The New York-based International Rescue Committee said that it had suspended its humanitarian aid programs in Afghanistan for an indefinite period following the deaths of four of its workers on Wednesday. The three female staff and their Afghan driver were killed in eastern Logar province in an ambush. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack. The incident has sparked widespread condemnation and raised concerns about the deteriorating security situation in the country.
War-torn Afghanistan is becoming increasingly unsafe for NGOs
Once again, the killing of three foreign workers in Logar province has raised the alarm about the general safety of humanitarian workers in Afghanistan. The incident is another sign that the country is becoming increasingly unsafe for NGO workers.
“So far we thought that the security situation in the south and some parts of the east, which is close to the Pakistani border, were bad,” said Simone Pott from the Bonn-based NGO Welthungerhilfe (known as German Agro Action in English) but an incident like this one shows that there are no areas where you can really feel safe, and there is no map, which says that this road is safe or not safe.”
The three killed workers -- a British-Canadian, a Canadian and a Trinidadian-American -- were members of the International Rescue Committee, which has several development and refugee programmes in Afghanistan. A local driver was taking them back to Kabul, when a group of Taliban militants opened fire on their vehicle in Pul-i-alam, the capital of Logar province.
NGOs increasingly targeted
The killing was the deadliest single attack on foreign aid workers in the war-torn country in recent years. But this year alone at least 19 workers have been killed and an increase in kidnappings shows that NGOs are more and more becoming the target of militant attacks.
Pott said that after Iraq Afghanistan is probably one of the most dangerous and difficult countries in the world for NGOs: “The problem for NGOs is that you have to have close contact with people you are working with, which means people in the villages, people outside towns, so you have to travel there and you have to get out of you car to talk to them, and of course as soon as you get into close contact, you also make yourself a target.”
Seeking safer working methods
Last year, German Agro Action, which provides drinking water and food supplies, as well as help building schools and bridges, lost a staff member in northern Afghanistan.
Pott said that, now, instead of relying on the military for protection, NGOs have found other ways to work safely: “We don’t drive around, we don’t show openly, who we are. We have a private security network called ANSO that is a combination of NGOs, which provides information on a daily basis.”
Overall, there has been a 50 percent increase in insurgent attacks across Afghanistan this year, in which at least 1000 civilians have lost their lives. NGOs complain that the rising violence has forced them to cut back their activities -- a move which could prove to be disastrous for the country, which is currently also struggling to cope with high food prices and preparing for an impending catastrophic drought.