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Afghanistan: ICRC activities from January to September 2008

10-11-2008 Operational Update

Afghanistan is one of the ICRC's biggest operations. From its main delegation in Kabul and other offices countrywide, the organization visits detainees, restores links between family members separated by conflict and runs health and rehabilitation projects. An overview of the latest activities.

The security situation in Afghanistan has worsened over the last year and a half, and the armed conflict has remained intense in 2008. Regular fighting between armed groups and national and international forces has continued in more than half of the country. Even in provinces not affected by open combat, roadside bombs and suicide bombings are regular occurrences. Early this year, fighting in the west of Afghanistan became as intense as it had been in the south, south east and east. Hostilities continue to claim the lives of Afghans, international aid workers and foreigners. Access to remote areas remains a major problem in most parts of the country.

The ICRC continued to respond to the needs of people affected by the armed conflict, though security constraints still hamper humanitarian operations in many areas. As in the past the organization supported selected hospitals and six physical rehabilitation centres that mainly work with landmine victims. It also renovated water and sanitation services in rural and urban areas and in places of detention. Visits to people detained by the Afghan authorities, the International Security and Assistance Force or the United States-led coalition remain a top priority, along with efforts to restore or maintain contact between members of families separated by years of armed conflict.

At the same time, the ICRC continued to remind all those involved in the conflict of their obligations to respect civilian life and property.

The food shortage in the north has become an issue of great concern. Afghanistan was already enduring a food crisis due to the severe drought that has gripped the country since 2001. Unl ess the next harvest is a good one, the situation will demand an emergency response. The ICRC and the Afghan Red Crescent Society have launched a joint appeal to assist four provinces in northern Afghanistan in the coming months.

 Promoting respect for civilians  


In accordance with its mandate, the ICRC verifies that bearers of weapons are complying with international humanitarian law. The organization therefore maintains confidential dialogue with all parties to the conflict: Afghan security forces, international forces and armed opposition groups.

The ICRC discusses allegations of abuse perpetrated against people not, or no longer participating in the hostilities with the relevant authorities in an effort to prevent recurrences and minimize the impact of war on the population.

The organization has often helped arrange the collection of bodies from the battlefield, allowing families to complete their mourning.

 People deprived of their freedom  


The ICRC regularly visits people that the Afghan authorities or international forces (United States and NATO) are holding in connection with the armed conflict. During those visits, the ICRC assesses treatment of prisoners and conditions of detention, and verifies respect for fundamental judicial guarantees. The ICRC has often acted as a neutral and independent intermediary in prison riots. It also helps members of families restore and maintain contact with each other.

In September, following lengthy dialogue with American authorities, face-to-face visits for relatives of detainees held in Bagram started. The ICRC enables families to travel to detention facilities. Its involvement will continue until the authorities in charge assume full responsibility for the programme.

Between January and September 2008, ICRC staff:

  • made 233 visits to 95 places of detention holding nearly 12,300 people;

  • followed up the cases of 2,941 people arrested in connection with the conflict or the security situation, visiting 1,189 of them for the first time and registering their details

  • helped 174 released detainees travel home;

  • collected 12,375 Red Cross messages and distributed 12,631 with the help of the Afghan Red Crescent Society. Most of the messages were exchanged between detainees and their families;

  • set up a video-teleconference call programme, enabling detainees in the US detention facility at Bagram to see and speak to their families for the first time since they were detained. Over 1,500 video calls were made.

 Health care  

Jalalabad Public Health Hospital 1, Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar and Sheberghan Hospital in Jawzjan all benefit from ICRC support and training. This has enabled the surgical units of these hospitals to continue treating victims of the conflict and responding to other emergencies.

Work is under way on implementation of a joint ICRC/Ministry of Public Health project to ensure that Mirwais hospital continues delivering essential services. Between January and September 2008, the three hospitals above:

  • treated a total of 37,520 inpatients and 181,302 outpatients;

  • performed 15,202 operations.

The ICRC also provided hospitals in Kabul and elsewhere with medical supplies. The facilities concerned were the 400-bed Afghan National Army hospital, Aliabad, Istiqlal, the Infectious Diseases hospital, Wazir Akbar Khan, the Geology Centre, Maiwand, Herat and the health ministry’s Central Blood Bank and Radiology Department. An emergency kit for the treatment of up to 50 war wounded is pre-positioned at the health ministry.

The ICRC offered supplies and financial support to nine Afghan Red Crescent clinics offering general consultations and vaccinations for women and children.

All combatants wounded in war have the right to medical assistance. The ICRC therefore supplies emergency medical and surgical equipment to remote areas of the country where there are no medical facilities. Between January and September, the ICRC:

  • sent 810 emergency consignments of supplies for first-aid and pre-hospital care to remote areas of the country, where other health structures are unavailable.

