At a fragile crossroads:
Afghanistan and the international community must pull together
Returnees from the Jalozai refugee camp in Pakistan
attend a lesson at the UNHCR transit centre in
Jalalabad about the danger of mines. Most will
continue their journey to Nangarhar province,
where they will try and rebuild their lives after years
in exile. UNHCR/M.Maguire
Struggling to overcome years of civil war, destruction, and massive under-development, Afghanistan’s humanitarian and human rights predicament puts it at a fragile crossroads. The international community must redouble efforts to support the Afghan Government and people in this transition period.
With Afghanistan entering its sixth year after the fall of the Taliban and the signing of the Bonn Agreement, 2007 held some promise. Over six million children are enrolled in school – the highest in the history of the country. Infant and maternal mortality continued to drop, and over 80 per cent of the country is now covered by basic health services. Farmers are today meeting 95 per cent of the country's grain needs. Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, created following the 2001 Bonn Agreement, now has nine provincial offices, actively promoting human rights. The commitment of the outside world to work towards Afghanistan’s security is underscored by the fact that 39 countries continue to provide over 40,000 troops to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
But there are signs of strain. Amidst reports that the security situation has improved in parts of the country, incidents of insurgent and terrorist violence, which increased by 20 per cent in 2007 over 2006 figures, have contributed to increased insecurity and decreased access by humanitarian and development workers in at least 78 districts in the country as the delivery of humanitarian assistance has become increasingly dangerous. National and international staff with UN agencies and non-governmental organizations have been attacked or killed, while violence related to insurgency and counter-insurgency operations caused an increase in civilian casualties in 2007 compared to 2006.
Provinces wracked by insurgency saw the closure of hundreds of schools as ongoing attacks and threats put educational attainment at risk. Violence and discrimination against women remains severe and pervasive, with reports of such incidents on the rise. The surge in opium poppy and heroin production, which helps fuel the insurgency, also poses a threat to the emerging nation. Questions remain over whether the money channelled to humanitarian organizations is reaching beneficiaries – and the ability of the government to deliver on political and economic pledges is also being debated. Finally, the apparent tension between some ISAF contributor countries feeds in to the hands of extremists who interpret discourse over mandate and resources as a sign of failing resolve.
The challenge is considerable – Afghanistan is at a critical crossroads. According to the UN’s senior peacekeeping official, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the fledgling democracy’s governmental institutions are “fragile and without capacity,” and despite its commitment and generosity, the international community has been “insufficiently united on key issues of policy.” The Afghan Government and people, and the international community, must tailor their approach to make sure that all concerned pull together in the same direction.
- Afghanistan ranks as the fifth least developed country in the world, with most of its estimated 24.5 million people still in poverty and lacking basic services.
- Humanitarian challenges for 2008 include a huge population of Afghan returnees as well as others internally displaced, food-insecurity, widespread poverty, ongoing violence and recurring natural disasters.
- After the Palestinians, Afghans are the second largest population of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in the world. While an estimated five million Afghans have returned to their place of origin, there are still more than three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran.
- The country is prone to a host of natural and man-made disasters, including drought, floods, heavy snow falls, landslides, and disease outbreaks.
- Increasing attacks by Taliban insurgents and other criminal groups on aid workers have limited access to volatile parts of the country, where needs are greatest, and reduced humanitarian capacity.
- In 2007 Afghanistan produced 8,200 tons of opium (34 per cent more than in 2006), some 93 per cent of the global opiates market. With the exception of 19th century China, which had a population 15 times larger than present-day Afghanistan, no other country in the world has ever produced narcotics on such a deadly scale. The annual income from this drug trade exceeds $3 billion US dollars.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA):
Stephanie Bunker, Spokesperson and Public Information Officer
Tel: +1 917 367 5126
Send an email
USEFUL WEB LINKS:
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), ReliefWeb
UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
World Food Programme (WFP)
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
UN News Centre