Averting Disaster in Afghanistan and Pakistan: The IRC Responds
Over the past month, the IRC has suspended non-emergency programs in Afghanistan, and is focusing only on life-saving activities.
· Health Services—In refugee settings access to clean water and sanitation facilities is critical for disease prevention and survival. In dozens of settlements for internally displaced Afghans, the IRC is providing water, digging wells and developing other water-supply systems, building sanitation facilities and making sanitation improvements. In Herat, the IRC also operates ambulance services for those needing emergency medical attention. In Mazar, IRC mobile health clinics provide emergency care at camps for the internally displaced.
· Food—In Mazar-i-Sharif, the IRC has been distributing food rations to thousands of displaced families at camps in the region and is running a supplementary feeding program for some 6,000 malnourished children. The IRC is also moving ahead with a food distribution project that aims to encourage the repatriation of families to their villages of origin, by providing them with a three-month food supply. The IRC is making preparations for expanded food distribution in northern and eastern Afghanistan to help Afghan civilians survive the winter months.
· Shelter—As winter approaches, the IRC is making plans for the distribution of tents, and other supplies for makeshift shelter, blankets, and floor padding. In Mazar-i-Sharif the IRC recently constructed an emergency camp for newly displaced families and is making shelter improvements at several other settlements.
· Planning in Turkmenistan—The IRC has dispatched emergency staff to Turkmenistan to set up a base for cross-border deliveries of lifesaving materials into northern and western Afghanistan.
· Sustainable Livelihood Programs—The IRC has implemented a wide range of programs aimed at assisting refugees and displaced Afghans when they return to their communities and discouraging them from becoming displaced again. The IRC intends to distribute seeds and farming tools to assist in long-term food needs – as soon as possible. Other sustainable development projects have included vocational-skills training and income-generation programs, agriculture assistance, irrigation improvements, community and infrastructure development, education programs, health education and primary health care programs. These programs will resume as soon as security conditions allow.Pakistan
Since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan more than two decades ago and the ensuing civil war, more than two million Afghans have sought refuge in Pakistan. Since 1980 they have been receiving support and assistance from the International Rescue Committee. Over the past year, the IRC turned its attention to refugee survival—delivering emergency aid to tens of thousands of Afghan refugees who streamed into border areas to escape violence and the effects of a devastating three-year drought. Today the IRC continues its long-term assistance programs at established refugee settlements, while making preparations for expanded emergency services to assist new arrivals.
· Emergency Programs — The IRC launched emergency programs in Pakistan at the onset of last winter, as thousands of Afghan refugees poured across the border to escape hunger and civil war. The IRC is providing basic necessities, including water and sanitation, at two large squalid refugee camps – New Shamshatoo and New Jalozai, where tens of thousands of refugees have taken shelter under flimsy sheets of plastic. In response to the latest migration of refugees into Pakistan, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, plans to establish smaller camps near the Afghan border to house new arrivals. The IRC will manage two camps in the Northwestern Frontier Province, each expected to shelter 10,000 refugees.
· Education — For nearly two decades, the IRC has been providing primary and secondary education to Afghan refugee children in Pakistan, with an emphasis on classes for girls. We support 37 schools and 54 community-based classes in Peshawar and in the outlying refugee villages throughout the Northwestern Frontier Province. The program includes the training of teachers in all subjects. Teachers are also trained in health education—to pass on health messages on disease prevention and hygiene to refugee mothers.
· Support for Local Aid Groups — The IRC provides support to local aid groups and refugee community organizations implementing projects in the areas of microenterprise, education, vocational training, agriculture and engineering, with an emphasis on under-served areas, minority populations, and women.
· Water Supply — The IRC helped establish and maintains wells and water supply systems in 63 refugee villages throughout the frontier province and helped set up refugee water management committees in each of the villages.
· Health Care—We operate 11 health programs that provide curative and preventive health services to 136,000 Afghan refugees in 12 settlements. The IRC also operates three clinical laboratories, one dental clinic and an emergency obstetrics care center.
· Protection—The program works to protect and advocate for the rights of hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees and displaced Afghans.
Saving Lives—What is Needed Now
Afghanistan has been crippled by more than 20 years of war and a severe three-year drought. More than five million civilians, the vast majority of them women and children, require humanitarian assistance to survive, including more than one million people who are displaced from their homes.
“Afghan families —starving, weak and desperate —have been leaving their homes with meager possessions and heading to places like Kabul and Herat, in search of food,” says Francis Hammond, IRC’s Asia regional director. “Now, facing a U.S. military campaign and the closure of borders by neighboring countries, they don’t know where to go. They’re stranded where they are, in danger of dying from malnutrition and disease, and have little hope of finding humanitarian aid.”
The IRC is urging the development of humanitarian corridors to ensure that lifesaving assistance can reach those who need it most. “Borders need to be opened and safe and secure humanitarian corridors established so that aid organizations like the IRC can effectively provide assistance to the most vulnerable people,” says Hammond. “Afghanistan needs a large-scale international humanitarian campaign and those who deliver humanitarian aid must have unhindered access – in order to deliver structured assistance to all populations in need. That’s what’s going to save lives.”