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60 percent of Afghanistan Insecure for Aid Workers, UN Says

By Lisa Schlein
Geneva
07 August 2009

The United Nations reports tens-of-thousands of civilians in Afghanistan are missing out on crucial humanitarian assistance because of increased insecurity in the country. UN agencies say they fear security will further deteriorate as the date of the country's presidential and Parliamentary elections nears.

The United Nations says nearly 60 percent of Afghanistan is insecure to a greater or lesser extent, and access in these areas is limited and risky.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan Robert Watkins says UN agencies increasingly have to rely on private Afghan organizations to deliver assistance to people in need.

"But, it puts us in a very awkward position because, if we cannot go there ourselves to see what they are doing, to whom they are distributing and what criteria they are using, how much they are keeping for themselves, how much is getting lost, we start losing control over it," he said. "And, that is a very worrisome thing. The alternative, however, is even worse, which is, if we do not use them, then we definitely know that we are not going to be getting any assistance out there," he added.

The United Nations reports an estimated 235,000 people in Afghanistan are internally displaced and 2.6 million are refugees in nearby countries. It finds that 7.4 million people, or nearly one-third of the population, are short of food.

A recent UN report found the number of civilians killed increased by 24 percent in the first six months of this year compared to the same period in 2008.

Watkins says there also has been an increase in the number and gravity of attacks against international aid organizations. For instance, he says, a UN compound recently was hit by rocket fire, a World Food Program convoy came under attack and non-governmental organizations are frequent victims of armed robbery by criminals.

He says the seriousness of these attacks is hampering humanitarian operations.

"The lack of access is also affecting the ability of the Afghan population to obtain the necessary medical assistance and basic services, which they need, and which they are increasingly not getting," said Watkins. "This is having an impact on their health. It is also reducing our ability to bring other kinds of assistance, such as vaccination campaigns against polio," he said.

In February, the United Nations appealed for nearly $650 million in assistance for Afghanistan. Watkins says 68 percent of the appeal is now covered, but more than half of that money is for food assistance.

As a consequence, he says little money is available to provide crucial assistance in areas of health, shelter, nutrition, education, water and sanitation and hygiene. He says very little money has been given to the non-governmental agencies, which are important in the distribution of this aid. He appeals to the donor community to diversify its aid to these many sectors.



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