Afghanistan: spring floods force thousands in conflict-affected areas to flee

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Heavy flooding in conflict-affected northern and western Afghanistan has forced thousands to flee their homes and seek shelter elsewhere. The ICRC and the Afghan Red Crescent provided emergency aid for over 40,000 people - many of them in dangerous or remote areas - in May and June.

Flash flooding and heavy rains struck thousands of Afghans in conflict-affected areas such as Kunduz, Baghlan and Ghor this spring. The ICRC delivered emergency food rations and other items, including blankets and kitchen utensils, directly into the hands of people affected.

"The challenge is to reach those most in need, no matter who or where they are," said Ann-Marie McCabe, one of the ICRC delegates coordinating the effort. "Many of these provinces are populated by communities surrounded by conflict but with little or no resources and, sadly, nowhere to turn in an emergency."

The ICRC's emergency aid is provided in close cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society. The aim is to distribute it to those who are particularly vulnerable, such as women, children and elderly people facing severe hardship.

Delivering emergency aid in conflict-affected rural provinces, where access is especially difficult because of poor security and road conditions, represents a formidable challenge which, fortunately, can be overcome thanks to good relations with local communities and confidential dialogue with all parties to the conflict.

"The ICRC's confidential dialogue with all sides in the conflict helps ensure that convoys of aid can pass safely," said Pablo Percelsi, who heads an ICRC sub-delegation in northern Afghanistan. "When working in areas like Kunduz, where conflict is ongoing, dialogue enables the ICRC to bring food, medicines, and water and sanitation services directly to the victims."

Between May and June the ICRC supplied emergency food rations and household essentials to nearly 6,300 families - some 44,000 individuals - displaced by conflict or natural disaster in 19 provinces around the country.

ICRC activities during May and June 2010

Distributing food and seed

One of the ICRC's most important activities in Afghanistan consists in distributing aid in cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent to people displaced by armed conflict or natural disaster. During May and June, the ICRC:

  • organized food-for-work projects in which over 1,300 needy people took part;
  • trained 360 farmers to graft almond saplings;
  • distributed 3.6 metric tonnes of sesame seed and over 30 tonnes of fertilizer;
  • provided training for 62 farmers in animal health, reproduction and feeding, while maintaining a de-worming campaign in their communities.
Visiting places of detention and restoring family links

The ICRC regularly visits places of detention run by certain nations contributing to the NATO-commanded International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), US forces and the Afghan authorities. The aim is to monitor conditions of detention and the treatment of detainees. Last year, the ICRC also began visiting people detained by the armed opposition.

The ICRC also helps family members separated by conflict to stay in touch with one another, and endeavours to trace missing relatives with the aim of reuniting families.

During May and June, ICRC staff:

  • carried out 42 visits to 35 places of detention;
  • monitored the cases of 472 detainees, visiting 138 of them for the first time;
  • paid the cost of transportation for 23 ex-detainees to return to their home villages;
  • collected 1,279 Red Cross messages and distributed 1,112, mostly between detainees and their families, with the support of the Afghan Red Crescent;
  • facilitated 263 video telephone calls between families and relatives held in the US-run Parwan detention facility at Bagram airfield;
  • provided transportation and other support to enable the families of 144 detainees held in the Parwan facility to visit their relatives in person.
Promoting international humanitarian law

Reminding parties to a conflict of their obligation to protect civilians is a fundamental part of the ICRC's efforts to promote compliance with international humanitarian law worldwide. The organization also spreads knowledge of international humanitarian law within civil society, government bodies and the armed forces.

During May and June, the ICRC held:

  • information sessions on international humanitarian law for the national police and the national army that were attended by some 870 personnel;
  • briefings for community elders, members of religious circles, ICRC aid recipients, members of the Afghan Red Crescent and weapon bearers, including the armed opposition and Arbaki militias, which were attended by over 3,600 people.
Providing health care

The ICRC provides support for Sheberghan Hospital in the north of the country and Mirwais Regional Hospital in the south, both of which are run by the Ministry of Public Health. Eighteen expatriate doctors, nurses and administrative personnel are assigned to support staff at Mirwais. The ICRC also provides technical and financial support for 10 Afghan Red Crescent clinics and for community-based first-aid volunteers who deliver health care to people in conflict zones. In addition, it runs six first-aid posts.

During May and June, Mirwais and Sheberghan hospitals admitted over 7,300 inpatients and nearly 42,500 outpatients. More than 1,500 surgical operations were performed in the two hospitals. In addition, during the same two-month period, the ICRC:

  • provided 4,370 first-aid kits for Afghan Red Crescent community-based first-aid volunteers in the western part of the country, and 7,680 first-aid refill kits for volunteers in other areas;
  • sponsored first-aid training for 161 new Afghan Red Crescent community-based volunteers working in the central and southern parts of the country, and provided them with first-aid bags;
  • pre-positioned in the Ministry of Public Health a kit for the treatment of 50 field casualties for emergency use.
Limb-fitting and physical rehabilitation

The ICRC has been involved in limb-fitting and rehabilitation activities in Afghanistan for over 20 years. Increasingly, the organization has also been supporting the social reintegration of disabled people, ranging from landmine victims to those with a motor impairment. It runs prosthetic/orthotic centres in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Gulbahar, Faizabad and Jalalabad, plus a home-care service offering medical, economic and social support for patients with spinal cord injuries and their families.

In May and June, the six ICRC centres:

  • registered over 1,300 new patients, including 172 amputees;
  • assisted some 12,800 patients;
  • fitted nearly 2,600 prostheses and orthotic devices;
  • held some 34,000 physiotherapy sessions;
  • granted micro-credit loans to over 100 patients to help them start their own small businesses;
  • provided vocational training for 244 patients, of whom 41 completed their training in May and June;
  • conducted almost 1,400 home visits to patients with spinal cord injuries.
Water and sanitation

ICRC water engineers are working closely with local water boards on urban and rural programmes. The organization promotes hygiene awareness in religious schools and detention centres, and with families in their homes.

During May and June, the ICRC:

  • continued to work on projects that will supply water for over 155,000 people in Herat, Jalalabad, Laghman, Kandahar and Mazar;
  • continued to work on projects to provide safe water for nearly 70,000 people in Bamyan, Herat, Farah, and Kandahar provinces;
  • carried out hygiene-promotion sessions for some 15,400 people in Kabul, Bamyan, Kapisa, Herat, Farah, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar;
  • continued to improve the water supply and sanitary conditions for nearly 1,600 detainees in seven provincial prisons;
  • continued renovation work at Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar.
Afghanistan is the ICRC's biggest operation worldwide. The organization has 140 international and 1,540 national staff based in its main delegation in Kabul and in five sub-delegations and 10 offices countrywide.

For further information, please contact:

Bijan Frederic Farnoudi, ICRC Kabul, tel: +93 700 282 719

Christian Cardon, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 26 or +41 79 251 93 02

Carla Haddad Mardini, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 217 3226