Central Asia's new plight
Jean-François Berger and Atoussa Khosousi Parsey
Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries on
earth. Since the start of the military raids on 7 October,
demining efforts have stopped and new unexploded ordnance
is piling up. Left:ICRC orthopaedic workshop in Kabul.
Lashkara region: civilians often travel by foot for days
to gain access to humanitarian assistance.
Since the attacks of 11 September in
the United States, all eyes turned to central Asia. On 7 October,
the US-led air strikes began in Afghanistan. Weeks later,
the Taliban began retreating from Kabul and other major cities.
The people of Afghanistan, already devastated by years of
conflict, now require large-scale humanitarian action. Afghanistan's
neighbours have also been affected by the political and social
tensions in the region.
In this atmosphere of insecurity, the world's humanitarian
players are mobilized: the United Nations' specialized agencies
such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
and the World Food Programme, non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
The National Societies of countries bordering Afghanistan
activated their national emergency plans by late September
and helped develop the Movement's response. Since, the International
Federation and the International Committee of the Red Cross
(ICRC) have launched emergency appeals for US$ 60 million
for Afghans and those seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
The Movement's main strategy focuses on the delivery of emergency
relief assistance to Afghans, in anticipation of its notoriously
harsh winter. In order to provide immediate humanitarian services
to Afghans, relief stocks have been placed in Pakistan, Iran,
Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Since the fall of
Kabul on 13 November, the situation has radically changed.
On 14 November, ICRC expatriate staff began returning to Kabul.
Humanitarian assistance continues to be restricted by ongoing
hostilities. In October, four ICRC warehouses in Kabul were
bombed during US-led air strikes. At the same time, looting
of humanitarian relief by the Taliban took place in Kabul
and in Mazar-i-Sharif. At stake is the plight of millions
of Afghans, including hundreds of thousands of internally
displaced people, threatened by famine and by some millions
of anti-personnel land mines which litter the country.
Afghanistan: the epicentre
Devastated by more than 20 years of war and three years of
drought, the fate of the Afghan people hangs in the balance.
The humanitarian challenge within Afghanistan is enormous
and delivery of food, temporary shelter and medical supplies
is vital to alleviate the suffering of millions of civilians.
Also, humanitarian law must be repected, especially when dealing
with prisoners and civilians.
The humanitarian work of the Movement continues through the
Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), the ICRC (supported by
1,000 local staff) and the Federation (including 107 Afghan
workers). The ICRC network delivers medical supplies to Afghanistan's
main surgical hospitals and first-aid posts, distributes food
to Kabul's orphanages, provides orthopaedic care to war amputees,
and conducts maintenance on the water supply and sanitation
system. Jointly with the ICRC, the ARCS staff and volunteers
run an ambulance service in Kabul and in other main cities.
With support from other National Societies and the Federation,
the ARCS continues to operate 48 health clinics.
"The long years of war have so exhausted the Afghans
that their legendary solidarity is now mostly restricted to
the family circle," comments Dr. Alberto Cairo of the
ICRC who has worked in Afghanistan for 12 years.
Thousands of people are now displaced within Afghanistan.
Left: a 6-year-old girl fleeing from the Kokcha front, northern
Afghans are at high risk of starvation. Continuing the international
support for the network of bakers remains essential.
This 11-year-old boy was injured by the constant fighting
between the Taliban and Northern Alliance forces.
Pakistan: the nerve centre
Lying on the southern and eastern flanks of Afghanistan,
Pakistan is the main base for the humanitarian agencies operating
in the region. Since 1979, this country of 136 million people
has hosted more than 2 million Afghan refugees.
In this uncertain environment and with the formidable winter
just around the corner, the Pakistan Red Crescent Society
(PRCS) and the Federation are directing their resources towards
the provision of essential refugee services. The ICRC continues
to organize relief supplies destined for Afghanistan. Flour,
rice, cooking utensils, blankets, tarpaulins, tents and water
sanitation equipment are being sent from Quetta and Peshawar.
The hospitals in these two towns have been given extra stocks
of medical materials while the PRCS is organizing ten health
clinics. The Federation's emergency response units (ERU) are
on standby and ready for immediate action.
