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AFGHANISTAN: ICRC warns of growing humanitarian emergency

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KABUL, 21 October 2007 (IRIN) – Intensifying armed conflict has restricted independent humanitarian access and has caused a complex humanitarian emergency in huge swathes of already impoverished Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has warned.

“We do observe that large areas in the south, the southeast, the east and also growing parts in the west do see what we would call an emergency situation,” Reto Stocker, head of the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan, told IRIN in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on 21 October.

This “emergency situation” means civilians face continuous insecurity and an absence of basic services, while the capacity of state and humanitarian organisations to promptly address these problems is limited, Stocker said.

Six years after the Taliban regime was ousted by a US-led coalition and the international community vowed to rebuild the war-ravaged country, there is a pressing need for neutral and independent humanitarian intervention to help millions of vulnerable Afghans, aid agencies say.

For its part, the ICRC, which mainly provides assistance for conflict-affected civilians, has approved a 30 percent increase in its budget for Afghanistan in 2008, Stocker said. The organisation currently spends about US$35 million on protection, humanitarian relief and medical assistance in battle-affected areas of the country, which will be increased to over $45 million next year.

Radicalisation of views

The ICRC’s warning comes at a time when the UN has also acknowledged a “considerable” change in the nature of security incidents in Afghanistan.

Contrary to previous wars in Afghanistan, the current armed conflict has had a greater negative impact on independent humanitarian operating space, aid specialists say.

Never before have aid workers been so widely and repeatedly targeted, threatened and restricted by different warring parties during the more than 26 years of armed hostilities in the country, concede aid agencies with extensive experience in Afghanistan.

Aid experts say a radicalisation of views among warring parties; an increased blurring of military and independent humanitarian lines; and limited adaptability to a changing socio-political environment among some aid agencies are some of the main reasons for Afghanistan’s diminishing neutral and impartial humanitarian space.

Attacks on aid workers

Overall insurgency-related violence has increased by up to 30 percent in 2007, causing at least 1,100 civilian casualties, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported on 21 September. []

Intimidation and violence towards humanitarian and development workers in the country has also increased, the report said, stating that from 1 January to 6 August 2007, 41 humanitarian aid convoys were attacked, 69 humanitarian workers working for various local and international agencies were abducted (44 national, 25 international), and 41 aid workers were killed (34 national, seven international).

As a result, the UN considers one third of Afghanistan’s territory ‘inaccessible’ and almost half of the country ‘high abduction risk areas’, making humanitarian access increasingly complex and difficult.

“A classic ICRC relief operation in a rural conflict area would consist of ICRC teams conducting needs assessments, beneficiary identification, aid distribution and a post-distribution assessment,” said the ICRC’s Reto Stocker. “Because of security restrictions most of these steps are today no longer possible for our staff. And even our partner, the Afghan Red Crescent Society with its 20,000-volunteers-strong grassroots network, struggles to deliver basic commodities in certain areas.”

Finding innovative ways to deliver aid

Aid agencies, therefore, have to “find innovative ways” in order to reach vulnerable people and execute their respective humanitarian obligations, Stocker said.

The ICRC seeks to improve accessibility in Afghanistan through regular apolitical dialogue with all warring sides.

This worked in September when a polio immunisation campaign was successfully conducted in volatile southern and south-eastern provinces of the country after the ICRC facilitated direct talks with Taliban insurgents. As a result, the insurgents agreed to support the UN and the Ministry of Public Health’s joint exercise, the ICRC said.

For Mat Waldman of Oxfam, however, it is extremely important to keep humanitarian principles intact when aid organisations approach warring parties for access and safety.

“It is entirely right that all agencies operating here seek to expand their operations to the people who need their assistance, but the important point here is that the aid agencies involved do no compromise the principles of humanitarian assistance: the principles of independence, impartiality, neutrality and humanity,” Waldman said.

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Written by afghandevnews

October 22, 2007 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Aid

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