ICRC, October 3, 2011

Afghanistan: civilians still pay the price of conflict, 10 years on

In addition, because of widespread poverty, many Afghans simply cannot afford the cost of transport to get the sick and wounded to hospital from remote rural areas

Ten years after the start of a new chapter in Afghanistan's 30-year war, Afghans remain caught in the midst of continued armed violence. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), security and health care are the biggest humanitarian problems facing the people of Afghanistan today.

"Despite improvements in the quality of life for certain sectors of the population over the past decade, the security situation in many areas of the country remains alarming," said Jacques de Maio, the ICRC's head of operations for South Asia.

"It is imperative that the victims of this continuing and multi-faceted armed conflict receive protection and assistance," he added. "We are particularly concerned about civilians in the line of fire, families displaced with nothing left, the sick and wounded who cannot obtain health care, and health workers harassed while providing care for a desperate population."

In the midyear report, the U.N. said 1,462 Afghan civilians lost their lives in crossfire between Taliban insurgents and Afghan, U.S. and NATO forces. During the first half of last year, 1,271 Afghan civilians were killed, mostly by roadside bombs.
That U.N. report said airstrikes conducted by the U.S.-led coalition remained the leading cause of civilian deaths. In the first six months of this year, 79 civilian deaths were attributed to air strikes -- up 14 percent from the same period last year, the U.N. report said.
The Associated Press, Oct. 4, 2011

Access to medical care is at a critically low point in conflict-affected areas, with local clinics closed in some places because of fighting, attacks on premises, or intimidation of staff. "Roads are mined or blocked by checkpoints, so that people carrying the sick and wounded to hospital face long delays, sometimes with tragic consequences," said Mr de Maio. In addition, because of widespread poverty, many Afghans simply cannot afford the cost of transport to get the sick and wounded to hospital from remote rural areas.

Many communities in rural areas feel vulnerable as never before. Conflict-related displacement is up over 40 per cent in comparison to last year in parts of the north. "People in many areas, including in the central regions of Wardak and Logar, say they no longer feel safe because they are being intimidated and coerced by all parties into taking sides," added Mr de Maio. "All they actually want to do is to keep out of harm’s way."

Malnutrition has increased in the south over the past year. There are many reasons for this – poor education, lack of security, poverty and poor hygiene, to name but a few – but the ongoing conflict is a contributing factor. Seasonal epidemics such as measles have risen significantly in places where conflict is raging.

As international troops leave, and responsibility for security passes back to the Afghan authorities, the ICRC is monitoring how the Afghan defence and security forces perform their tasks, including those related to detainees. The organization shares its concerns for the civilian population with all parties to the conflict, including the armed opposition, and discusses with them their obligation to respect, and ensure respect for, international humanitarian law.

The ICRC has worked for 25 years in Afghanistan, which is one of its largest operations worldwide. The ICRC remains committed to helping the people in Afghanistan who are most vulnerable. "We will continue our strictly humanitarian work, while remaining independent from all diplomatic and political initiatives and striving to ensure that people receive the assistance they desperately need," said Mr de Maio.

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