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Afghanistan: ICRC activities in March 2009

16-04-2009 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 

The security situation in Afghanistan remains extremely volatile. With the promised US military ‘surge’ underway and thousands more troops and civilian advisors in the pipe-line, yet more layers are being added to the already extraordinarily complex political, military and social environment in which the conflict is being waged. As the fighting spreads and intensifies, civilians in particular will be ever more at risk. The ICRC’s primary concern is that civilians should not be harmed, and that the ‘medical mission’ – including the provision of medicines for the war-wounded, first aid services, the retrieval of human remains from the frontlines, and support to hospitals and health facilities – be respected and protected.

Doubts about the presidential election process scheduled for August, and how the election will be conducted, are adding to people's sense of uncertainty and concern about the future.

Unexpected and unseasonably heavy rain during March was universally welcomed by farmers, who can now expect a good harvest for the first time in years. 


Detention visits and '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 monit ors 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 March the ICRC:

  • carried out 25 visits to 22 places of detention holding 5,189 detainees (partial figures);

  • followed up the cases of 864 people after their arrest, including 89 who were visited for the first time;

  • paid the transport costs for 16 ex-detainees to return home;

  • collected over 810 Red Cross messages with the support of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) and distributed over 980.

Families of detainees in Bagram made 251 video telephone calls to their detained relatives. The ICRC provided transport, enabling 51 families visit to Bagram in person.


Promoting international humanitarian law (IHL) 

Reminding parties to a conflict of their obligations under IHL to protect civilians is a fundamental part of the ICRC’s dissemination work worldwide. IHL is also promoted within civil society. During March the organization held:

  • four sessions on IHL for 95 members of the Afghan national police;

  • nine meetings with Afghan military authorities;

  • eight dissemination sessions countrywide for 195 participants, including two sessions for 72 community elders, five sessions for 100 members of religious circles, one session for 120 students.

ICRC-supported Mirwais hospital in Kandahar 

The ICRC supports three hospitals run by the Ministry of Public Health. Fifteen expatriate doctors, nurses and administrators assist and train staff at Mirwais regional hospital in Kandahar. The ICRC runs five first aid posts and provides training, medicines and medical material to treat the wounded. It also provides support to ARCS community-based first aid volunteers, and ten ARCS basic health clinics. During March, the ICRC-supported hospitals in Kandahar, Jalalabad and Sheberghan saw a total of: 4,085 in-patients and 19,909 outpatients. Surgeons in the three hospitals performed a total of 1,724 operations.

In addition the ICRC started supporting the development of the ARCS’s medical logistics capacity, and:

  • donated bandages, iodine, gauze, gloves and other materials to the Istiqlal hospital in Kabul, for the treatment of burn victims;

  • sent medical emergency kits to frontline areas for the treatment of some 160 war-wounded.


Orthopaedic services 

Since 1988, the ICRC has been involved in limb-fitting and rehabilitation activities and the social reintegration of disabled people, including landmine victims and 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 March orthopaedic centre personnel:

  • assisted 570 patients, including 98 amputees;

  • made 1,274 prostheses and orthoses;

  • provided 16,137 physiotherapy treatments to patients;

  • granted micro-credit loans to 69 patients to start their own small business ventures.

In March, 15 of the 224 patients under training in various job skills graduated. Over 1,250 spinal cord injured patients continued receiving assistance through the home care programme. Additionally, some 600 home visits were made to assist patients, and train their families.

  A sick child at the Mirwais hospital.    
Water and habitat 

ICRC water engineers are working closely with the local water authorities on a range of urban and rural programmes. Hygiene promotion sessions are conducted in madrasas, hammams (bath houses) and other public places, as well as with families in their homes. The ICRC water and habitat teams carried out:

  • an urban project to supply water to12,000 people in Heart;

  • hygiene sessions for over 2,571 people from vulnerable communities in urban areas of Herat, Kabul, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar;

  • improvement s to the water supply and sanitation systems in one district and two provincial prisons. A total of 648 detainees will benefit from these programmes;

  • six rural water supply projects in villages in Bamyan, Herat and Mazar provinces to provide safe water for 22,063 beneficiaries

  • some of the planned rehabilitation of Mirwais hospital infrastructure in Kandahar.



Unexpectedly heavy rains over the past month have turned the landscape green, bringing joy to farmers and misery for urban dwellers when sewage canals and water gathering points became waterlogged. During March, the ICRC:

  • distributed emergency assistance comprising 1,153 food kits and 1,068 household kits to 1,153 families displaced by conflict in 12 provinces of the southern, eastern, western and central regions;

  • distributed 2,589 food kits to 2,589 drought-affected families in Dawlat Abad and Shirin Tagab districts of Faryab province; food packet contains rice/wheat flour, beans, sugar, salt and tea;

  • began food distributions to drought-affected communities in the western region.


Cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society 

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 March, this included the delivery of 1,585 first aid kits to 902 ARCS community-based first aid volunteers working in 22 provinces countrywide. The kits contain basic medical and dressing materials to en able first aiders to treat minor injuries and stabilize more seriously injured people before their transfer to hospital.

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