With Taliban fighters continuing to gain ground in Afghanistan, the UN Secretary-General is following events “with deep concern” said the UN Spokesperson on Thursday, including the battle for Herat and Kandahar, the country’s second and third largest cities.
“We are particularly concerned about the shift of fighting to urban areas, where the potential for civilian harm is even greater”, Stéphane Dujarric told correspondents at UN Headquarters in New York.
The militant group ruled Afghanistan from 1996, up until the invasion of the country in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It struck a deal with the United States last February, prompting the withdrawal of US and allied forces from the country this summer, as intra-Afghan talks have effectively stalled in the Qatari capital, Doha, that were supposed to deliver a permanent ceasefire.
According to latest news reports, the speedy advance into regional capitals by Taliban fighters has now led the US and the United Kingdom to announce that they will be sending thousands of troops back into Afghanistan to protect and aid civilian evacuations of their own nationals and others, including the drawdown of US Embassy personnel in Kabul.
Secretary-General António Guterres expressed hope that discussions between the Government of Afghanistan, Taliban and regional and international envoys underway in Doha “will restore the pathway to a negotiated settlement to the conflict”, underscoring that the UN “stands ready to contribute to such a settlement”.
Meanwhile, he underscored that the Organization also “remains focused” on assisting the growing number of Afghans in need.
With 18.4 million people already requiring humanitarian assistance, and conflict displacing up to 390,000 people this year alone, humanitarian organizations continue to operate in Afghanistan, the UN spokesperson said.
“I can tell you that many people are arriving in Kabul and other large cities, seeking safety from the conflict and other threats”, he said.
At the same time, inter-agency assessments in the field are zeroing in on displacement, conflict, floods and protection monitoring to assess needs and response requirements.
“The humanitarian community – both the UN and non-governmental organizations – remains committed to helping people in Afghanistan, but the security environment is highly complex and clearly challenging”, Mr. Dujarric explained.
Threats ‘will not stop me’
UN agencies are determined to continue their lifesaving support work in the country, with the sexual and reproductive health agency UNFPA, highlighting its work to bolster women’s services in recent weeks in the city of Kandahar.
Between 2007 and 2017, less than 60 per cent of women were able to secure an antenatal care appointment during pregnancy, and from 2013 to 2018 less than 60 per cent of births there were attended by skilled health personnel.
This has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the intensification in fighting, which has prevented many students from attending school.
UNFPA highlighted the determination of 19-year-old Fariba and her 24 classmates, from different districts of southern Afghanistan, who have doggedly continued their studies virtually, at the Community Midwifery Education (CME) course, in Kandahar City.
“Neither threats of COVID-19 nor conflict will stop me from completing my education”, she said.
The absence of life-saving services contributes to Afghanistan’s maternal mortality ratio, which UNFPA points to as “one of the highest in the world”.
Working with the Public Health Ministry to train midwives through the CME programme, UNFPA is helping to increase services in rural areas and lower preventable maternal and new-born deaths.
More women and children have been injured or killed in the first half of this year, than at any time since records began,according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
In-person classes for the two-year course was first halted by an alarming increase in COVID-19 cases in late May, and today’s escalating hostilities throughout the country are prolonging the closure of on-site CME courses.
Neverthless, top student Fariba remains eager to resume her studies to help women in her village, saying, “I wish to be a successful midwife and serve women and children in my community”.