Global Policy Forum

Humanitarian Work is the Task of Aid Workers,

Integrated Regional Information Networks
November 16, 2006

A leading Afghan NGO body on Thursday called on the United Nations (UN) to give greater support to aid agencies in delivering humanitarian assistance. The call came as foreign soldiers, who are battling the growing insurgency in the country, have become increasingly involved in aid and development work. This has impacted on the impartiality of aid workers, NGOs say.

The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) addressed its concerns to a visiting United Nations Security Council fact-finding team after a number of aid organisations had questioned the growing involvement of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in development and humanitarian work. Some aid groups say ISAF's involvement endangers their work and has made it difficult for local people to differentiate between aid workers and soldiers.

"Aid groups are totally neutral so it is very difficult for them to work together with soldiers in an area as they [soldiers] are not impartial," Mohammad Hashim Mayar, deputy head of ACBAR, said. NGOs want a clearer line between soldiers and aid workers in Afghanistan. "We asked the UN Security Council to ensure NATO forces do what they do best - support the security sector. We asked them to let us do what we do best - deliver aid to the people," Kirsten Zaat, regional protection and advocacy adviser of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) - a member of ACBAR, told IRIN in Kabul.

The 10-nation Security Council delegation arrived in Kabul on Saturday to review the national security situation and other challenges the government of Afghanistan faces five years on from the ouster of Taliban militants in late 2001 by a US-led coalition. The militant group is waging a deadly insurgency against the government and NATO troops, which has claimed lives of some 3,500 people this year alone.

"Aid is more than an act of charity or good will, it's a profession which requires technical expertise and peer review. Troops simply don't have the know how to do relief and development well - just like we don't have the skills to go into battle or keep the peace," Zaat asserted.

Commenting on the concerns voiced by some aid agencies, Kenzo Oshima, head of the Security Council Mission and Japan's Ambassador to the United Nations, said:"What I think we must have at the forefront of our minds is getting the assistance delivered to the people in need, irrespective of whether it is done by civilians or whether it is done by military." "I think what matters at the end is which one does the job most effectively in any given circumstances," Oshima told IRIN.

The 31,500 NATO-led ISAF force stationed in Afghanistan is increasingly involved in launching civilian-military projects, such as the building of bridges and schools or the distribution of aid, in what is a campaign to win hearts and minds against the Taliban insurgents, critics say.

Meanwhile, members of ACBAR have told the UN team that deteriorating security has badly affected their work in the volatile south and east of the country where militants are most active. At least 30 aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan since January 2006, officials say.

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