Dr. Tetsu Nakamura was driving through Jalalabad, a vibrant city in eastern Afghanistan, when gunmen opened fire on his vehicle last week, killing his driver and four bodyguards and fatally wounding him. The Japanese doctor’s killing – and that of an American UN employee in Kabul a week earlier – has rattled the aid sector in Afghanistan.
Some 10 million people in Afghanistan need aid; yet local and foreign humanitarians are themselves a target in a conflict now killing or injuring more than 10,000 civilians a year.
At least 24 aid workers were killed between January and November this year, according to the International NGO Safety Organisation, which advises humanitarian groups on security. Of the 56 aid worker deaths the group has counted this year in 13 hotspot countries, more than 40 percent were in Afghanistan. There were also 37 abductions and 42 aid workers injured.
Some aid groups have kept their headquarters far from Kabul in provinces believed to be safer. Humanitarian groups are often relied on to provide basic services in rural areas.
For foreign aid workers in the capital, Kabul, life is spent in compounds and armored vehicles. In some organizations, workers are not allowed to set foot outside.
As in most conflict zones, aid groups rely on principles of humanitarian neutrality and behind-the-scenes negotiations with armed groups to ensure access and safety. But it’s not always guaranteed. There are also multiple factions and different armed groups vying for control.
A Taliban commander with strong links to al-Qaeda who didn’t want to be named, told The New Humanitarian that relationships between militants and aid groups are often “just fine” on the ground. “The command to attack an NGO comes from much higher,” he said in an interview.
[The New Humanitarian]