC health department to the ARCS for the development of their medical logistics, as part of an overall capacity building strategy.


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