Drought, Covid-19, influx of wounded in hospitals, hundreds of thousands of displaced people: all the sighted are red in the country, one of the poorest in the world, whose economy, ravaged by four decades of war, largely depends on almost suspended international aid.
In total, 18 million people are already in a dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and this number could soon double, according to the UN. The Afghan population is estimated at 35 to 40 million.
On Tuesday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres sounded the alarm by warning of “a humanitarian catastrophe” and “the threat of a total collapse of basic services”.
On the ground, it is time for uncertainty for NGOs, which are trying to obtain guarantees on the continuity of their programs.
“Our teams on the ground have already engaged in discussions with the Taliban in many provinces,” said Michelle Delaney, spokesperson for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). “We were asked each time to continue doing our job.”
– Negotiations –
Other NGOs have confirmed that they are in talks with the Taliban in order to continue their operations or have received security guarantees to continue their existing programs.
In 2019, the Taliban suspended the work authorization given to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the districts they controlled, before reinstating it. A sanction already imposed on the ICRC for many months in 2018.
The insurgents of the time notably demanded changes to the polio vaccination campaign, perceived by some of them as a Western conspiracy to sterilize Muslim children or to undermine their faith in Islam. Afghanistan is the only country in the world with Pakistan where polio remains endemic.
Several aid workers also recall that the Taliban had asked, earlier this year, to stop projects helping women to gain autonomy and preventing access to the territories they controlled to their female colleagues.
“Everyone is wondering what’s going to happen,” says Marianne O’Grady, deputy director of CARE Afghanistan. So far the work of the NGO, which promotes women’s autonomy, has not been hampered, she says.
Mission security is also an issue, in one of the most dangerous areas for aid workers.
On October 3, 2015, in the midst of a fight between Islamists and the Afghan army, an American plane bombed the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz (north). Results: 42 dead, including 24 patients and 14 members of the NGO.
Last June, 10 Afghan deminers, employed by the British organization HALO Trust, were killed in the province of Baghlan (north) by the jihadist group Islamic State.
– Risk of shortage –
This is not enough to discourage NGOs, many of which, especially those already working in Taliban areas, claim that they have no intention of reducing their presence.
“The changes in Afghanistan have not changed our relationship with the Taliban and the current situation does not change our way of acting,” said Florian Seriex, spokesperson for the ICRC.
Other foreign aid workers, who left the country at the end of August, for their part express the wish to return.
Time is running out and the country could face a shortage of medical supplies in the months to come, warns MSF representative in Afghanistan, Filipe Ribeiro.
Especially since the measures taken against the new coronavirus leave something to be desired: barely 1% of the Afghan population had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 last month, according to data collected by AFP.
The freezing of Afghan national reserves, held abroad, and that of international aid finally pose a threat to the pursuit of humanitarian operations in the medium, if not the short term.
“The question that arises for all of us is to know what will be the future of humanitarian aid in this country”, worries Marianne O’Grady of CARE.