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AFGHANISTAN: Concerns over emergency health care in Helmand offensive

KABUL, 10 February 2010 (IRIN) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has voiced concern about access to health care for conflict-affected people in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, where a much-publicized offensive by thousands of Afghan and foreign forces is under way.

ICRC said the intensification of conflict could adversely affect the already limited health services in Helmand.

“Our main concern is that civilians or injured fighters needing urgent health care are prevented from accessing it due to checkpoints, road blocks, and the general fear to travel in conflict-affected areas,” Bijan Frederic Farnoudi, ICRC’s communications officer in Kabul, told IRIN on 10 February.

The ICRC delivers life-saving health services to all conflict-affected people, including wounded and sick non-combatants, without discrimination.

“Under international humanitarian law all warring parties, be they Afghan security forces, international military forces or armed opposition, are obliged to ensure swift and unimpeded access to every wounded and sick person, regardless of his/her military, political or ethnic affiliation,” Farnoudi said.

Over 15,000 Afghan, UK and US forces are part of a major military operation which aims to retake Marjah in Nad Ali District, southern Helmand, from Taliban insurgents who have been in control there for the past two years.

In an emailed statement on 10 February, the Taliban vowed they would repel the offensive.

The location of the only first-aid post in Marjah, run by the ICRC, has been communicated to all parties to the conflict, the organization said.

There are hospitals in Helmand’s capital, Lashkargah, which is about 40km from Marjah.

“Health services are already minimal in Afghanistan and in situations of conflict they often worsen and become unreachable even though this is when they are most needed,” said Farnoudi.

Tents for IDPs

Provincial officials say about 300 families have arrived in Lasghkargah from Marjah, and more are still trying to leave the conflict area but are reportedly being hampered by roadside explosive devices.

Many IDPs have been accommodated by relatives and friends, but over 60 families have received tents which they can erect in at least two locations in Lashkargah, Dawood Ahmadi, a provincial spokesman, told IRIN.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it had received reports that 282 families from Nad Ali District have sought refuge in Lashkargah city over the past week.

UNHCR and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said they were closely monitoring the situation in Helmand and were standing by to help IDPs.

“WFP has food in place in Helmand and is ready to respond immediately to needs,” Challiss McDonough, WFP’s spokeswoman in Kabul, told IRIN, adding that, if necessary, additional food aid would be sent to the province quickly.

“UNHCR is striving to verify all reports of displacement and respond in a timely and coordinated manner,” said Nader Farhad, UNHCR’s spokesman. The organization had already pre-positioned non-food aid items for up to 3,000 conflict-affected families in Helmand, he said.

UN agencies do not have a presence in Helmand for security reasons but implement aid projects through local government bodies and NGOs.

The ICRC said that, in collaboration with the Afghan Red Crescent Society, it had been assisting IDPs in Helmand for several years and would continue to do so.

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Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition

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Copyright © IRIN 2010
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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