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As the conflict in Afghanistan enters its fourth decade, Afghan civilians continue to pay the price. Violence has been increasing in intensity and spreading to previously peaceful areas. The gains made in improving health and education are increasingly fragile due to insecurity, corruption, and the politicization of aid. While the international community has acknowledged that the problems in Afghanistan will not be solved by military means alone, the U.S. strategy continues to focus on security objectives and fails to address the needs of the most vulnerable Afghans.
Current Humanitarian Situation
Afghanistan’s extreme poverty, coupled with recurrent conflict and natural disasters, have left the majority of its citizens extremely vulnerable and unable to cope. There are now over 450,000 internally-displaced people in Afghanistan, including 161,000 who were displaced in the first nine months of 2011 – a 65 percent increase compared to the same period in 2010. Refugees returning from Iran and Pakistan are also vulnerable and continue to face an uncertain future. In addition, vulnerable communities continue to be severely affected by floods, landslides, drought, and earthquakes each year. A drought in 2011 left an estimated 2.6 million people food insecure. The chronic need for humanitarian aid requires a sustained commitment from the international community to address the root causes of poverty.
Security throughout Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, making it difficult for the United Nations and aid agencies to reach communities in need. Conflict-induced displacement is on the rise. Afghan civilians are caught in the middle of an intensifying military campaign by ISAF and Afghan forces against a fractured armed insurgency, and the simultaneous rise of U.S.-funded and trained community defense forces like the Afghan Local Police (ALP) only makes the situation more explosive. The lines between military and humanitarian mandates have also been dangerously blurred over the past 10 years.
As the U.S. and coalition forces begin to draw down their forces and transition responsibilities to the Afghan government, ISAF must mitigate further displacement and ensure that the Afghan government takes greater responsibility for the protection of displaced people. In addition, the UN must strengthen its capacity to respond to the growing humanitarian needs.