Back to Magazine

A tragic legacy

A 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 the
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.

Jean-François Berger
ICRC editor Red Cross Red Crescent

Kabul, May 1994. The Afghan capital was almost entirely in ruins.


Kabul, October 1990. An ICRC staff member brings news of a prisoner to his family.

Mazar-e-Sharif, January 1996. A mine victim learns to walk again.

Kabul, October 1989. An Afghan Red Crescent first-aid clinic in Kabul.

Pul-i-Charki jail, Kabul, January 1992. ICRC delegates in discussion with officers in charge of a prison, before visiting the prisoners.

Faryab province, May 2006. People deprived of housing and belongings receive assistance from the Afghan Red Crescent and the ICRC.


Contact Us