Afghanistan: Government raps emergency response commission as winter death toll rises
KABUL, 6 February 2008 (IRIN) – The lower house of the Afghan National Assembly has issued a 10-day ultimatum to the national emergency response commission to boost and expand humanitarian assistance to thousands of people affected by extremely cold weather and heavy snow.
“If (government) officials fail to reach and assist affected people within 10 days, we will go for impeachment and a vote of no-confidence,” warned Yunus Qanoni, speaker of the house, at the end of a parliamentary debate on disaster management on 4 February.
The ultimatum applies to government bodies sitting on the commission, whose meetings are also attended by UN agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Latest figures compiled by the Afghanistan National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA) show that over 650 people – mostly children and the elderly – have died since December as a result of sub-zero temperatures, snow and cold-related respiratory diseases.
Members of parliament (MPs) summoned ministers and other high-ranking officials on 3-4 February for questioning after local media outlets criticised the response to the current winter crisis and spiralling food prices.
Tonnes of food and non-food items have been distributed to vulnerable and disaster-affected families in several provinces, but MPs have been critical of relief operations and demanded that officials “do more and better”.
Government bodies, NGOs, UN agencies, NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and many private sector actors have participated in relief activities and distributed relief mostly in an uncoordinated, and often unilateral, manner which, according to ANDMA, has created operational confusion.
“Lack of coordination has been a major problem for us,” said Abdul Matin Edrak, head of ANDMA in Kabul. “We call on UN agencies, NGOs and PRTs to ensure greater and improved coordination with the national emergency response commission.”
The commission, in collaboration with UN agencies, earmarked US$2,500,000 for winter disaster management operations.
Additionally, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) pre-positioned 22,000 metric tonnes of mixed food items in 18 vulnerable provinces. The plan was to distribute the food through food-for-work and/or food-for-education programmes.
Winter lasts until April in many parts of Afghanistan, and officials say needs have outstripped initial preparations and more aid is needed now.
ANDMA and other government departments involved in relief activities say their efforts to manage disasters and provide an adequate humanitarian response have been hindered by poor resources, low capacity and unexpectedly heavy snowfall which has blocked access to many rural communities.
“The level of needs is beyond our capacity,” Edrak of ANDMA told IRIN, adding that his organisation needed comprehensive capacity-building, technical resources and financial support.
A UN disaster assessment and coordination team that visited Afghanistan in July 2006 made 73 recommendations for an urgent “revitalisation and modernisation” of the country’s disaster management capacity. Over 20 months have passed but Afghanistan still has a weak and underdeveloped disaster management body, officials such as Edrak of ANDMA conceded.