Afghanistan + 1 more

UNICEF Humanitarian Action Update: Afghanistan 17 Jan 2008

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UNICEF RESPONDS TO THE NEEDS OF CHILDREN AND WOMEN AFFECTED BY FOOD SHORTAGES AND HIGH PRICES OF BASIC COMMODITIES, AS ACCESS IS HAMPERED BY HEAVY SNOWFALL AND BLOCKED ROADS IN ADDITION TO CONFLICT

- In many areas of Afghanistan people suffer from increasing prices of basic commodities and food shortages.

- Bad weather and heavy snowfall have blocked roads and hindered access to vulnerable communities. Officials in some affected provinces have warned that if food and non-food aid does not reach vulnerable communities in the near future, the current shortages could lead to a humanitarian crisis.

- The security situation continues to deteriorate. During 2007, approximately 40-50 percent of the districts in the country were not accessible to UN missions for extended periods due to insecurity and movement restrictions.

1. ISSUES FOR CHILDREN

BACKGROUND

Afghanistan has been in a state of complex emergency for over the past twenty years. The country's infrastructure and systems have been largely destroyed. An estimated 22 million Afghans, or 70% of the population, live in poverty and substandard conditions (1). 40% children less than three years old are underweight and 54% of under five are stunted. Over 100,000 people - most of them children and women - remain displaced by conflict and drought.

Afghanistan has a maternal mortality ratio of 1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births which accounts for one of the highest in the world. The infant mortality rate is 165 per 1,000 live births, whereby one child out of every four does not survive his/her fifth birthday. Recurrent drought, chronic household food shortages and widespread inappropriate infant and young child feeding and caring practices have led to increased admissions of under-five children to therapeutic care centres over the last two years. Among under-five children, 7 per cent suffer from acute malnutrition and 54 per cent of them are chronically malnourished. The nutrition figures could be higher in the areas affected by conflict and drought, where access is denied and humanitarian services are difficult to deliver. Immunization coverage for DPT1, DPT3 and measles is estimated at 90, 77 and 68 per cent respectively. Whereas health services are available in 82 per cent of districts, there is a significant population without access to such services.

Two million primary school-aged children (60 per cent) are out of school, with an estimated 1.3 million of them being girls. Education in insecure areas is facing qualitative and quantitative challenges. Only 23 per cent of the entire population has access to safe drinking water. Access to sanitation facilities is as low as 12 per cent.

The security situation in the country is deteriorating; more areas have fallen into active military operation zones between the Government/Coalition forces and Anti-Government Elements (AGE), which hampers humanitarian operations and access to affected populations. In 2007, approximately 40-50 per cent of the districts in the country were not accessible to UN missions for extended periods due to insecurity and movement restrictions. Southern provinces and some provinces in the west, east and southeast are most affected.

There are more than 2 million illegal Afghan migrants living in Iran and Pakistan. The Government of Iran has already started the deportation of Afghan migrants and this process will continue. The Government of Pakistan is planning to close four Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, which is likely to result in an estimated 150,000 Afghans returning to Afghanistan. The anticipated influx of returnees and deportees certainly has grave implications for UNICEF's action in the affected areas, mainly the provision of basic services for children and their families as well as special protection measures for vulnerable groups, such as unaccompanied minors and female-headed households.

Note:

(1) Securing Afghanistan's Future Report (2004), P.3