• UN: more humanitarian aid needed for Afghanistan

UN: more humanitarian aid needed for Afghanistan

16 January 2013

The UN’s new Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, Mark Bowden, is calling for more international aid to be dedicated to meet growing humanitarian needs in 2013.

Speaking to BAAG in London, he said ways had to be found to provide basic services such as health and education to Afghans most in need.

"Health, I think, is a particular problem and has been very badly funded" he said.  

"The second area that is of concern for me is the issue of displacement.  You have an increasing number of internally displaced people living in very poor conditions without access to basic services.  And they will be a priority in the year ahead."

Another priority, he said, will be helping the large number of Afghans affected by natural disasters, including vulnerable people currently affected by harsh winter conditions.

Mr Bowden, who is also the UN Secretary General's Deputy Special Representative in Afghanistan, has a tough task on his hands. 

The UN has recently been struggling to raise aid for the country.  Its 2012 Consolidated Appeal for Afghanistan was less than half funded.  And a recent study by the UN’s Humanitarian Coordination office, OCHA, suggested that aid for Afghanistan would be further hit by the ongoing international military withdrawal, a tougher funding climate worldwide and donor fatigue.

"There's not just aid fatigue, but there's ‘Afghanistan fatigue’ in particular", said Mr Bowden.  "I think people have been affected by the publicity surrounding corruption and the human rights issues in Afghanistan and I think there is a reluctance for public giving."

His task now is to try to turn that around - to find ways of bringing in more cash to help needy Afghans at a time of economic austerity and international scepticism.  That means prioritising and highlighting needs, finding new ways of getting aid to insecure areas - and ensuring that donors can be confident that aid channelled to those areas will be spent wisely. 

The UN is appealing for $471 million to help the most vulnerable Afghans during 2013.  It has produced a more targeted appeal, ranking provinces according to greatest need.  It says the neediest provinces are Kandahar, Ghazni, Helmand, Khost and Kunar - areas in the south and south east which are affected by insecurity.  

According to Mr Bowden, "these are the areas where we actually have the least capacity to respond".  On a recent visit to Kandahar, he discovered that the number of international NGOs working there had plummeted from twenty one agencies three years ago to only four now.

So was this due to insecurity, or lack of funds?

"I think it’s a combination of the two", he said.  "I think first of all it’s a lack of cash. Very few agencies have maintained their funding."

He also pointed out that some NGOs working in Helmand have been dependent on money coming through the provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs), which brought the military and civilians together to provide aid.  Those PRTs are now winding down as international military forces prepare to leave Afghanistan by 2014.

Getting aid through to some of these areas is difficult.  However, Mr Bowden believes that all is not lost;  "Particularly if one works through local partners, I think access still remains possible."

He's now seeking ways to improve humanitarian funding in the future.  He is setting up a risk management unit which he hopes will help reassure donors about how money is spent.  He’s also suggesting establishing a pooled fund for humanitarian assistance, finding ways of making the UN’s existing Emergency Response Fund work more effectively, and getting donors to dedicate a percentage of aid commitments made at the 2012 Tokyo Conference to humanitarian assistance.

Meanwhile, he added, work must also be done on changing public perceptions.

"I think we need to reinvigorate public interest.  I think Afghanistan has gone off the public agenda.  And that is why we require international organisations to do a lot more advocacy and profiling of the fact that we are moving into areas of greater humanitarian need, which should be outside the whole political debate that’s taking place over Afghanistan" he said.

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