UN’s Afghanistan humanitarian chief seeks international support to meet growing challenges

3 Sep 2012

UN’s Afghanistan humanitarian chief seeks international support to meet growing challenges

Despite strong international engagement in Afghanistan over the past decade, humanitarian actors working in the country fear that the global focus may be gradually shifting away. Please visit the UNAMA photo site to view related photos

In order to highlight to some of Afghanistan’s key Western partners about how a funding shortfall can seriously impact the lives of millions of Afghans, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the country, Michael Keating, is embarking on a 12-day tour of European countries and the United States starting tomorrow.

“I have three objectives. The first is to draw attention to the evolving landscape in Afghanistan after the series of meetings (on Afghanistan in Chicago and Tokyo among others) that have taken place this year,” said Mr. Keating today in an interview, on the eve of the roadshow. “What that means in terms of the partnership between the Afghans and the international community and the kind of challenges it places for the Afghans, as well as for those in the international community who want to support Afghanistan.”

The second objective is to draw the attention of the international community to the fact that Afghanistan still has “one of the largest numbers of people in need of humanitarian assistance in the world”. And, the third objective is to discuss the role of the UN family in “this changing, rapidly evolving environment”.

The humanitarian situation is getting worse this year. As Mr. Keating put it, it has been “more dramatic” this year than in the past mainly due to the very heavy winter that caused floods all over the country. Drought, floods, avalanches and earthquakes are regular phenomena in Afghanistan.

The country ranks in the bottom 10 per cent of the Human Development Index. More than one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. One in every two children under five is chronically malnourished. To add to that, so far in 2012, about 300 natural disasters have struck the country affecting more than 200,000 people. And, in the past year, up to 600,000 people have been internally displaced, more than any other year since 2001.

“Over half of the kids are stunted. They will not develop physically and mentally and to fully formed human beings. This is a disaster for the future of this country. It’s a country of very young people,” said Mr. Keating in the interview.

The humanitarian community in Afghanistan has been disappointed over the poor response to a UN consolidated appeal called the “CAP” earlier this year for US$ 437 million for humanitarian preparedness and response in the country for 2012. Only 33 per cent, or about US$ 150 million, of the requested amount has been received in the eight months.

“The funding for humanitarian activities has remained stubbornly low,” said Mr. Keating, adding that although he doesn’t foresee any looming humanitarian crisis things can always change dramatically.

He said that two recent meetings – the 8 July international conference on Afghanistan in Tokyo, where 70 countries and international organizations committed US$ 16 billion for Afghanistan’s economic and development sectors through 2015, and a NATO Summit in May in Chicago, where firm commitments were made to support the Afghan security forces – were quite remarkable in terms of defining Afghanistan’s future.

The message from Tokyo to Kabul, said Mr. Keating, is “look, if there is progress on the political front in terms of corruption, elections, strengthening the capacity of the Government to manage resources and deliver results, then we are going to stay with you.”

He said the commitment expressed at Tokyo was something that not many countries in the world had received.

Referring to the coordination of humanitarian assistance in the country, he said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was providing a platform for all humanitarian actors to try and understand the situation better.

He said that the annual the CAP was a “strategic document”. The donors should take funding decisions in connection with this strategy of the humanitarian community of the country, said Mr. Keating.

It doesn’t matter if certain funding goes through some kind of common pot or not as long as the humanitarian actors work together to meet the priority needs, he said. “But, the funding has got to be linked to the strategy and it has got to be recorded so that we know what is happening,”

He said that local people were always the biggest humanitarian actors. But, with the low funding, their capacity to respond was decreasing together with that of the UN system, the Afghan Government as well as NGOs. “If we can get a handle on the need, we can get a handle on the capacity, then we can begin to look at what the gaps are, and what needs to be done to improve the level of coordination, the level of planning, the level of preparedness and the level of response.”

Related articles:

1. Aid agencies warn of serious consequences unless Afghanistan’s growing humanitarian needs are met

2. The Secretary-General's Message on World Humanitarian Day 2012

3. INTERVIEW: Michael Keating, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan - “International support in security sector should be matched by their aid in economic and development fields”

4. The humanitarian community launches its 2012 appeal for Afghanistan for US$437 million