Global perspective Human stories

Taliban seal off UN offices in Afghanistan, disrupting aid efforts

Taliban seal off UN offices in Afghanistan, disrupting aid efforts

The Taliban authorities have sealed off United Nations offices in Afghanistan, causing the disruption - and in some cases stoppage - of aid activities in some parts of the war-torn and drought-stricken country, UN officials said today.

According to Stephanie Bunker, a spokesperson for the Islamabad-based UN Coordinator for Afghanistan, Taliban authorities locked UN offices in Kabul on Friday, sealing all communications equipment. "Over the weekend, similar actions were taken in some other locations inside the country," she said, noting that the UN had previously maintained 24-hour contact with its offices in Afghanistan.

"It is possible that any attempt to communicate with the outside world could put staff at risk of their lives," said Ms. Bunker.

In a final communication to workers sent out on Friday, the UN Coordinator advised them to comply with the Taliban directive and cease communication "entirely and immediately" both within and outside of Afghanistan. According to Ms. Bunker, while some UN humanitarian aid activities continued in locations without communications, many UN efforts had been disrupted or had ceased entirely.

In another development over the weekend, local authorities took over the UN's offices in Kandahar. "Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that more national staff have decided to stop working and/or leave their duty stations, further diminishing the UN's already low capacity to operate," Ms. Bunker noted.

The spokesperson expressed particular concern that de-mining activities inside the country could be interrupted. "Afghanistan probably has the most serious landmine and unexploded bomb problem of any country in the world," she said. "As fear of dramatically escalating armed conflict increases within Afghanistan, we have seen the beginnings of mass migrations of the population, which significantly increases the likelihood of more mine- and bomb-related injuries."

The Director of the UN Information Centre in Islamabad, Eric Falt, told the press that "the UN systems in Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to brace for what we are afraid could become one of the largest humanitarian operations the United Nations has ever had to take charge of."

UN relief workers in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province are well-prepared, "with high morale and fully conscious of their responsibilities," Mr. Falt said. Staff members of UN aid agencies "are ready to deliver and have a strong sense of their mission," he added.