Geneva / Kabul (ICRC) - "The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is worse now than it was a year ago," said Pierre Krähenbühl, director of operations of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), speaking in Geneva today.
"Civilians suffer horribly from mounting threats to their security, such as increasing numbers of roadside bombs and suicide attacks, and regular aerial bombing raids. They also lack access to basic services. It is incredibly difficult for ordinary Afghans to lead a normal life."
Since 2006 the conflict pitting Afghan and international forces against the armed opposition has significantly intensified in the south and east of the country and is spreading to the north and west. The result has been a growing number of civilian casualties.
In an ever-more polarized context such as Afghanistan, it has become increasingly challenging to carry out humanitarian work outside major cities. The ICRC maintains a structured and transparent dialogue with all parties to the conflict - the Afghan authorities, international forces and the armed opposition - to promote acceptance of and respect for its independent and neutral humanitarian action and to obtain better security guarantees and access to conflict victims throughout the country.
According to Krähenbühl, "there has been a steady deterioration of medical services in Afghanistan's remote areas, where important needs are still unmet. The civilians most in need are also the most difficult to reach."
While development work is crucial to the future of Afghanistan, the persistence of armed conflict means that many civilians remain in dire need of emergency assistance. Against this worrying backdrop, the ICRC and the Afghan Red Crescent Society are stepping up their efforts to protect and assist the most vulnerable, in particular by actively helping local medical facilities to cope with the increasing number of war-wounded in the south and east. In addition, the ICRC is visiting more and more persons detained by the Afghan authorities or international forces in connection with the armed conflict - 2,424 over the past year - in order to ensure that they are being treated humanely and in accordance with international law.
In the south of the country, where armed hostilities regularly occur, the local population is suffering greatly. Thousands of people have fled their homes and are continuing to move in search of safer areas. The general lack of security affects people living in rural and urban areas alike.
"Life here is hardly bearable," said 29-year-old Khateera, whose family of six had to migrate to a relative's house. "We had no way of earning a living, and when my uncle kicked us out of the house we had no shelter. In winter, one of my family died because of the cold."
The fact that 2007 marks the 20th year of the ICRC's uninterrupted presence in Afghanistan is a telling indication of the immense and unending suffering of the Afghan people over decades of successive conflicts.
Read also the interview with Reto Stocker, ICRC's Head of Delegation in Kabul.
For further information, please contact:
Michael O'Brien, ICRC Kabul, tel : +93700 282 719 or +93700 276 465
Carla Haddad, ICRC Geneva, tel : +41 22 730 24 05 or +41 79 217 32 26