UN humanitarian agency reports sharp rise in attacks against aid workers in Afghanistan

16 Sep 2013

UN humanitarian agency reports sharp rise in attacks against aid workers in Afghanistan

KABUL - Afghanistan experienced a sharp rise in attacks against aid workers and health facilities last month, raising fears that humanitarian access might shrink further during the ongoing political and security transitions, according to the United Nations agency responsible for coordinating humanitarian work.

In its August humanitarian bulletin released last week, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) notes that attacks on aid workers are increasing in most parts of the country, with the month of August seeing 25 incidents of violence against humanitarians, including eight deaths.

“The trend is a reflection of increased instability, fragmentation of armed groups and suspicion and hostility towards aid workers,” the bulletin stated. However, it added, the humanitarian community “is committed to staying and delivering assistance” in Afghanistan despite growing risks and losses.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) strongly condemned the abduction and subsequent execution in western Herat province of five workers employed by an aid agency, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), in late August. UNAMA said in a news release that attacks against civilians are prohibited at all times and “may amount to war crimes.”

Afghan female health workers going door-to-door to vaccinate children against polio. Photo: Eric Kanalstein / UNAMA

The killings in Herat, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility, led to the temporary suspension of the IRC’s programmes in seven Afghan provinces.

“This suspension has a clear negative impact on service delivery to refugees and internally displaced persons,” OCHA said in its bulletin.

Humanitarian actors in Afghanistan often note that active hostilities, particularly in rural areas, are hampering civilians’ access to essential basic services, and impeding humanitarians’ access to displaced populations.

To face the shrinking humanitarian access, the OCHA bulletin said, “humanitarians are trying to absorb and adapt to the changes in the context, and to move towards more flexible programming. Humanitarians also endeavour to engage with all parties to the conflict in order to reach all those in need.”

The bulletin reported a rise in violence against health workers and facilities, mainly in the eastern parts of the country. It recorded six incidents in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Laghman, Logar and Kunar and the northern province of Balkh.

“The eastern provinces are among the most unstable and violent battlegrounds in the ongoing conflict,” added the bulletin.

In one incident in Laghman province, an ambulance operated by an aid agency was attacked during a medical evacuation, killing a civilian travelling with two severely injured patients who died before reaching hospital, the bulletin stated. It also noted that in Nangarhar province, parties to the conflict frequently occupy health facilities as a platform to execute combat operations. In Kunar Province, a health clinic was struck by a stray mortar round, requiring substantive repair.

Related links:

- OCHA: August Humanitarian Bulletin - Afghanistan

- UNAMA PRESS STATEMENT: UNAMA strongly condemns the killing of civilian workers

- Nearly 60,000 Afghans internally displaced in the first half of 2013