crossroads for conquest and commerce in the heart of Central
Asia, Afghanistan is no stranger to violence and instability.
Over the years, it has seen the caravans of the Silk Road
and the armies of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and Tamerlane
pass through. More recently, since 1979, the country has been
ravaged by a succession of devastating conflicts.
The population has suffered terribly.
The capital Kabul has been almost totally destroyed, including
most of its infrastructure and industry. Since the fall of
Taliban in 2001, and especially in the past two years, the
conflict has intensified and spread. Civilians have borne
the brunt of the fighting and are subjected daily to the effects
of the violence — suicide attacks, air raids, generalized
insecurity — sometimes compounded by natural disasters
such as floods, drought and earthquakes.
The scale of the needs goes beyond
mere numbers. Well established in the country through its
extensive network of local staff and expatriates, the ICRC
is one of the only humanitarian actors to have maintained
a continuous presence in Afghanistan throughout the conflicts.
On the medical front, surgical and
physical rehabilitation activities and support to health facilities
are top of the list of priorities. Since 1988, the ICRC has
provided limb-fitting and rehabilitation services for physically
disabled people, be they landmine victims or suffering from
a motor deficiency. Once their treatment is complete, they
are offered microcredit assistance and loans to help them
sustain a livelihood and avoid a life of dependence.
The Afghan Red Crescent Society is
a key partner of the ICRC, with some 10,000 volunteers trained
in first aid and health care active in remote areas, notably
in the 16 provinces worst affected by the conflict.
The fighting often causes civilians
to flee their homes. When that happens, the ICRC provides
them with emergency food and material assistance, distributed
with the help of the Afghan Red Crescent.
ICRC delegates regularly visit people
who, for reasons related to conflict or violence, have been
detained by the Afghan authorities or other armed forces,
such as those of the United States and NATO. In addition to
providing protection and material assistance, the ICRC facilitates
contacts between the detainees and their families by means
of Red Cross messages, assisted by the Afghan Red Crescent.
Time passes and the situation gets
steadily worse. For the people of Afghanistan, there seems
to be no end in sight to their suffering. For humanitarian
organizations, security conditions are extremely dangerous.
The ICRC’s greatest challenge in this environment is
to gain acceptance by all the parties to the conflict as a
neutral and independent humanitarian actor whose sole aim
is to protect and assist the victims of conflict.
ICRC editor Red Cross Red Crescent