The Socio-political Situation
Years of active conflict have rendered Afghan governance structures fragile, particularly at the provincial and district level. The Government continues to struggle to deliver basic public services, implement the rule of law and guarantee internal security. Alleged fraud and widespread corruption in the past year have undermined international confidence in the Government and led to the suspension of Afghanistan’s accreditation by the International Monetary Fund, pending the outcome of an internationally supervised audit. This suspension halted funding from a number of critical donors to the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), which is the main vehicle for the payment of public servants and the main source of funding for reconstruction and development projects.
Afghanistan’s political and security environment remains tenuous. To facilitate peace talks between the Government and armed opposition groups, the UN Security Council removed 10 Taliban leaders from its terrorist list in 2011. Outreach efforts by the Government-supported High Peace Council have been undermined by the threat of or reality of violence in many parts of the country. This culminated in the September 2011 assassination of former President Rabbani, Chairman of the High Peace Council, effectively halting the peace process.
Throughout 2011, ISAF continued counter-insurgency and stabilization operations inside Afghanistan, seeking to contain armed opposition groups, particularly the Al-Qaida and Haqqani networks. However, in mid-2011 the United States and several other troop-contributing nations announced they would begin a drawdown of ISAF, with a view to complete withdrawal by 2014. The prevailing ISAF assessment is that current security conditions are conducive to Afghan forces assuming primacy in some areas. This assessment continues to be challenged by a series of attacks on Government installations, assassinations, and high-profile attacks against prominent international facilities in the centre of Kabul. Insurgent groups have continued to expand their presence and demonstrate their reach across the country in 2011 and in areas previously considered stable. The increase in security incidents has affected civilians, and the UN and NGO community.
The ongoing military transition is expected to negatively affect the humanitarian and development situation in Afghanistan between now and 2014. The anticipated socio-economic shock associated with the ISAF’s withdrawal makes the sustainability of Afghan public expenditure a source of concern. With 71 per cent of GDP currently funded by external assistance, Afghanistan has one of the highest dependency ratios in the world. The country is expected to have little economic generation capacity by 2014, with the exception of uncertain mineral resources and an illegal narcotics trade. It is anticipated to revert to low-income-country status in the coming years. This is likely to cause considerable unrest and instability and deepen existing vulnerabilities.
The UN has been present in Afghanistan for 40 years. Today there are 28 UN agencies, funds and programmes operating in the country alongside the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). It is estimated that more than 3,000 local organizations are engaged in various forms of development assistance and 190 NGOs registered with the Afghanistan NGO Coordinating Bureau. A comprehensive review of the UN mandate in Afghanistan is scheduled for late 2011.
THE HUMANITARIAN SITUATION
Key humanitarian indicators have steadily deteriorated in Afghanistan in recent years as a result of protracted conflict, recurrent environmental hazards and a combination of under-development and development failure.
In 2011, the conflict continued to expand and intensify across the country, giving rise to increasing civilian casualties, population displacement, disruption of basic services and delays in humanitarian and development projects. As of August 2011, an estimated 500,000 people had been displaced from their homes, with 130,000 displaced during the first half of 2011. A further 4 million Afghan refugees continue to reside in Iran and Pakistan. An estimated 4.5 million refugees have returned, many of whom require assistance to re-establish their lives and livelihoods.
The failure to closely link the work of humanitarian and development actors in Afghanistan has resulted in persistent challenges associated with recurrent environmental hazards. Limited snow and rainfall during the past winter and spring caused a slow-onset drought, which affected the food security of people in 14 provinces in 2011. This is the eighth drought in 11 years, indicating the critical importance of implementing not just short-term humanitarian relief, but also longer-term resilience-building measures.
The Humanitarian Strategy
In 2012 and 2013, all levels of humanitarian leadership will advocate an approach to the military transition that ensures immediate humanitarian needs continue to be met, and that early recovery and development plans are instituted and implemented on a scale sufficient to compensate for the economic impact of the withdrawal of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), and the loss of economic activity derived from the ISAF presence.
In 2012, humanitarian action in Afghanistan will focus on the following strategic objectives endorsed by the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) in August 2011:
Planning for, and responding to, humanitarian needs and protection concerns arising from the ongoing conflict, particularly regarding the needs of the displaced and those without access to basic assistance.
Providing protection and initial return assistance to IDPs and refugee returnees.
Preparing for, and responding to, humanitarian needs arising from recurrent natural disasters and advocating progress in the implementation of Hyogo Framework priorities.
This represents a shift from previous years, as it excludes the provision of humanitarian assistance to people affected by the consequences of chronic vulnerability and under-development. The humanitarian community will need to better engage with recovery and developmental stakeholders and partners in 2012 and 2013 to ensure that there are no gaps in service delivery.
Given the increasingly challenging security situation, it will be essential for humanitarian actors to act in accordance with humanitarian principles, and to engage in consistent outreach, advocacy and action to build and develop acceptance among local communities and traditional leaders.