 Rehabilitation for disabled people  

The ICRC has been providing limb-fitting and rehabilitation services and helping disabled people reintegrate into the community since 1988. This has benefited not only landmine victims but also many people suffering from other kinds of motor impairment. The organization has assisted over 85,600 patients to date, of whom nearly 34,000 had lost a limb.

The ICRC runs six limb-fitting centres, in Kabul, Mazar, Herat, Gulbahar, Faizabad and Jalalabad. They offer a home-care service for patients with spinal cord injuries, which provides them and their families with medical, economic and social support. Some 3,200 home-care v isits were made in Kabul alone. Between January and September 2008, the centres:

  • registered 4,538 new patients;

  • produced 10,700 prostheses and orthoses;

  • conducted 128,590 physiotherapy sessions;

  • granted micro-credit loans to 394 patients to start their own businesses;

  • trained 191patients for a range of jobs;

  • assisted 1,229 patients with spinal cord injuries.


 Water and habitat  

The ICRC repairs urban and rural water networks, renovates hospitals and sanitation facilities, promotes hygiene and provides training in environmental health. Between January and September 2008, the organization:

 Urban water supply  

  • completed a project in Jalalabad (10,000 beneficiaries);

  • continued three water supply/sanitation projects in Herat and Kandahar (44,000 beneficiaries);


 Rural water supply  

  • completed four projects and continued to work on three others in Bamyan (about 13,000 beneficiaries);

  • completed a project in Mazar (4,800 beneficiaries);

  • continued work on three projects in Almar, Chemtal and Old Baghlan (about 29,000 beneficiaries) and one in Kunar (5,200 beneficiaries);


 Places of detention  

  • continued to ensure basic water and sanitation conditions in places of detention in Kabul and Herat provinces, for over 3,000 detainees;

  • completed similar work in Jalalabad, Badakhshan Kapisa, Farah, Baghlan, Samanghan, Sheberghan, Sar-i Pul and Mazar provinces, for over 2,000 detainees;

 Hygiene promotion  

  • held 836 hygiene promotion sessions for 12,355 people in hammams, schools and mosques;

  • provided education and practical advice on hygiene to 24,864 individuals;

  • continued to upgrade and maintain the general infrastructure of Kandahar hospital and to maintain the infrastructure of the surgical wards of Jalalabad hospital.

 Emergency aid  

The ICRC provides emergency aid to people displaced by the armed conflict who do not have adequate shelter and to those who have been severely affected by natural disasters. These goods are distributed in cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society. Between January and September, the two institutions distributed around 8,500 food kits (rice, beans, ghee, salt, sugar and tea) and some 7,700 non-food kits (tarpaulins, blankets, jerrycans, kitchen sets and soap).

The beneficiaries of this aid were:

  • over 53,000 people displaced by the conflict in Kandahar, Uruzgan and Helmand provinces, in southern Afghanistan, Kunar province and other parts of eastern and central Afghanistan;

  • over 13,000 people affected by heavy snow and harsh temperatures last winter, particularly in the west.

In August, part of the aid (1,800 food kits), went to nearly 7,200 Pakistanis and Afghans in the Shegal district of Kunar province, eastern Afg hanistan, who have been displaced by the armed conflict in Bajaur Agency, Pakistan.

 Promotion of international humanitarian law  

The ICRC's mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and prevent suffering by promoting compliance with international humanitarian law. ICRC staff held dissemination sessions for some 4,000 people, including provincial authorities, Afghan Red Crescent Society staff and volunteers, community elders, members of religious circles, journalists and university students.

It also held sessions for 2,430 Afghan military and police officers, and meetings with Afghan military authorities, international mentors and legal advisors who train the national army.

 Cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society  

The ICRC gives the Afghan Red Crescent Society technical and financial support to boost its capacity to deliver programmes and services. From January to September 2008, the ICRC:

  • supported 371 trainees and their 181 trainers through its vocational training programme;

  • supported training sessions for 63 Afghan Red Crescent staff;

  • supported training sessions for 3,807 Afghan Red Crescent first-aid volunteers;

  • supplied 38,009 first-aid kits to 16,645 first-aid volunteers; trained or retrained over 3,000 volunteers and their team leaders;

  • helped organize 10,329 information sessions for 103,292 patients who had consulted Afghan Red Crescent health clinics;

  • completed 246 food-for-work projects that benefited 169,567 families.

The ICRC partially supports the Afghan Red Crescent’s mine-risk education programme, which aims to prevent injuries and deaths f rom mines and explosive remnants of war. Between January and September 2008, the mine action teams held 10,130 mine-risk education sessions in 3,035 locations, for over 80,000 adults and 146,500 children.

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