Letters from Afghanistan - Volume 14, January 2003

We report about recent developments in Afghanistan
Little has been achieved in the way of reconstruction, since the international community devoted considerable effort and resources to rebuild Afghanistan one year ago. The global charity CARE International looked at the international aid given to countries following conflicts and discovered Afghanistan was at the bottom of the list. On average, donors pledged Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor $250 per person. To Afghanistan they pledged $75 per person in 2002 and $42 per person over the next five years. ([Afghan News] November 12, 2002).

In the public imagination, there is perhaps no more powerful emblem of 'development' than the late-model four-wheel driven cars in the streets of Kabul, driven mostly by UN and bilateral donor agencies, and newly arrived international NGOs on the scene. The large all-terrain vehicles were introduced after the fall of the Taliban - required for use in the inhospitable rough terrain of rural Afghanistan, but curiously seen mostly in use in Kabul city. When the new political class of the development scene and the nouveau riche quickly adopted the most-modern 4-wheel vehicles as a status symbol of development, it gives rise to a phenomenon, which can be termed as Landcruiser culture

Military versus humanitarian aid

KABUL: A leading aid coordinator in Afghanistan Thursday attacked plans by the US military to shift its focus in the war-ravaged country from security to reconstruction. The Agency Coordination Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR) says a US scheme to set up regional military teams to work on civilian aid projects could undermine existing aid efforts and create security risks. American soldiers, operating in Afghanistan for more than a year as part of a coalition force hunting down al-Qaeda and Taliban, are already engaged in launching a pilot civil project in the restive southeastern city of Gardez. US President George W. Bush is expected to make an announcement shortly on an expansion to other cities in an effort to win "hearts and minds" over to his country's military objectives. In a recent visit to US troops stationed at Bagram air base, north of Kabul, the head, said talks were underway at the Pentagon about diverting military resources away from tackling terrorists. "I think my boss Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is working with the president to decide of the US central command General Tommy Franks what the timing of a transition on Afghanistan should look like." But ACBAR, which oversees the work of scores of non-government organisations operating in Afghanistan, says the military work could compromise aid agency principles of neutrality and expose staff to the frequent attacks currently experienced by coalition forces. "Local populations on the ground often cannot or will not distinguish between soldiers and civilian aid workers engaged in humanitarian and reconstruction activities," a statement issued by the organisation said. "NGOs support the overall goal of the military to bring a In Kabul, the security and human rights situation has improved markedly, largely because of the introduction of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the heavy international presence in the capital. But beyond Kabul poor security, generalized criminality, and limited regard for basic human rights have marked the year since the signing of the Bonn Agreement. Each of these factors has in turn negatively affected reconstruction efforts and the delivery of humanitarian assistance. just peace to Afghanistan. "We are concerned, however, that using military structures to provide assistance and reconstruction support will both prematurely deflect attention from Afghanistan's deteriorating security situation and will also engage the military in a range of activities for which others are best suited." ACBAR said America's efforts would be better directed towards regional peacekeeping at a time when the UN has refused to expand the mandate of ISAF, which patrols Kabul. It said the reliance on the formation of an Afghan national army for peace and stability was misguided since a US-backed training programme was "in serious trouble" with recruits deserting to their former warlord bosses. ACBAR warned that the US project could result in aid being focused only on areas dogged by unrest at the expense of equally needy but peaceful parts of the poverty-stricken country. Concerns were also expressed over the cost of employing military staff over relatively cheap locally-hired aid workers, who would become subordinate to the requirements of the military. The aid body called on the US to leave relief to civilian organisations except in emergency cases. "The military should not engage in assistance work except in those rare circumstances where high need exists and civilian assistance workers are unable to meet those needs due to lack of logistical capacity or levels of insecurity on the ground." (AFP, 5.12.2002).

Terre des hommes in Kandahar

In July 2002 the new maternal health project has been implemented in the southern city of Kandahar, the former stronghold of the Taliban, the movement of hard-line fundamentalists that ruled the country until the US helped topple them.

Most of the women in Kandahar are not allowed to leave their homes, due to cultural reasons and widespread poverty. Terre des hommes midwifery teams visited last year 2126 houses in search of clients in need and invited 6672 mothers to participate in health education sessions in four city districts. In addition 1644 home visits were made.

The maternal health project is the second one in Afghanistan where poor women and mothers receive necessary assistance for safe childbirth at home by female health professionals. Funded by the Swiss agency SDC and the British DFID, the project has been visited by Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development (DFID), and by the SDC delegation.

Terre des hommes in Rustaq

During the past 12 months Terre des hommes made significant impact on health for children in Rustaq district. Taking part in the countrywide polio eradication program, vaccination teams of Tdh vaccinated five times 40'932 children (in average) in all 173 villages of the remote district. Two measles campaigns in 2002 helped to vaccinate 38'286 (in average) small children in all villages - a regular program, which began winter 2000 during emergency operations.

As a lead agency in health for Rustaq district, Terre des hommes signed an agreement with UNICEF to implement a district-wide expanded program for immunization - covering at least 173 villages. 25'600 women and children have been treated in Rustaq's MCH clinic. 705 malnourished children came under treatment and recovered.

Strategic planning for the future

The ASCHIANA street children project in Kabul organised a 5-days strategic planning workshop in October with 12 senior project staff, three guests from Tdh' street children project in Peshawar, Pakistan, a Swiss facilitator from Lausanne and 57 street children from various drop-in centres of Kabul city. After taking care for street children for eight years within an emergency context it is now an urgent task to switch to a development approach.

The Kabul maternal health project

Last year 84'399 women received health education messages at home. 11'569 houses were visited in search for mothers in need, and 28'382 home visits were made. 4046 babies also entered the program. Seven midwives and their two supervisors attended a psychological training workshop, since the project wants to emphasize more on trauma counseling with women. One of the reasons is widespread domestic violence within the project areas in Kabul as a result of deeply rooted poverty and a decades-long culture of violence and conflict. In a preliminary survey the midwives asked several hundred mothers and found out that 56% were afraid of their husbands, 52% of the women were afraid to leave their homes, 33% were beaten or kicked by their husbands and 35% of women interviewed reported that they have suffered marital rape.

Advocating children's rights

Most of the work done by street children is "invisible". Little or no governmental legislation is enforced or enforceable in most child labour cases. Advocacy does not only consist in lobbying the authorities but also in awareness-raising among local community and networking at a local/national/ international levels.

In commemoration of celebrating the Universal Children's Day, Terre des hommes Center for Street Working Children in Peshawar/Pakistan organized a very graceful function on November 20, 2002 at 9:00 a.m. in the open lawn in front of the center with following aims: to celebrate the day in commemoration with Universal Children's Day on November 20, 2002; to demonstrate the aim and objectives of the activities carried out by the center during the last 9 months; to compare the CRC articles and Islamic values by using the Holy Qu'ran and the Hadiths of Sahih al-Buhari in defining the rights of the children and obligations of the parents, society and state. Hundreds of street children, their parents and relatives attended the ceremony together with community leaders, religious leaders and local administration.

The construction of an airstrip in Rustaq is part of a disaster preparedness strategy of Tdh with the aim to provide easy access to a vulnerable population in one of the remotest parts of Afghanistan. Through such airstrips immediate help and assistance can be extended to people - and will serve the needs of many humanitarian NGOs and of people of several districts of Taloqan province in northern Afghanistan.

Terre des hommes - Afghanistan Office Street 5 - Shar-I-Naw Kabul - Afghanistan
Tel: +93 2290152 Cell: +93 (0)70 277202 - (0)70 277225 Sat.: 00873 761 638 760