MEDIAWATCH: Civilian hardship in Afghanistan

by joanne-tomkinson | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 26 February 2008 16:14 GMT

Though it's over six years since the fall of the hardline Taliban regime, violence still rages in the south and southeast of Afghanistan. Living in the middle of a vicious conflict between militants and foreign troops, Afghan civilians face an increasingly difficult and bloody future, recent press reports suggest.

Though Afghanistan has seen massive investment from aid agencies and United Nations bodies, there has been little coherence in the programmes they have implemented, the BBC reports.

A hundred different organisations are each spending more than $100 million in Afghanistan every year, says the BBC, but bloodshed in the country means these programmes aren't helping civilians as much as they might.

"There is a sense of fear," Ahmed, a young Afghan professional who returned to the country after the fall of the Taliban, tells the BBC. "Afghans with money are starting to look for ways out. Those who can't feel trapped or they're just fatalistic."

An early sense of "euphoria" among the general public has now turned to "doom and gloom", writes the broadcaster. Progress is slow - three-quarters of the population are illiterate, and even the capital has only a few hours of electricity a day.

But there have been positive changes. Six million children now go to school and the country has an elected president and parliament.

The priority now should be improving the quality of the aid effort and ensuring that the battle against the Taliban and other groups is more effective, the BBC says.

SECURITY

The International Herald Tribune (IHT) newspaper, meanwhile, writes that insurgents in Afghanistan are increasingly targeting civilians - disregarding old Taliban doctrine that called for minimising casualties among the general public.

The rapid escalation of suicide attacks in the country marks the rise of what the paper calls a "new breed of ruthless militants who have replaced dozens of insurgent leaders killed or captured in the past year (who) have increasingly put Afghans in the line of fire".

Militants killed 480 civilians in 2007, while U.S. or NATO action killed 360 civilians - many of them in air strikes that the over-stretched forces often rely on to target militants, an Associated Press count based on figures from Afghan and Western officials estimates.

The IHT predicts that air strikes and rapid rise in suicide bombings means civilian deaths in Afghanistan will continue to rise in the near future.

WOMEN

Where women are concerned, life in post-Taliban Afghanistan is "worse than ever" in some respects, writes Britain's Independent newspaper.

Forced marriages, domestic violence and human rights abuses are at such levels that for many women life is now worse than six years ago, Womankind Worldwide - a charity working on women's rights around the world - says in a new report quoted in the paper.

Maternal mortality rates in Afghanistan are the highest in the world alongside Sierra Leone. One in nine women dies in childbirth in the country. There are now 1 million widows in Afghanistan and it is the only country in the world where suicide rates are higher for women than men, according to the paper.

Oppression and mortality rates for war-torn provinces such as Helmand could be higher than national figures, according to the report, but the dangers make it more difficult to monitor accurately.

REFUGEES

For returning refugees life is also hard. Living in makeshift camps without jobs or government assistance, many people displaced during the Soviet invasion and subsequent civil war have returned to find they can't afford wood to keep warm in the bitter Kabul winter, writes Inter Press Service (IPS), a global news agency.

In camps like the one in the Chamany Babrak section of Kabul, there is no running water or electricity and tents sit ankle-deep in mud.

"Aid agencies say that there are hundreds of camps like Chamanay Babrak sprouting all over Afghanistan, housing thousands of deportees and pointing to the possibility of a burgeoning humanitarian crisis," IPS writes.

Most of the returning refugees have come from Iran, where authorities have expelled thousands of exiles in recent months. Others have been deported from Pakistan.

IPS writes that there are no United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) or Afghan government programmes to help refugees who have been expelled from other countries - only for those people voluntarily returning to Afghanistan.

UNHCR estimates that Iran has deported 360,000 refugees in the last year, though IPS says that there is confusion about whether those expelled were economic migrants illegally seeking work in Iran or genuine refugees.

"We need food and wood," Muzafar Khoram, 54, deported six months ago from Sheraz, tells IPS. "Especially in winter, we don't have what we need. We haven't received oil, flour or bread. There are 10 people in my house. We are all sick. I don't know what to do."

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.