The need for humanitarian aid will increase in Afghanistan over the next 12 months when more than 130,000 US/NATO troops, backed by tens of thousands of Afghan forces, seek to make military gains against a resurgent Taliban, aid agencies warn.
“My sense is that the tough fighting will continue; indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months,” newly appointed commander of all US/NATO forces Gen David Petraeus told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing on 29 June.
“In the experience of the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross], more troops have led to more fighting which has always left more casualties,” Bijan Fredric Farnoudi, an ICRC spokesman, told IRIN, adding that humanitarian needs would rise as a result.
ICRC’s concerns have been echoed by its local counterpart, the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), and several other NGOs.
Apart from civilian casualties, the fighting will probably also increase the number of displaced people. Up to 320,000 people are internally displaced, with aid workers fearing more families will be forced out of their homes in the coming months.
“Conflict-related displacement and the discontinuation of health and education services are our top concerns,” said Abdul Rahman Kalantary, ARCS’s director of disaster management, adding that the government and domestic aid organizations did not have adequate resources, or the capacity, to respond effectively to all needs arising from intensified conflict.
“No one knows for sure what is going to happen in the coming months and how big the humanitarian consequences could be,” said one NGO worker who preferred anonymity.
Lack of access to conflict-affected areas has long been a major impediment to aid delivery.
“Aid agencies can only play a small role in mitigating the impacts of war and other disasters on vulnerable people. The government must take a lot of responsibility and try to avert the crisis,” said Behman Hares Takwin, governance and policy manager with the NGO ActionAid in Kabul.
The Afghanistan National Disasters Management Authority, which focuses on coordinating relief for victims of natural disasters, said there was no contingency planning for conflict emergencies in the coming months.
The government often relies on foreign aid organizations and UN agencies to provide food and non-food aid in times of crisis.
The UN has also warned counter-insurgency activities could increase over the coming months. UN agencies have evacuated most of their international staff from the southern province of Kandahar, a stronghold of the Taliban, where major anti-Taliban operations are expected to take place this year ahead of a planned withdrawal of US forces starting in July 2011.