Conflict and natural disasters have caused a “serious” and “deteriorating” humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and the aid community must scale up its efforts to meet the needs of vulnerable people, John Holmes, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told IRIN in Kabul.
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Holmes arrived in Afghanistan on 26 June for a four-day visit to get first-hand knowledge of the humanitarian problems there and assess the response capacity.
“It [the humanitarian situation] is serious and I think it is deteriorating. We need to give it more attention and that’s why I am here,” Holmes said.
Afghanistan – the fifth least developed country in the world – is facing multiple humanitarian challenges largely resulting from an intensifying conflict, drought and large-scale refugee repatriation from neighbouring countries.
Humanitarian strategy needed
While the Afghan government and donors are allocating more funding to development and institution-building in the country, Holmes said more resources are needed to respond to the emergency needs of millions of vulnerable people.
“We need to have more of a humanitarian strategy, an action plan, than we had before. That’s very much on the agenda for us and I think that will need to go with more resource mobilisation. We need more resources,” said Holmes, adding that donors “will respond generously” to a “right kind of strategy and a right kind of scaling up of our activities”.
International donors have spent over US$15 billion on rebuilding and humanitarian initiatives in Afghanistan over the past six years. But aid agencies such as Oxfam International have repeatedly said that aid money has not been used effectively and appropriately and as a result the needs of most Afghans had largely remained unmet.
Holmes, who also heads the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that aid agencies are “waking up” to the realities in Afghanistan and some of the humanitarian issues that had been “neglected” for a while after 2001 have regained importance.
“No magic solution”
Photo: Emmanuel Dunseath/IRIN
"There is not a magic solution and while the conflict is going on we have to work around the conflict. We cannot solve the conflict as humanitarians. What we can try to do is to help the victims of it."
However, Holmes acknowledged the hazardous conditions in which aid agencies were trying to operate. Insecurity and attacks on humanitarian actors have been impeding aid agencies’ access to large swathes of the country, denying urgent assistance to thousands of people.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it has suffered 40 attacks on its food aid trucks over the past 18 months in which 1,000 metric tonnes of food, worth $800,000, have been lost.
Consequent delays in aid delivery to vulnerable people across Afghanistan have caused frustration among some communities and aid agencies have been criticised for their inability to respond timely and effectively.
“There is not a magic solution and while the conflict is going on we have to work around the conflict. We cannot solve the conflict as humanitarians. What we can try to do is to help the victims of it,” Holmes said, adding that attacks on WFP aid convoys were a “violation of international humanitarian law”.
But he also stressed the need to engage with opposition groups purely for the purpose of facilitating the delivery of aid to volatile areas. Holmes said the humanitarian community does this in other countries and that it may become necessary in Afghanistan too.
"It's important that where, for example, there are vaccination campaigns which need to be conducted - particularly against polio, but also against other diseases - we are able to negotiate days of peace or days of tranquillity or humanitarian corridors so that those operations can proceed peacefully and without incident," he said.