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Security still ‘major constraint’ in Afghanistan relief efforts – UN official

Security still ‘major constraint’ in Afghanistan relief efforts – UN official

Lack of security in many parts of strife-torn Afghanistan continues to hinder the efforts of United Nations agencies to deliver vital relief to millions of people affected by a harsh winter and rising food prices, a senior official with the world body’s mission there said.

“The security is still a major constraint,” Charlie Higgins of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) told journalists in Kabul today, while adding that it is not uniform across the country.

“In some parts of the country where you might expect that the security situation is quite good there are some problems and in some other parts of the country where you might expect that the security situation is quite bad you can still do things,” said Mr. Higgins, head of UNAMA’s Humanitarian Affairs Unit.

The unit is responsible for supporting the Government’s efforts in the areas of emergency assistance and disaster management, as well as coordinating the work of UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international military forces, whether they be the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the provincial reconstruction team (PRTs) or the United States-led Operation Enduring Freedom.

Mr. Higgins emphasized that the use of international military in support of humanitarian response should only be a “last resort,” when all other options have been exhausted.

“The problem is that when there is so little capacity available at provincial and district level, it does not take a very large disaster to overwhelm local capacity,” he noted. “Governors are thus too ready to seek the assistance of military actors in their regions, usually the PRTs.”

Unfortunately, this has lead to a squeezing of the “humanitarian space” – the space for agencies to dialogue with all relevant parties, and not just the Government and the aid recipients, and the space in which to conduct aid operations safely.

Admitting that “PRTs do fill what would otherwise be a large gap in terms of aid provision in this country,” he said they are being encouraged to bring in more civilian development experts within their ranks.

“We are also trying to encourage ISAF to totally allow civilian work to go on in areas where the security is conducive to do it so effectively replacing PRTs, whether civilian or more military, by more traditional development actors like NGOs,” he stated.

UN agencies and their partners have been delivering emergency aid to ease the plight of more than 200,000 Afghans suffering under a harsh winter that claimed about 1,000 lives and hundreds of thousands of livestock across the country in January alone.

That same month, the UN and the Afghan Government joined forces to appeal for more than $80 million to help those affected by the rise in food prices, especially that of wheat – a staple in the Afghan diet – which has risen by 70 per cent over the past year.