Humanitarian agencies call for aid based on Afghans' needs, not the military's

“The military are part of the conflict so they are unable to provide aid without jeopardizing the safety and security of civilians.”
Hashim Mayar
Deputy Director, ACBAR
Published: 2 December 2009

Aid agencies in Afghanistan call donors to meet the humanitarian needs of Afghans, outlined in a recently launched $870 million funding appeal.

As the US prepares to deploy additional troops, the ACBAR coalition representing over 100 Afghan and international aid agencies urged donors to address the need for principled humanitarian assistance independent of political and military goals, ranging from aid for refugees to mobile health services.

The 2010 Humanitarian Action Plan (HAP) maps out a one-year strategy for aid agencies to address lifesaving needs and fill the gaps that the government is unable to meet. Weak institutions, corruption and violence have limited the government's ability to provide for and protect its citizens, including 5.5 million refugees who have returned home and hundreds of thousands displaced by ongoing violence. A recent report by Oxfam International showed that Afghans viewed poverty as one of the main drivers of the conflict.

In 2009 nearly 200 million dollar in health, nutrition, mine action and emergency shelter projects were not funded by donors. The funding shortfalls have led to thousands of flood-affected people without proper shelter for the harsh winter and unable to replant damaged fields.

Alarming levels of child malnutrition

Despite this year's bumper harvest, millions of Afghans do not meet their basic food requirements and child malnutrition is at alarming levels. In November, a joint assessment conducted in a camp for displaced people in Kabul showed that more than one in five children screened were classified as acutely malnourished and had no access to treatment. “Urgent action and effective nutrition surveillance in both urban and rural areas is essential to prevent a crisis and also to ensure that we are better able to respond to the needs of the people at risk” said Shashwat Saraf, head of mission of Action Contre la Faim.

"Donors are not doing enough to meet the needs of Afghans," says Dr. Habibullah Sahak, country director of Ibn Sina, an Afghan health organization. "Health services have somewhat improved but over 200,000 children and 17,000 pregnant women continue to die each year, mostly because they lack basic healthcare, clean water and nutrition."

Aid representatives say that most aid money available for Afghanistan requires working through the government or supporting counterinsurgency operations. "Working with the government is the best approach to sustainable development - if you have stability. With the government coming under attack, it is becoming riskier to be associated with its programs in some areas." said Laurent Saillard, Director of ACBAR.

Too much aid is tied to military operations

Humanitarian groups argue that too much aid goes to where troops are located or is being used as part of the counterinsurgency strategy. "If we are forced to be involved in counterinsurgency activities and work with provincial reconstruction teams and military entities, our acceptance in the communities will be compromised. This is a risk we cannot take and as a result, we have turned down funding opportunities which require working with the military and involvement in counterinsurgency," said Lex Kassenberg, country director for CARE International.

The Pentagon has already doubled aid available to the U.S. military in Afghanistan to $1.2 billion through the Commanders' Emergency Response Program (CERP). USAID is also expected to channel the majority of its funds to support counterinsurgency operations in the south and east. Canada, which has troops in Kandahar, puts half of its funding into the war torn province.

There is an urgent need to balance the aid funds with the military budgets. A conservative assessment shows that aid money coming to the country is less than 10% of the military spending by the troop-contributing nations.

“The military are part of the conflict so they are unable to provide aid without jeopardizing the safety and security of civilians," said Hashim Mayar, Deputy Director of ACBAR. "Aid should only be provided by troops as a last resort to save lives, in accordance with civil-military guidelines endorsed by both NATO and the Pentagon."

Read more

Download the report: The Cost of War: Afghan Experiences of Conflict, 1978 - 2009.

The Cost of War, a moving story in pictures

Oxfam's emergency work in Afghanistan

Notes to Editors

The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan relief (ACBAR) represents over 100 Afghan and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). ACBAR facilitates coordination and information sharing for NGOs, the Afghan government, UN and donors to ensure the efficient and effective use of aid to the Afghan people at both regional and national level. ACBAR also advocates on issues affecting the work of its members in Afghanistan.
The Humanitarian Action Plan is an annual process managed by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), whereby UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) jointly strategize, implement and monitor humanitarian programs. Project proposals are screened and prioritized by technical working groups to be presented to donors. Projects can be submitted throughout the year as new needs arise.