Afghanistan: war-hit civilians face drought risk

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Military operations and bomb attacks continued to kill and injure large numbers of civilians in Afghanistan. The ICRC continued to help health facilities deal with the consequences, providing medicines and helping the wounded rebuild their lives. Efforts to help detainees received a boost when the ICRC visited people in Taliban custody for the first time since 2001.

Latest report on ICRC activities in the field

People are increasingly concerned about the risk of drought, as there has been too little rain and snow for some time now. A drought would affect agricultural production, food prices and the availability of drinking water, making life even harder for Afghans already suffering the consequences of this expanding and intensifying conflict.

During December, ICRC protection teams visited 20 places of detention holding over 5,600 detainees held in connection with the conflict, to assess their conditions of detention and treatment. The organization then shared its findings with the detaining party concerned, on a strictly confidential basis, to ensure humane treatment. That principle of confidentiality has helped it open doors that would otherwise remain closed. For the first time since the conflict started in 2001, the ICRC recently obtained access to detainees in Taliban custody, visiting three members of the Afghan security forces in Badghis province, north-western Afghanistan, to assess their conditions of detention and treatment.

Activities during December 2009

Detention visits 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 families separated by conflict to keep in touch with one another, and responds to requests from families to trace missing relatives.

During December, ICRC protection teams:

followed up on the cases of 156 detainees, visiting 130 of them for the first time;

paid the transport costs for three ex-detainees to return to their villages;

collected over 1,900 Red Cross messages, with the support of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), and distributed over 2,700, most of them being exchanged between detainees and their families;

enabled families of detainees in Bagram Theatre Internment Facility to make 56 video telephone calls to their detained relatives;

enabled 25 families to visit Bagram in person, providing transport for the visits.

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 international humanitarian law (IHL) worldwide. The organization also promotes knowledge of IHL within civil society.

During December, ICRC delegates and national staff held:

a five-day law of armed conflict (LoAC) course for 26 officers of the Afghan National Army and another LoAC course for 38 junior officers;

a presentation on direct participation in hostilities for 90 participants on the COIN Leaders Course at Camp Julian in Kabul;

seven meetings with 11 Afghan National Army officers, commanders from the international forces and legal and training mentors;

nine dissemination sessions for 234 members of civil society, including community elders, members of religious circles and members of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS).


At the request of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), the ICRC donated medical supplies to Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital and JPHH1 Hospital. The organization also provided technical and financial support to ten ARCS-run basic health clinics.

ICRC-supported hospitals run by the MoPH in Kandahar and Shiberghan (Jawzjan province) saw a total of 2,752 inpatients and 17,046 outpatients. Surgeons in the two hospitals performed 893 operations.

In addition:

the eight ICRC first-aid posts in the south and central regions received 480 patients;

two 'war wound' kits are pre-positioned in the Ministry of Public Health in Kabul for emergency use during mass-casualty incidents;

the ICRC provided drugs, plus stationery and other non-medical supplies, to the ten Afghan Red Crescent clinics it is supporting.

Limb-fitting and rehabilitation services

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.

Rehabilitation centre personnel:

registered 525 new patients, of whom 93 were amputees;

assisted a total of 5,595 patients in the six ICRC rehabilitation centres;

made 918 prostheses and orthoses;

ran 13,257 physiotherapy sessions;

granted micro-credit loans to 41 patients to start their own small business ventures;

facilitated the ongoing vocational training of 230 patients, with 15 students graduating in December;

made 684 home visits through the home care programme, which is assisting 1,328 patients with spinal cord injuries and training their families.

Clean water and safe sanitation

ICRC water engineers are working closely with the local water authorities on a range of urban and rural programmes. In addition, the ICRC conducts hygiene promotion sessions in madrasas and detention centres and with families in their homes.

During December, ICRC teams:

completed one urban project and continued work on four others, which between them will bring safe water and improved sanitation to over 41,000 people in the provinces of Herat, Farah, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Kunduz;

carried out hygiene sessions for over 6,700 people from urban communities in Kabul, Herat, Farah, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Balkh (Mazar);

continued to improve water supply and sanitation conditions in nine provincial prisons, for the benefit of over 4,200 detainees;

completed four rural water supply projects and continued to work on five other projects in the provinces of Kabul, Bamyan, Herat, Jalalabad, and Balkh (Mazar) to provide safe water for over 23,400 people;

continued work on renovating Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar.

Food and other essentials

The ICRC distributed 418 food kits containing rice, beans, ghee, sugar, salt and tea, together with 418 non-food kits, to 418 conflict-affected families in six southern, western, and eastern provinces of Afghanistan.

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 December, this included:

supporting 14 training sessions for 280 new community-based first-aid (CBFA) volunteers;

providing 220 first-aid kits to 220 newly-trained ARCS community-based first-aid volunteers and 2,395 first-aid refill kits for 598 CBFA volunteers who had already undergone training;

providing a bicycle for each of 278 CBFA team leaders.

Afghanistan is one of the ICRC's biggest operations worldwide, with 114 delegates and around 1,390 national staff currently based in its main delegation in Kabul and in five sub-delegations and nine offices countrywide.

For further details, please contact:

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

Carla Haddad Mardini, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 05 or +41 79 217 32 26