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AFGHANISTAN: Attacks force aid agencies to scale down operations

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  • AFGHANISTAN: Attacks force aid agencies to scale down operations

    AFGHANISTAN: Attacks force aid agencies to scale down operations

    Photo: Abdullah Shaheen/IRIN
    Taliban insurgents have repeatedly attacked aid workers and aid convoys in different parts of Afghanistan

    KABUL, 16 October 2008 (IRIN) - Security incidents involving non-governmental organisations (NGOs) all over Afghanistan have reached unprecedented levels and some aid agencies have been forced to scale down programmes, according to an aid groups’ safety organisation.

    At least 146 security incidents were reported from January to the end of September in which 28 people (five foreign and 23 national staff) were killed and 72 abducted, according to a quarterly report by the Afghanistan NGOs Safety Office (ANSO) (not available on the internet).

    “Throughout July, August and September NGOs have reported the highest incident rates since ANSO records began in 2002,” the report said, pointing out that 71 incidents were reported in the quarter.

    The general conflict in Afghanistan has escalated by “velocity and geography” and attacks have gone up 400 percent over the past 33 months, it said.

    ANSO only monitors and reports on the security of NGOs, but the UN has also warned about deteriorating security and its impact on civilians and aid work.

    Kai Eide, the UN envoy to Afghanistan, on 14 October told the Security Council: “The insurgency now extended to provinces around Kabul; attacks had become more deadly, and there were more attacks against humanitarian targets… the situation was challenging and complex.”

    Scaled down operations

    Insecurity has increasingly diminished operating space for aid work and has impeded service delivery to large and vulnerable swaths of the country, aid workers say.

    Unlike insurgency-related violence which has largely been confined to southern and eastern regions, attacks on NGOs have been reported in 29 of the country’s 34 provinces.

    Up to 50 percent of Afghanistan is inaccessible to UN aid activities, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, reported in September.

    Despite huge security challenges and movement restrictions, no aid organisation has left the country for security reasons, except for the December 2004 withdrawal of Médecins Sans Frontières.

    However, many NGOs “have withdrawn staff and resources from difficult areas”, ANSO director Nic Lee told IRIN.

    Lex Kassenberg, director of CARE International in Kabul, said expat personnel were taking flights to the provinces because roads were insecure.

    “We’ve scaled down the intensity of our programmes in some provinces,” Kassenberg told IRIN, adding that his organisation was very concerned about staff security.

    Over 60 percent of the attacks on NGOs have been perpetrated by opposition groups (Taliban insurgents and fighters loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar), while 33 percent have been committed by armed criminal groups, the ANSO report said.

    Attacks on NGOs have increased because of “the escalation in conflict and the fact that NGOs are often the only organisations present at the village level,” ANSO’s Lee said.

    To mitigate the impact of insecurity, ANSO’s recommendation to NGOs is to demonstrate their independence.

    “ANSO is advising NGOs to prepare for a multi-polar security environment by strongly reinforcing their independence and moving away from political and military actors,” the report said.