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Top five humanitarian needs

A policeman in Kabul
A policeman in Kabul (Obinna Anyadike/IRIN)

Eight years after the overthrow of the Taliban and billions of dollars spent on aid, Afghanistan remains mired in poverty and deeply insecure.

IRIN asked three experts what they considered were the country's top five humanitarian needs. The following comments are from Reto Stoker, head of delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross; Laurent Saillard, director of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief; and Raz Mohammad Dalili, executive director of Sanayee Development Organization, one of the country's oldest NGOs.

Top five: 1

Reto Stoker: “Human security - to be able to get basic services and to move from A to B. Both sides are trying to win hearts and minds, and you hear it said that 80 percent of Afghans are on the fence: the truth is that 80 percent of people are in the ditch, and are trying to resist both sides pulling and pushing. As a farmer you have to be either pro- international forces or pro-Taliban. You may be forced to feed the Taliban at night, while risking being asked by the international forces why you did that the next morning.”

Laurent Saillard: “Access is the biggest challenge - to the population, to information, to independent funding. We need better routing of financing so humanitarian agencies can be protected from being associated with the parties to the conflict. We need needs-based funding without a political agenda; principled assistance regardless of [which part of the country] the beneficiaries are living [in]."

Raz Mohammad Dalili: "The Afghan government doesn’t have a good strategy to bring changes to the lives of Afghans. There is corruption, slow delivery of development, and a perception that some government ministers are working for their own benefit.”

Top five: 2 


Millions of Afghans have been pushed into high-risk food insecurity because of drought, high food prices and conflict, according to aid agencies
Khaled Nahiz/ IRIN
About eight million people out of Afghanistan’s estimated 27 million population have been pushed into high risk food insecurity because of drought, high food prices and conflict
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Government fails to deliver promised winter wheat aid
About eight million people out of Afghanistan’s estimated 27 million population have been pushed into high risk food insecurity because of drought, high food prices and conflict

Photo: Khaled Nahiz/ IRIN
Malnourishment among children is on the rise

RS: “We’re getting more and more malnourished children. They could be treated at the local health centre, or helped [at home] through a little education provided to the mothers. But they come in a very malnourished state, weeks too late. [Because of the insecurity] taxis will only carry them for a very high fare. So many wait and wait until it’s too late, or nearly too late. The number of people dying from the indirect humanitarian consequences [of the fighting] is much higher than those dying as a direct result of the conflict. Security is not just threatened by a roadside bomb or an air strike, it is a much more integrated concept.”

LS: “Dialogue - we need to talk to all parties to the conflict. Only ICRC and MSF [Médecins sans Frontières] have started this. Maybe we need to agree to a code for humanitarian access accepted by all parties to the conflict. An agreement won’t guarantee safety [of humanitarian agencies in the field], but at least it can provide a moral agreement at the political level.”

RMD: “The capacity of ministers: many come from a political, not a development background, they don’t know how to work to bring change. The international coalition has spent a lot of money; if it had been spent on the people, there would have been big changes in Afghanistan. One of the big reasons that the Taliban has followers is because of poverty; as a follower you receive money from the Taliban and you have the opportunity to loot."

Top five: 3

RS: “Humanitarian access feeds into the problem of services. When people are displaced you assess the situation, either provide assistance or protection - for example an intervention with the parties to the conflict so that people can go back home. Currently there is very little understanding of the problem of displacement; no one fully understands the mechanisms causing short- long-term or partial displacement. There is very little information coming out [of the conflict areas] to understand what’s going on. There are no sufficiently clear ideas of the conditions in their home areas, and you cannot put accurate figures on the numbers of people that have been forced to move.”

LS: “Strengthen coordination and information gathering mechanisms: programmes are based on assumptions rather than reliable, measurable indicators. The problem is they can give you a flawed picture and you can end up doing more harm than good.”

RMD: “Community peace building - not political peace building - is needed for Afghanistan. We need peace shuras (traditional councils) in the community, solving conflicts within the communities. This kind of project is very necessary for Afghans who have spent 30 years in war.”

Top five: 4 

Worsening security has impeded the UN's and other aid agencies' access to at least 77 districts in Afghanistan, mostly in the south.

Worsening security has impeded the UN's and other aid agencies' access to at least 77 districts in Afghanistan, mostly in the south...
Monday, April 14, 2008
NATO-led forces, aid agencies agree new modus operandi
Worsening security has impeded the UN's and other aid agencies' access to at least 77 districts in Afghanistan, mostly in the south...

Photo: Ebadi/WFP
Access to vulnerable populations is another big challenge

RS: “Everyone needs to admit that there is an intense and widespread conflict with very significant direct and even more so indirect humanitarian consequences. The role and work of humanitarian actors, particularly those that have stuck to fundamental principles, needs to be respected; all parties to the conflict must be reminded of their obligation under international humanitarian law and human rights law; and ICRC's specific role as a neutral and independent humanitarian organization acting as a neutral intermediary needs to be respected.”

LS: “We need a major reconciliation process - a nationwide consultation to determine Afghan identity. Do we have common elements, can we try and see what unites people rather than divides them? More and more Afghans are being identified as Taliban, as terrorists. What impact does that have on living together, for building rather than destroying? What does it mean to be an Afghan after 30 years of war?”

RMD: “Invest more money in the basic needs of health and sanitation; we need good programmes for poverty reduction. For the cost of keeping one foreign soldier [out of a deployment of over 100,000] in Afghanistan we could [employ] over 40 Afghans. If $500 came to each family [through a breadwinner] nobody will join the Taliban.”

Top five: 5

RS: “Give young people a job and a salary - something to be proud of.”

LS: “Protection is the other big issue: there is no proper distinction being made between combatants and non-combatants."

RMD: “We need to bring pressure on the government to change their system, to reduce bureaucracy, to reduce corruption, to select good ministers and the ministers should be responsible to the people."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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