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Afghanistan: homemade bombs and improvised mines kill and maim civilians in south

14-04-2010 Operational Update No 10/04

Homemade bombs and improvised mines continue to pose a major threat to civilians in the south of Afghanistan. In the last few weeks, ICRC medical personnel at Mirwais regional hospital in Kandahar have observed a substantial increase in casualties.

  Mirwais Hospital, Kandahar. Surgeons hard at work on a patient in the operating theatre.    

  Mirwais Hospital, Kandahar. An ICRC doctor examines a baby suffering from pneumonia in the children's ward.    

  Karte Naw District, Kabul. The ICRC physiotherapist in charge of home care for paraplegics examines a patient during a home visit.    

  Herat, Gazergah. Children filling jerrycans at one of the six water points that supply the entire community.    
  Humanitarian situation  

There has been a significant increase in the number of civilians in Helmand and Kandahar provinces injured by bombs and mines. The ICRC-supported Mirwais regional hospital in Kandahar has admitted a growing number of weapon-wounded patients arriving from Helmand province. Most were injured by homemade bombs or improvised mines. The number of patients admitted with such injuries in January and February has gone up by 30 to 40 per cent compared with the same period in 2009. Mirwais hospital treated 51 patients injured by the makeshift weapons in March alone, far above the average number for the month.

Several large explosions rocked the city of Kandahar in the evening of 13 March. At around 9.30 p.m., the ICRC dispatched its surgical team to Mirwais hospital. At around 11.00 p.m., the ICRC responded to a request to send coffins and body bags to the hospital. At least 45 people, mainly civilians, died in the attacks, and more than 60 injured were admitted to Mirwais.

Improvised explosive devices are still preventing a return to normal life in the Marjah area of Helmand province following the major offensive there. Civilians continue to be injured and killed as a result of the widespread use of makeshift mines and bombs.

Injured people are still seeking treatment at the ICRC's first-aid post in Marjah despite the end of major combat operations there. The organization delivered food to over 600 conflict-affected families in Helmand province during March. In addition, together with the Afghan Red Crescent Society, the ICRC continues to monitor the needs of people who could be forced to leave the province because of the conflict.

In other developments, the ICRC has been able to expand opportunities for families in Afghanistan to keep in touch with relatives held at the US-run Parwan detention facility, previously known as Bagram. Since 2007, the organization has been facilitating these contacts either by organizing video telephone calls from its Kabul delegation or by arranging for family visits to the facility. Since late February, the ICRC has also made available video telephone calls from its sub-delegation in Kandahar, making it a lot easier for families in the south of the country to remain in touch with detained relatives.

ICRC activities during February and March 2010 
  Visiting places of detention and restoring family links  

The ICRC regularly visits places of detention run by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, the US forces and the Afghan authorities, where it monitors 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 February and March, ICRC staff:

  • monitored the cases of more than 1,100 detainees, visiting over 270 of them for the first time;

  • paid the cost of transportation for ex-detainees to return to their home villages;

  • collected close to 2,000 Red Cross messages and distributed over 1,400, mostly between detainees and their families, with the support of the Afghan Red Crescent;

  • facilitated over 350 video telephone calls between families and relatives held in the US-run Parwan detention facility at Bagram airfield;

  • provided transportation and made arrangements enabling the families of 118 detainees held in the Parwan facility, and the families of eight individuals held by the Afghan National Defence Forces, to visit their detained relatives in person.

  Health care  

The ICRC supports two hospitals run by the Ministry of Public Health: Sheberghan in north of the country and Mirwais in Kandahar. Eighteen expatriate doctors, nurses, and administrators assist and train staff at Mirwais regional hospital. The organization also provides technical and financial support for 10 basic health clinics run by the Afghan Red Crescent. In addition, ICRC-supported Afghan Red Crescent volunteers provide local communities with information on safe water, hygiene, birth spacing, immunization and the dangers of mines.

In February, Sheberghan and Mirwais hospitals treated over 2,700 inpatients and more than 17,000 outpatients. Surgeons in the two hospitals performed 890 operations.

In addition, the ICRC:

  • treated over 700 patients at eight ICRC first-aid posts in the southern and central regions;

  • provided two kits containing materials for the treatment of war-wounded patients to the Ministry of Public Health in Kabul for emergency use during mass-casualty incidents;

  • provided drugs and various non-medical supplies for 10 Afghan Red Crescent clinics.

  Limb-fitting and physical 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 pros thetic/orthotic centres in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Gulbahar, Faizabad and Jalalabad, and a home-care service offering medical, economic and social support for patients with spinal cord injuries and their families.

From February to March, the six ICRC centres:

  • registered over 800 new patients, 116 of whom were amputees;

  • assisted over 10,000 patients;

  • fitted nearly 2,000 prostheses and orthoses;

  • held over 30,000 physiotherapy sessions;

  • granted micro-credit loans to patients to start their own small business ventures and provided vocational training for patients;

  • conducted 1,300 home visits under a programme providing home care for patients with spinal cord injuries and training for their families.

  Water and sanitation  

ICRC water engineers are working closely with local water boards on a range of urban and rural programmes. In addition, the ICRC promotes hygiene in madrasas (religious schools), in detention centres, and with families in their homes.

Between February and March, the ICRC:

  • continued to work on projects aiming to supply water for over 70,000 people in Herat, Jalalabad, and Kandahar;

  • held hygiene-promotion sessions for over 15,000 people in the cities of Kabul, Herat, Farah, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Balkh (Mazar);

  • worked to improve water supply and sanitary conditions for more than 2,000 inmates in three provincial prisons;

  • carried out work to provide safe water for nearly 66,000 people in the provinces of Farah, Jalalabad, and Kandahar;

  • continued renovation work at Mirwais hospital in Kandahar.

  Food and other essentials  

The ICRC distributed food kits containing rice, beans, ghee, sugar, salt and tea to around 10,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) who had fled their homes because of conflict or natural disaster in 11 southern, eastern, western and central provinces. Nearly all were also given other aid. In addition, more than 217 tonnes of food were given to participants food-for-work schemes in nine provinces.

Afghanistan is the ICRC's biggest operation worldwide. The organization has 133 international and over 1,400 national staff based in its main delegation in Kabul and in five sub-delegations and nine offices countrywide.

  For further information, please contact:
  Bijan Frederic Farnoudi, ICRC Kabul, tel: +93 700 282 719
  Simon Schorno, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 2426 or +41 79 251 9302