Afghan civilians displaced by armed conflict in volatile parts of the country have become a “major” humanitarian challenge, the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) told IRIN on 20 November.
Due to access restrictions there are no reliable statistics about the numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Afghanistan, but in a report to the UN Security Council on 28 October the Secretary-General said about 44,000 Afghans were displaced as a result of fighting in the first half of 2007.
“While this country does not have the luxury to prioritise one among several of its humanitarian problems, in general, conflict-affected displacement has become a major humanitarian challenge,” said Fatema Gailani, president of the ARCS.
According to Gailani, thousands of civilians have been displaced in southern, southwestern and southeastern parts of the country because warring parties had allegedly breached international humanitarian law and not paid adequate heed to civilian protection.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says displacement of populations affected by armed conflict and other causes is a major humanitarian issue in the country. However, Salvatore Lombardo, head of the UNHCR in Afghanistan, said it was difficult to determine the magnitude of the problem.
About one million Afghans were displaced internally in 2002-2003 because of conflict, inter-communal tension, drought and food-insecurity, aid agencies say. The government of Afghanistan, backed by UN agencies and other aid organisations, has assisted most IDPs to either return to their original areas or integrate in other communities.
However, there are still over 125,000 individuals considered “protracted IDPs” who reside in several camps across the country.
Efforts to combat aid dependency
Officials in at least three insurgency-affected provinces, namely Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan, estimate about 80,000 people have been displaced by insurgency and counter-insurgency military operations thus far in 2007.
However, Khalid Koser, deputy director of the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, said in a statement on 8 November that the true number of IDPs in Afghanistan was probably closer to 300,000, citing the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
In an effort to avoid a protracted humanitarian emergency and aid-dependency, in March 2006 UN agencies operating in Afghanistan formally ended their aid assistance to IDP camps in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, UNHCR confirmed.
|Afghanistan's IDP residual caseload by district of displacement, September 2007|
Over one year later, however, the humanitarian needs of former IDPs have increased and the situation has been exacerbated by thousands of newly displaced persons, officials in Kandahar and Helmand provinces say.
Shelter, food and medical services are among the urgent needs of almost all displaced families, according to ARCS. Because neither the UN nor the government of Afghanistan support the establishment of new camps - fearing this may encourage other people to leave their homes in search of aid - IDPs have been dispersed in and around urban locations, often living with relatives or in irregular settlements.
In late August a visiting representative of the UN Secretary-General on the rights of IDPs, Kälen Walter, said he was “struck by the complexity of the phenomenon of internal displacement” and the lack of both a national strategy and coordination among various players dealing with population displacement.
Urgent needs not being met
Gailani of ARCS said aid agencies could not meet the most urgent humanitarian needs of many vulnerable displaced families, particularly in conflict-affected areas.
“The Afghan Red Crescent Society does not have adequate resources and capacity to assist all IDPs,” Gailani said, adding that the basic needs of many displaced families had remained unmet.
The UN and some other international organisations say insecurity is impeding their access to many vulnerable people in large parts of the country.
If armed hostilities intensify and spread to different parts of Afghanistan, internal displacement could see a significant increase, warn experts, including UN’s Walter. Such a scenario, warns Gailani, could contribute to a humanitarian crisis.