The United Nations has warned of a growing threat to aid workers in Afghanistan where it says millions of people are in urgent need of life-saving assistance.
“I am deeply concerned that aid workers are being targeted, with 93 of our colleagues abducted since the beginning of this year,” said Stephen O'Brien, the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, in speaking with reporters in Kabul at the end of a visit to Afghanistan.
“All parties are obliged to uphold the principles of international humanitarian law and ensure the protection of civilians and aid workers,” he said, without giving further details or identifying the nationalities of the abductees.
More aid needed
O'Brien also called on the international community to urgently increase its support to around 1.1 million people who are expected to be displaced internally and cross borders by the end of the year.
O’Brien said the humanitarian community in Afghanistan urgently needs $150 million to respond to the “life-saving” needs for the next four months in the wake of the increase in numbers of new people on the move.
“The displaced families and communities are a mix of refugees returning from Pakistan and hundreds of thousands of people who have been forced from their homes this year due to the conflict in Afghanistan,” said O’Brien.
The U.N. says that more than 5,000 displaced Afghans are returning from Pakistan every day, adding to the challenges facing the humanitarian community.
Pakistan hosts around three million Afghan refugees, nearly half of them living there illegally, who are currently facing pressure from authorities to return to Afghanistan.
O’Brien said that alarming levels of malnutrition affect 2.7 million people in Afghanistan, including 1 million children under the age of 5. He urged governments, donors and humanitarian groups to do more to tackle the crisis to prevent more than 126,000 children from dying this year.
“Only 35 percent of children with severe acute malnutrition are being reached and of those, only 25 percent are actually cured,” he said.
The Taliban has extended its insurgent activities to more provinces in Afghanistan this year than at any point in time since it was ousted from power in 2001. The increase has prompted Afghan security forces to undertake major operations across the country.
The escalation in fighting has already caused record levels of civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the first half of 2016.