• Putting Afghans First

Putting Afghans First

11 September 2012

UN deputy envoy Michael Keating tells BAAG why the world must continue to help Afghanistan.

Michael Keating, the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, is touring Europe and the US to highlight the country's humanitarian needs - and how a funding shortfall could impact the lives of millions of Afghans.

The trip follows a disappointing response to the latest UN appeal for Afghanistan.  Some fear that, as far as donors are concerned, humanitarian issues are currently taking a back seat to the worsening security situation in Afghanistan.

Speaking to BAAG in London (listen to full interview here) Mr Keating said "Afghanistan has one of the biggest humanitarian problems in the world.  I just think they're not getting the attention they deserve.  The attention tends to go to the more military issues, the security issues and to political shenanigans, and the humanitarian story gets lost."

The statistics, he said, speak for themselves.

More than half a million Afghans are internally displaced, millions more are refugees.  One third of Afghans live below the poverty line.  Fifty five per cent of children under the age of five are stunted.  Large numbers of people have been affected by natural disasters like floods and avalanches.

Mr Keating's job is to ensure that these needs are met, amid fears that donor funding for Afghanistan will drop dramatically after foreign forces leave in 2014.

Asked whether he shared those fears, he said "It is a threat - but the omens are much better than most people think." 

Those good omens include money pledged for Afghanistan's security forces at the NATO Summit in Chicago earlier this year - and the billions pledged at July's Tokyo conference for economic development and governance between now and 2015. 

But Mr Keating also warned "The issue is whether those pledges are going to be turned into commitments.  And that depends on a number of things, including the mood in donor countries, but, more importantly, whether the Afghans can move decisively forward in areas such as human rights, corruption, preparing the elections and, frankly, developing the capacity to absorb and spend the money and achieve results."

He admitted that "Corruption is undoubtedly a very big problem", but added "There are ways of protecting your money ... the thing is to develop mechanisms whereby the money can be accounted for, both in terms of results, and in terms of financial integrity."

So how do you try to bring the world's attention back to Afghans' needs?

"It’s not easy.  Because on the one hand, we have responsibility to draw attention to humanitarian needs.  On the other hand, one doesn’t want to be accused of just adding to the doom and gloom about Afghanistan" he said.

But he disagreed with some of the gloomiest predictions about the country's future.  Afghans, he said, have developed remarkable coping strategies during the decades of conflict.

As for those who predict that Afghanistan will descend into civil war after 2014, "I  do think they are wrong.  I think if you adopt a medium to long-term approach to Afghanistan, rather than what’s happening this week or next week, then things are gradually improving."

"Yes, there’s going to be violence.  Yes, there are going to be incidents.  But we’ve come a long way, there’s a long way to go.  And frankly, failure to support the Afghans could be disastrous - disastrous for the people of Afghanistan, disastrous for the neighbours and disastrous for world, for all sorts of reasons."

 Michael Keating is the UN Secretary General's Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator for the country.