Cost of Insecurity in Afghanistan Impedes Humanitarian Work

7-18-09, 9:53 am

Original source: IRIN News

KABUL, 14 July 2009 (IRIN) – Armored vehicles, armed escorts, blast-resistant walls and other security measures have made humanitarian work in Afghanistan more expensive and risky than ever before, say analysts. 

Movement of humanitarian convoys and protection of staff and facilities have also become costly and challenging because of widespread attacks and threats. 

“Due to insecurity in some regions of the country, WFP [the UN World Food Program] has had to take extra measures to ensure the safety of its staff, as well as the safe delivery of its food, and these have related costs,” Susannah Nicol, WFP’s information officer in Kabul, told IRIN. 

In 2008, 30 attacks on WFP food aid convoys were reported, resulting in the loss of 1,200MT of food, valued at US$700,000. So far this year, 12 attacks have been reported with a loss of 42MT of aid, WFP said. 

Attacks on humanitarian convoys – which were uncommon in the past - have increasingly discouraged commercial truck drivers from transporting aid to the volatile south and east of Afghanistan. Drivers who still do the job demand more money, armed escorts and no identifying insignia. 

One private truck driver said he charges 100 percent more than two years ago to carry aid to southern Kandahar Province. 

“Costs to move food to areas considered by the UN as ‘no-go’ areas can be expensive. However, the high [charges] ensure that WFP [aid] gets to its destination,” said Nicol. WFP has more than seven million beneficiaries across the country. 

While large swathes of the country, mostly in the south and east, are no-go zones for most agencies, the increasing use of armoured vehicles, barricaded compounds and restrictions on movement have also had an impact on operations in relatively safe areas, such as Kabul, where many organizations recommend armored vehicles for their staff. 

Dozens of armored vehicles – each costing more than $100,000 – have been imported by international aid organizations over the past few years while customs officials said papers for dozens more were being processed. 

However, some organizations like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) prefer not to use them. 

“Armoured vehicles are both expensive and inconsistent with the nature of our work,” Patrick Hamilton, deputy head of the ICRC delegation, told IRIN, adding that the organization was more inclined to seek security guarantees for its staff and activities through negotiations with warring parties and host communities. 

However, the ICRC’s modus operandi is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for other aid agencies to replicate, specialists say. 

According to Antonio Donini of the Feinstein International Center (FIC), an international research body on humanitarian issues, the social compact between aid workers, local communities and combatants has been rapidly breaking down because of perceptions and widening misunderstandings. 

“The ability of humanitarian agencies to address urgent need is compromised by internal and external factors, i.e., both by the organization and modus operandi of aid agencies on the ground, and by an extremely volatile and dangerous operating environment,” said Donini in a briefing paper in March 2009. 

Insecurity has restricted the ability and willingness of many international aid agencies to send international staff to volatile areas, so some have sought to recruit local residents to run programmes and execute projects. Sending qualified Afghans to insecure provinces has also proven difficult. 

“In many instances positions have been advertised with attractive salaries – higher than other [secure] areas - but people don’t apply for jobs in insecure provinces,” Hashim Mayar, deputy director of ACBAR, an umbrella body of about 100 local and international NGOs operating in Afghanistan, told IRIN. 

“People don’t want to risk their lives by working for NGOs in insecure provinces,” he said. 

Assessment missions to over half the country are being conducted by air because of restrictions on road movements, even in armoured cars, say observers, with additional cost implications. 

“Flights are certainly far more expensive than road missions,” said Mayar. 

Lack of direct access prompts some aid agencies to adopt so-called “remote-control” projects, which make aid action vulnerable to mismanagement and corruption, according to a joint case study by the Overseas Development Institute, Integrity Watch Afghanistan and Humanitarian Policy Group. 

A report by the UN Secretary-General has forecast a bleak year for civilians and aid workers. As insecurity intensifies, aid agencies inevitably review their security procedures and apply appropriate mitigating measures. 

The ICRC says it will continue avoiding armed escorts and demonstrating its impartial credentials and emblem. “We seek security through local acceptance and support,” said Hamilton. 

Others, including Donini, advise aid agencies to negotiate a “humanitarian consensus” with all warring parties and neighbouring countries as the UN did in the 1980 and 1990s. 

“Immediate steps should be taken to build a relationship of trust with all parties to the conflict,” said Donini.