Iran: a vital lifeline
Iran has an area of 1,648,000 square kilometres, with a population
of about 69 million. Since the 1980s, Iran has hosted over
2.4 million refugees, mostly from Afghanistan (1.5 million)
and Iraq (600,000). Refugees in Iran have received humanitarian
assistance from various Iranian governmental agencies, NGOs
and the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS).
With more than 600,000 rescue and relief workers, the IRCS
has created and maintains a national disaster response coverage
that permits prompt response to local and provincial calamities.
The IRCS is the designated national relief organization and
mandated to attend to the needs of victims during the first
six weeks of a disaster. But IRCS assistance normally extends
far beyond this period.
The current crisis in central Asia is occurring in the midst
of existing disasters. Iran shares a 890-km border with Afghanistan,
most of it rugged terrain. The bordering provinces have suffered
from a fourth consecutive year of severe drought. In August
2000, the IRCS, with support from the Federation, began an
assistance programme for 100,000 people affected by drought,
most of whom are Afghan refugees. Relief supplies, pre-positioned
in the city of Mashhad, are being sent to eastern Afghanistan.
The transport network in Afghanistan is in dire shape. The
same is true for some of the neighbouring countries, like
here in Tajikistan.
ICRC warehouses near Kabul airport were hit
on 16 and 26 October 2001.
Turkmenistan: desert and rivers
With a population of 4 million, this former Soviet republic
borders the north-western region of Afghanistan, where many
of the internally displaced have sought shelter and in which
lies the town of Mazar-i-Sharif. Prior to the retreat of the
Taliban, Turkmenistan was preparing for a possible influx
of refugees, prompting the Federation and the Red Crescent
Society of Turkmenistan to deploy staff to assess local capacities
to handle new arrivals. The ICRC has established a logistics
base in Turkmenabad in order to deliver assistance to the
north of Afghanistan.
Uzbekistan: between tradition and modernization
With a population of 21 million, the majority of whom are
young and well educated, Uzbekistan is full of promise and
vitality. The country has good infrastructure, notably warehouses,
making it a logistical springboard for launching relief operations
in Afghanistan. The ICRC has opened an office in Termez, a
border town crossed by the Amu Darya River while the Federation
is providing operational and organizational support to the
Red Crescent Society of Uzbekistan.
PRCS workers unloading tents and tarpaulins
(donated by the German Red Cross) at the main warehouse in
Tajikistan: a decade of horror
Since its independence in 1991, Tajikistan has witnessed
some of its darkest hours. Following on the heels of a bitter
civil war, drought has now struck in this poorest of the former
Soviet republics with a population of 5.5 million. The Federation
and the Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan are running programmes
to counter the effects of the drought, while the ICRC transits
its aid through Tajikistan to north-eastern Afghanistan, the
territory controlled by the Northern Alliance. As a disaster
preparedness measure, relief supplies have been positioned
around the country and include medical supplies and sanitation
equipment, i.e. jerrycans, pumps and water-purification chemicals.
Central Asia network
Afghan Red Crescent Society
1,200 employees, 5,900 volunteers, 5 regional branches, 26
Pakistan Red Crescent Society
42,000 members, 300 employees, on going recruitment of 25
new employees, 4 provincial branches.
Red Crescent Society of the Islamic Republic of Iran
2 million members, including 600,000 rescue and relief workers
and 5,000 employees, 277 branches in the country's 28 provinces.
Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan
1,200 members, 124 employees, 5 regional branches and 67 district
Red Crescent Society of Turkmenistan
273,000 members, 75 employees and 166 volunteers, 5 provincial
branches and 56 district branches.
Red Crescent Society of Uzbekistan
214,000 members, 100,000 active volunteers, including 20,000
members of the Youth section and 721 employees, 15 regional
branches, 215 district branches.
Twenty years of continuous conflict has left
its mark on Kabul.
|Faced with the grave
crisis in Afghanistan, the Movement is fully mobilized and determined
to pursue its humanitarian activities. Despite the many practical
difficulties, it is doing everything possible to assist Afghans
caught up in the conflict at the onset of winter.
Jean-François Berger and Atoussa
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