Afghanistan Too Dangerous for Aid Workers
- Leaked aid map of Afghanistan reveals expansion of no-go zones
Nick Meo in Kabul
December 5, 2007
Almost half of Afghanistan is now too dangerous for aid workers to
operate in, a leaked UN map seen by The Times shows.
In the past two years most foreign and Afghan staff have withdrawn
from the southern half of the country, abandoning or scaling back
development projects in rural areas and confining themselves to the
cities or the less risky north. The pullback compounds the problems of
the Government in Kabul, which has struggled to extend its authority
to the regions and provinces, which are increasingly lawless or
Development has always been touted as a key factor in Western efforts
to win over Afghans and bolster support for President Karzai but in
the past six years little has been done on the ground in the critical
south and east.
The failure to help ordinary Afghans or to rebuild areas damaged by
fighting in provinces such as Helmand has caused huge resentment and
is exploited by Taleban propaganda.
The unpublished map, acquired by The Times in Kabul, is for UN staff
and aid workers and illustrates risk levels across the nation. It
shows a marked deterioration in security since 2005, when compared
with a similar map from March of that year.
Then only a strip along the Pakistan border and areas of mountainous
Zabul and Uruzgan provinces in the south were too dangerous for aid
workers. Now nearly all the ethnic Pashtun south and east is a no-go
zone categorised as high or extreme risk and there are even pockets in
the north of the country that are becoming dangerous for aid workers.
In the past two years nearly 40 Afghan and several foreign aid workers
have been killed. The threat comes from the resurgent Taleban, which
increasingly targets projects, and from bandits.
The map has emerged after a row in Kabul about just how much of the
country the Taleban now controls.
A report by the Senlis Council, a think-tank, last week claimed that
the rebels have a presence in half the country. An opinion poll
published on Monday found that only 42 per cent of Afghans rate US
efforts positively compared with 68 per cent in 2005, and also
suggested that support for the Taleban was growing.
Brigadier-General Carlos Branco, an ISAF spokesman, insisted yesterday
that the Taleban controls only five out of fifty-nine districts in
southern Afghanistan. But the withdrawal of aid workers is undeniable.
Matt Waldman, the Kabul-based Oxfam policy adviser, said that the
organisation had withdrawn all its staff from southern Afghanistan in
June because of safety fears. He said that the decision had been a
painful one, adding: "Peace in Afghanistan cannot be achieved without
more determined efforts to reduce poverty, and urgent measures must be
taken to enhance aid effectiveness."
Nato has taken on much development work in dangerous areas through
provincial reconstruction teams, in which soldiers build schools or
dig wells as part of a "hearts and minds" programme. Aid professionals
say that much of their work is poor. The other main method of carrying
out development work in the south is through for-profit corporations
whose staff venture out only in armed cars protected by heavily armed
Nic Lee, from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, said: "It is getting
worse. The Taleban are making significant inroads in provincial centres."
A British soldier was killed in an explosion in southern
Afghanistan yesterday. Two other soldiers were injured (Michael Evans
The dead soldier was from 5 Regiment Royal Artillery and he was on a
reconnaissance operation to the north of Sangin in Helmand province
when a roadside bomb exploded.
His next of kin have been informed. He was the 85th soldier to die in
Afghanistan since October 2001 and the 59th to die from enemy action.
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