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AFGHANISTAN: Increasing attacks on aid workers could provoke "humanitarian crisis" - NGOs

KABUL, 22 July 2008 (IRIN) - The increasing number of attacks on aid agencies is reducing their ability to deliver life-saving assistance to vulnerable communities; the consequences are "serious" and could lead to a "humanitarian crisis", aid workers have warned.

The warning comes as millions have been affected by severe drought and high food prices, and are in need of urgent humanitarian aid. Aid agencies said a substantial response was urgently needed.

"If insecurity continues to hamper NGO [non-governmental organisation] access, and needs remain unmet, we worry that the humanitarian situation will deteriorate into a crisis," Anja de Beer, the director of ACBAR, a network of 100 local and international NGOs operating in Afghanistan, told IRIN on 21 July in Kabul.

Beer's concerns were echoed by Matt Waldman, Oxfam's policy and advocacy adviser in Kabul: "Increasing attacks and threats against aid agencies hinder their ability to provide much needed relief, and if this continues it could have serious humanitarian consequences".

Concerns about NGOs' security rose after two French aid workers working for Action contre la Faim (ACF), a French NGO, were abducted by unidentified gunmen in Nili, the capital of Daykundi Province in central Afghanistan, on 18 July.

ACF has temporarily suspended its operations across the country for security reasons, the organisation said in a statement. Up to 130,000 people who were facing risks of acute malnutrition benefited from ACF's relief operations in 2007, it said.

There are no available data on the number of people employed by local and international NGOs in Afghanistan, but it is believed thousands of Afghans and hundreds of international staff are thus engaged.

Attacks not confined to south

Conflict-related violence has reached unprecedented levels in 2008, with at least 700 civilian deaths in the first half of the year alone, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Organisation.

Aid workers have increasingly been targeted by Taliban insurgents, other militants and criminal groups - and the attacks are not confined to the volatile southern provinces but have spread more and more to northern and central areas, the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office (ANSO) said.

Only 12.16 percent of NGO security incidents reportedly took place in the south (in part due to the fact that fewer NGOs operate there) compared to 20.28 in central provinces, including Kabul, and 19.26 percent in the north from 1 January to 15 July, according to ANSO.

Eleven NGO workers have died in over 68 security incidents involving aid agencies in 24 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces so far this year, ANSO said. There has been a sharp rise in the number of attacks on NGOs by criminal gangs - mostly for financial gain, and primarily in the central and northern provinces.

In the south and southeast, aid agencies have been targeted by armed groups "primarily due to the perception that their activities are furthering government of Afghanistan goals", ANSO said.

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Theme(s): (IRIN) Aid Policy, (IRIN) Early Warning

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Copyright © IRIN 2008
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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