Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May 2016, 11:51 GMT

Afghanistan: untenable situation for civilians

Publisher International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
Publication Date 15 March 2011
Cite as International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Afghanistan: untenable situation for civilians, 15 March 2011, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Armed opposition suicide bombings in public places where civilians congregate, roads sown with improvised explosive devices and civilian casualties as a result of operations carried out by international military forces that have gone wrong, have all added to the sufferings of people who want nothing more than to be able to go about their daily lives in safety.

"People tell us that they are caught in the middle of the conflict and they don't know which way to turn," explained the ICRC's head of delegation, Reto Stocker. "It is an untenable situation. Civilians must be protected from harm as much as possible, not become victims of the fighting."

The worsening security also means that people's access to health-care services in remote areas is becoming ever more compromised. In government-run Mirwais Regional Hospital in Kandahar, which is supported by the ICRC, the number of deliveries per month has risen sharply. Although many factors are involved in this phenomenon, one of them is almost certainly the dangerous conditions on the ground in areas where conflict is ongoing. In some places local health clinics are closed, doctors and nurses have fled, and village roads are blocked by checkpoints or fighting. Women about to give birth are therefore having to make the long journey to Kandahar if they need medical help.

Spring is also the time of year when measles epidemics reach a peak. It is essential, therefore, that countrywide vaccination campaigns be allowed to go ahead without hindrance.

One of the ICRC's major preoccupations over the past two months has been how to remain fully operational despite the poor security conditions. "We need to remain close to the people if we are going to be able to do our work," said Mr Stocker. "So we are having to adapt our approach - this means working more and more through our local partners in the Afghan Red Crescent Society, and others who are living in the remote areas that we cannot physically reach. We are also talking to the armed opposition, to the international military forces, and to all others involved in the conflict, as we always do."

Visiting places of detention and restoring family links

The ICRC regularly visits places of detention run by nations contributing to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), by US forces and by the Afghan authorities. The aim is to monitor the conditions of detention and the treatment of detainees. The ICRC also helps family members separated by conflict to stay in touch with one another, and endeavours to trace missing relatives. During January and February, ICRC staff:

  • carried out 27 visits to 22 places of detention;
  • monitored the cases of 361 detainees, visiting 52 of them for the first time;
  • paid the transport costs for six ex-detainees to return to their home villages;
  • collected 1,605, and distributed 1,988, Red Cross messages, mostly between detainees and their families, with the help of the Afghan Red Crescent;
  • facilitated 835 video telephone calls between families and relatives held in the US-run Parwan detention facility at Bagram airfield;
  • provided transportation to enable the families of 174 detainees held in the Parwan facility to visit their relatives in person.

Providing health care

The ICRC provides medicines and medical support to Sheberghan Hospital in the north and Mirwais Regional Hospital in the south, both of which are run by the Ministry of Public Health. Twenty-three expatriate doctors, nurses and administrative personnel are assigned to support the 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-affected areas. It also supports three health clinics in the south and east with drugs and non-medical items on a monthly basis. In addition, the ICRC runs four first-aid posts, one in the west and three in the south.

During January and February, Mirwais and Sheberghan hospitals admitted over 6,600 inpatients and 36,600 outpatients between them. More than 2,050 surgical operations were performed in the two hospitals. In addition, during the same period, the ICRC:

  • distributed kits to the front lines to treat people injured in the fighting;
  • provided first-aid training for 61 weapon bearers and others.

Providing limb-fitting and physical rehabilitation services

The ICRC has been providing rehabilitation for amputees and others with disabilities for over 20 years. It supports the social reintegration of disabled people, ranging from landmine victims to those with a motor impairment. It runs seven prosthetic/orthotic centres plus a home-care service offering medical, economic and social support for patients with spinal cord injuries. During January and February, the seven ICRC centres:

  • registered over 1,070 new patients, including 189 amputees;
  • assisted some 11,250 patients;
  • fitted over 2,270 prostheses and orthotic devices;
  • held some 31,600 physiotherapy sessions;
  • granted micro-credit loans to over 120 patients to help them start small business ventures;
  • provided vocational training for 250 patients, 42 of whom completed their training;
  • conducted some 1,100 home visits to patients with spinal cord injuries.

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 the conflict or by natural disaster. During January and February, the ICRC:

  • distributed nearly 363 metric tonnes of food for 2,900 participants in food-for-work projects;
  • distributed one-month food rations and essential household items to over 3,630 people displaced by the conflict or natural disaster in 10 provinces;
  • constructed poultry shelters and started the installation of hatchery units in 12 communities in the north which will benefit 240 families. This project is conducted by women to help them earn a livelihood for their families;
  • provided farmers with tools to improve the collection of saffron.

Improving water and sanitation services

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

  • worked on urban projects that will supply water for nearly 140,000 people in Jalalabad, Laghman, Kandahar and Kunduz;
  • worked on rural projects to provide safe water for nearly 7,000 people in Herat, Jalalabad and Laghman provinces;
  • carried out hygiene-promotion sessions for some 13,500 people in Herat, Farah, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Balkh (Mazar);
  • continued to improve the water supply and sanitary conditions for nearly 500 detainees in three provincial prisons;
  • continued renovation work at Mirwais Hospital in Kandahar.

Promoting compliance with 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 January and February, ICRC staff:

  • gave presentations on international humanitarian law that were attended by over 150 people;
  • held a three-day training course on international humanitarian law for 42 members of the Afghan national police and national army;
  • held briefings for community elders, members of religious circles, ICRC aid recipients and members of the Afghan Red Crescent that were attended by over 760 people.

Working in partnership with the Afghan Red Crescent Society

The ICRC provides the Afghan Red Crescent with technical and financial assistance to help it deliver services to the community and to implement a range of programmes. During January and February, ICRC staff:

  • supported a two-day training-of-trainers workshop on volunteer management for 17 Afghan Red Crescent supervisors and volunteers;
  • worked closely with Afghan Red Crescent volunteers on the distribution of food and seed (see above).

Afghanistan is the ICRC's biggest operation worldwide. The organization has 148 international and over 1,640 national staff based in its main delegation in Kabul and in five sub-delegations and nine offices countrywide. In addition, it operates seven prosthetic/orthotic centres.

For further information, please contact:
Christian Cardon, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 26 or +41 79 251 93 02
Jessica Barry, ICRC Kabul, tel: +93700 282 719

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