Afghanistan: Red Cross Sounds Alarm On Humanitarian 'Emergency'
September 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) this week sounded the alarm on Afghanistan, saying the humanitarian situation in the country continues to deteriorate and has become an "emergency." RFE/RL correspondent Jeremy Bransten interviewed Carla Haddad, deputy spokesperson for the ICRC's Asia and Pacific region, for her assessment.
RFE/RL: Reto Stocker, the head of the ICRC delegation in Kabul, told a news conference in Geneva on September 13 that almost half of Afghanistan is now affected by fighting involving the Taliban, government forces, and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. What has been the impact on civilians and where is the situation most acute?
Carla Haddad: The armed conflict in Afghanistan has in fact continued to intensify throughout 2007, especially in the southern and eastern regions. It is also spreading geographically to the west and north and getting closer to Kabul. So the ICRC is concerned about the situation and especially about the humanitarian impact of the armed conflict on the Afghan people.
RFE/RL: From what you have seen, how has the spreading conflict impacted ordinary people? Are they being displaced? Are key supplies running short?
Haddad: You can see that countrywide, insecurity and instability have affected the daily lives of large segments of the Afghan population. Men, children, women are more and more likely to be either killed, wounded, displaced, or have their dwellings and livelihoods affected. One of the main concerns of the ICRC is also access to the people who are most affected. The security situation makes it very difficult for humanitarian workers to reach remote areas and rural areas where there are needs in terms of medical care, assistance, and support. So the ICRC is concerned about not being able to reach those most affected and is trying its best to do so.
RFE/RL: Has the ICRC’s access to certain regions in Afghanistan been limited due to the conflict?
Haddad: We have to admit that there are certain areas that are off limits because of the security situation. However, we should mention the fact that our privileged partner in Afghanistan is the Afghan Red Crescent Society. And the volunteers of the Afghan Red Crescent, who are present throughout the country, do work in certain areas where we do not have access. So we support the Afghan Red Crescent, in terms of not only financial support, but also in helping them address medical needs in very remote areas, through first aid programs, in order to alleviate the pain and suffering of the people there.
RFE/RL: Would you say that progress on social issues in Afghanistan has been impaired or even reversed lately because of the fighting?
Haddad: We are not facing a development phase in Afghanistan. We are somehow back to an emergency phase, where the most primary and basic needs have to be addressed.
RFE/RL: In launching your appeal, what exactly are you seeking from the international community? Do you need more funds?
Haddad: Afghanistan is one of the less-funded humanitarian operations, compared to other [countries]. So it is important that the international community address this issue, in the sense that we are still in an emergency phase in Afghanistan. And more funding is needed to address basic humanitarian needs, especially in the most conflict-affected areas in the south and the western north, where the conflict is spreading.
RFE/RL: How helpful has the Afghan government been to the ICRC? How far does the central government’s control extend into the countryside?
Haddad: The ICRC is in contact with all parties to the conflict. It nurtures these contacts and discussions. The ICRC cannot work without having security guarantees from all parties to the conflict.
RFE/RL: Does that mean you have been successful in getting security guarantees from the Taliban?
Haddad: If you look at the latest situation, where the ICRC was involved in facilitating discussions between the Korean delegation and the armed opposition regarding the hostage crisis, whereby 21 hostages were held hostage, we can say that these contacts allowed the ICRC to play its neutral, intermediary role. So the ICRC is trying and striving to be in contact with all parties concerned, as it is mandated to do so according to the Geneva Conventions in order to be able to intervene on a humanitarian basis. This is an example where the ICRC was in contact with all those concerned and managed to actually facilitate discussions that led to the release of the Koreans.
However, I have to say we did not participate in the negotiations. We just played a key role in allowing this to happen by providing a neutral venue for the discussions to take place. So this is a concrete example of where the ICRC can intervene as a neutral, independent, intermediary humanitarian organization.
Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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