Humanitarian space must be regained - UNAMA

UN agencies and international humanitarian organisations in Afghanistan face “much tighter security restrictions” than before while the needs of Afghan people have “risen”, a senior UN official in Kabul said on 17 December.

“This is the inevitable consequence of a worsening security situation,” Charlie Heggins, an official with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), told reporters in Kabul.

Increasingly affected by insurgency-related violence and insecurity, Afghanistan’s “squeezing humanitarian space” has experienced over 130 “serious security incidents” involving humanitarian actors in which at least 15 aid workers (11 Afghans and four internationals) have lost their lives over the past year, said Heggins, who heads UNAMA’s humanitarian unit.

Security restrictions have impeded UN agencies’ access to more than 77 districts in the southern, eastern and southeastern parts of the country since the beginning of 2007.

Humanitarian access restrictions have also adversely affected the living conditions of millions of vulnerable Afghans who are in need of assistance, UNAMA said.

To overcome the growing challenge of shrinking humanitarian space, aid agencies should uphold and re-demonstrate the principles of neutrality and impartiality, Heggins said.

All sides to the conflict must also ensure a “free space” for independent humanitarian action, Heggins said, adding: “We need to regain the space that humanitarian action needs, in order for agencies to deliver fundamental life-saving services to the population”.

Successful pre-positioning of aid

Despite movement restrictions, UN agencies have been successful in pre-positioning food and non-food relief items across 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, UNAMA said.

UN officials said that of the planned 22,000-plus metric tonnes (mt) of mixed food aid and non-food items for high elevation areas, where heavy snow and rainfall block roads during winter, up to 90 percent of the aid had already been delivered and stocked in different locations across the country.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) on 25 November resumed deliveries through a dangerous intersection in southern Afghanistan, and despatched 254 mt of food aid to Herat Province, western Afghanistan.

In June 2007 WFP had been forced to suspend deliveries in the area following increased attacks on its food convoys. Unidentified gunmen torched a truck hired by WFP and looted its 15,000 mt of fortified biscuits in the second week of December, UNAMA confirmed.

According to UNAMA, over four million needy Afghans have received humanitarian relief - mostly food aid, in 2007.