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Afghanistan: caring for civilians caught up in conflict

12-08-2009 Operational Update

Afghanistan is one of the ICRC's biggest operations worldwide, with 119 delegates and 1,314 national staff based at the organization's main delegation in Kabul and in five sub-delegations and eight offices countrywide. This is an update on ICRC activities in the country in July 2009.

 Humanitarian situation  

Local health-care services in front-line villages in the south of Afghanistan are being severely disrupted by the fighting. Patients and their caregivers are increasingly making the long and hazardous journey to Kandahar for treatment. Mirwais regional hospital is admitting more and more children with ailments that would be easily treatable locally if only health posts and clinics were functioning. More patients with severe trauma are also being admitted, and the number of civilians injured by improvised explosive devices is causing alarm.

  ©ICRC/VII/J. Nachtwey/af-e-01473    
  Kabul. ICRC limb-fitting centre.    
    Families are fleeing the fighting not only in the south, but also in the north and east of Afghanistan. Since the start of 2009, ICRC assistance teams, together with volunteers from the Afghan Red Crescent Society, have provided emergency food rations and household items to 1,500 displaced families in Kandahar province, roughly the same number in Badghis province and to some 2,500 families in Helmand.

Civilian casualties – whether caused by armed hostilities, indiscriminate attacks, suicide bombings or improvised explosive devices – are among people's greatest concerns. The latest tactical directive from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) command, makes the protection of the civilian population its highest priority. The armed opposition has also called for civilians to be spared harm in a new code of conduct made public in July.

 Visiting places of detention and restoring family links  

The ICRC visits detention places run by ISAF, 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 July, the ICRC:

  • carried out 11 visits to nine places of detention holding 977 detainees (partial figures);

  • follow ed up the cases of 177 detainees, 122 of whom were visited for the first time;

  • paid local transport costs so that 23 former detainees could return to their home villages;

  • collected 726 Red Cross messages with the support of the Afghan Red Crescent and distributed 702. Most of the messages were exchanged between detainees and their families;

  • temporarily suspended video telephone calls and family visit programmes at Bagram Theater Internment Facility when internees decided not to participate. Nevertheless, it stands ready to resume both services as soon as the internees want them to restart.

 Promoting international humanitarian law  

Reminding parties to a conflict of their obligation to protect civilians is a fundamental part of the ICRC’s work. The organization also endeavours to promote international humanitarian law within civil society. During July, ICRC delegates and national staff held:

  • three sessions on international humanitarian law for 106 Afghan National Army personnel and five sessions for 251 Afghan National Police personnel;

  • eleven briefings with Afghan military authorities, international legal and training mentors, and ISAF commanders;

  • eleven sessions for a total of 205 participants from civil society, including community elders and members of religious circles.


During July, the ICRC-supported hospitals run by the Ministry of Public Health in Kandahar and Shiberghan (Jawzjan province) treated 3,346 inpatients and 19,610 outpatients. Surgeons in the two hospitals performed 1,019 operations. In addition:

  • the seven ICRC first-aid posts in the southern and central regions treated 455 patients;

  • a total of 81 kits containing materials and equipment needed to treat victims of fighting were sent to front-line areas;

  • drugs and other supplies were delivered to the 10 Afghan Red Crescent clinics supported by the ICRC.

 Limb-fitting and rehabilitation  

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 families medical, economic and social support. During July, limb-fitting and rehabilitation personnel:

  • registered 598 new patients, of whom 109 were amputees;

  • assisted a total of 6,578 patients in the six ICRC centres countrywide;

  • made 1,183 prostheses and orthoses;

  • provided 15,757 physiotherapy treatments for patients;

  • granted micro-credit loans to 46 patients to start their own small-business ventures;

  • facilitated the ongoing vocational training of 257 patients, with 64 patients completing their training;

  • made 574 home visits under the home-care programme, which is assisting 1,294 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 programmes, both urban and rural. In addition, the ICRC conducts hygiene promotion sessions in madrasas and detention centres, and with families in their homes. During July, ICRC staff:

  • continued two urban projects to supply water to 14,100 people in Herat and Laghman;

  • carried out hygiene sessions for detainees and guards in detention centres in Kabul, Herat, Farah, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar;

  • completed improvements to water supply and sanitation in two provincial prisons and carried on with similar work in three other provincial prisons, benefiting a total of 1,284 detainees;

  • completed four rural water supply projects and continued to work on eight other projects in Kabul, Bamyan, Herat, Jalalabad, Baghlan and Mazar provinces to provide safe water for 41,300 people;

  • pressed ahead with upgrades to Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar.


The ICRC provides assistance to families displaced or otherwise affected by conflict or natural disaster. During July, the ICRC:

  • distributed 941 food kits (116 metric tonnes) containing rice, beans, ghee, sugar, salt and tea, and 502 household kits containing blankets, tarpaulins and toiletries, to 941 conflict-affected families in seven provinces of southern and central Afghanistan;

  • distributed 640 food kits (79 metric tonnes) and 537 other kits to 1,199 flood-affected families in Balkh, Khost, and Badghis provinces.

 Cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society  

The ICRC provides the Afghan Red Crescent with technical and financial assistance to help it deliver services to the community and to implement a range of programmes. During July, this included:

  • support for a training session organized for five Afghan Red Crescent dissemination/tracing field officers working in Kandahar, Herat, Mazar, Jalalabad and Kabul;

  • providing 3,200 first-aid kits for Afghan Red Crescent community-based first-aid volunteers working in 22 provinces, and conducting six training sessions for 120 new volunteers.

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