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Afghan situation worsening, UN relief chief says, urging new approach

29 June 2008 – The humanitarian situation inside Afghanistan is getting worse, with civilian casualties rising and food prices soaring, the United Nations relief chief said today, calling for the international community to revise its assistance plans to the strife-torn country.

John Holmes, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said “a very understandable focus” in recent years on making progress on the political, security, development and reconstruction fronts has led to some humanitarian needs being neglected.

“We need to be more strategic in our approach,” he told reporters in Kabul today at the end of a four-day visit to Afghanistan. “We need to have more capacity on the ground to deal with these humanitarian needs and we need to mobilize more resources from the international community.”

Mr. Holmes said the deteriorating security situation in many parts of Afghanistan was responsible for the worsening humanitarian situation, with aid workers unable to reach some areas because of the fighting and, in some cases, direct attacks on aid convoys.

He added that “a significant portion of the aid and development community” believe that the blurring of lines between the military and the aid delivery provided by the provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) had increased the dangers faced by relief workers.

“I think it is very important that PRTs do not involve themselves in humanitarian assistance unless there is absolutely no other alternative for security reasons. I also think it is very important that the PRTs do not describe what they are generally doing as humanitarian?

“What is extremely important from our point of view – that of the international humanitarian community – is that humanitarian aid is given strictly according to the needs of the people who require help and not in accordance with any political or security agenda, regardless of whose agenda that may be.”

Figures released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) indicate that there have been 698 civilian casualties so far this year, compared to 430 for the same period in 2007.

Nearly two-thirds of the killings this year have been the result of insurgents and other anti-Government groups, with the rest attributable to either the military or international forces.

Mr. Holmes, who is also Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said he would be working closely with the Afghan Government in the next few months to step up the UN's support and to devise a new humanitarian action plan.

A priority must be the global food crisis, he said, with the rising prices hitting Afghans – already suffering from the impact of a local drought and reduced harvest – particularly hard.

But he said other problems, such as the plight of vast numbers of refugees returning from neighbouring Iran and Pakistan and finding it difficult to re-settle in their homeland, must not be neglected either.

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