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Afghan Aid Article

Aid agencies do some of the most dangerous work in the world for some of the most vulnerable people in the world. When the last of the Humvees have been loaded on to the last military transport aircraft in Kabul, spare a thought for the aid workers who say on.

There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about the security situation in Afghanistan but very little about the humanitarian situation. Yes, the country is profoundly less safe, especially for women and girls, but it is also one of the world’s poorest countries and likely to become even poorer.

The EU has suspended Development Aid to Afghanistan and will await commitments from the new Government before turning the tap back on. Unaffected however has been the EU’s humanitarian aid. President Ursula von der Leyen announced at the G7 summit this week that humanitarian aid would be increased from 57M to more than 200M for 2021.

Humanitarian aid is life-saving, urgent and usually very basic. In recent times, cash transfers have made up the majority of humanitarian aid although there are also more traditional food baskets, water remediation projects and health programmes.

While there has been some focus on how conditionality can be attached to Development programmes, the humanitarian needs are becoming more acute.

A drought in the spring and early summer in Afghanistan has been compounded by the conflict and of course Covid. The drought has impacted livestock numbers and crops. More than half the population, 18 million, people are already dependent on aid, double the figure from last year. Many are on the move either internally or trying to get to neighbouring countries. Already 3M Afghans are in Pakistan and a further 3M in Iran.

And most shockingly of all, 3M children are at risk of acute malnutrition.

Usually, the UN will set a funding target for individual crises and then seek to raise that funding through individual governments, international institutions and at pledging conferences. This aid will then be funnelled through its agencies including the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and UN-OCHA.

Despite occasional warm words about the humanitarian crisis in the country, the needs identified by the UN are only 38% funded - this is a shortfall of 800M, a fraction of what was spent on security. There are other international appeals, associated with Covid and Climate, making these targets difficult to achieve.

Bearing in mind that Western aid donations make up 42% of Afghan GDP, the decision to suspend aid cannot have been an easy one. But no major donor will finance or support the repression of women.

It is not just the UN that will seek to raise funds for its agencies. There are a large number of International NGOs operating in Afghanistan or in neighbouring countries including Concern Worldwide, the Red Cross and the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Concern has 200 staff in the north west of the country.

There is some public skepticism about these fund-raising drives but they are absolutely necessary.

NGOs adhere to Humanitarian Aid principles including impartiality and neutrality. However, the major issue facing humanitarian agencies now is security for staff.

NGOs do not allow armed protection instead working with local communities to build trust and acceptance. Afghanistan is considered the most dangerous place in the world for aid agencies. Mostly, expatriate employees are kept to a bare minimum.

NGOs will be assessing their organisational risk appetite. Some will be disinclined to stick around while others will stay. In 2020, 108 aid workers were killed in the course of their duties across 41 countries.

Registration as an NGO in Afghanistan will require a fresh look with the change in Government. For the most part, NGOs will be dealing with the same local leaders that were there prior to the Taliban takeover.

Humanitarian organizations must be able to speak to whoever controls territories where populations are in need, so families living in areas under their control can receive humanitarian assistance.

Effecting salary payments to international and local staff is not without its difficulties given the restrictions imposed by international banks arising from anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing legislation.

Local militias will put pressure on NGOs to deliver aid to selected beneficiaries. Negotiating these types of pressures is part of the daily work of aid workers.

So please remember when you next see a request for funding for an aid agency that they are on the front line of the Covid crisis, the climate crisis and, quite literally, in conflicts around the world.

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