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Lack of access hampering aid efforts in Afghanistan, UN official warns

7 August 2009 – While much of the current international attention is on the upcoming elections in Afghanistan, there are a number of humanitarian issues still facing the country, a senior United Nations official stressed today, adding that lack of access is a major impediment to aid efforts.

“The main issue that we are confronting right now as the humanitarian community is that we cannot get access to large parts of the country,” Robert Watkins, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, told a news conference in Geneva.

Mr. Watkins, who also serves as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan responsible for relief, recovery and reconstruction, said about 58 per cent of the country has been deemed as medium, to high, to extremely high risk due to security incidents related to the ongoing insurgency.

“That doesn’t mean that we cannot get some kind of access there, but it is extremely difficult,” he said, adding that the UN has increasingly had to turn to third parties to undertake the delivery of aid in hard-to-reach areas.

UN agencies, along with their governmental and non-governmental partners, are trying to assist millions around the country made vulnerable by natural disasters, lack of access to basic social services, increasing food insecurity and the ongoing conflict.

Their efforts have also been hampered by a rise in attacks against aid workers and organizations, with at least four security incidents targeting them in June alone.

The UN and its partners have appealed for $648 million to help meet the needs of the most vulnerable in Afghanistan, where 42 per cent of the population lives on less than $1 per day. Some 68 per cent of the appeal has been funded to date.

The fledgling democracy is gearing up for presidential and provincial council elections, scheduled to be held on 20 August, and Mr. Watkins voiced concern that the “great” humanitarian needs may be overshadowed by the international focus on the upcoming polls.

“We’re seeing so much attention going [to] the elections that I think some of our donors are losing sight of the importance of humanitarian issues which are still very much in the forefront in Afghanistan, which is a very underdeveloped country,” he stated.

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