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For the last few weeks I have visited Kandahar, Herat and now Kabul. This has allowed me to see first-hand the direct impact of the fighting on children, from those who have been injured to those who are severely malnourished. It is really difficult to describe how I feel when meeting these little ones, some of whom are not even 10 months old.
During those visits, I have had the opportunity to meet many mothers who in recent weeks have brought their babies to our health centers in the Haji IDP camp in Kandahar. Or 11-year-old Mohibullah, who had to flee his home in this city due to violence when he was in fourth grade and has still not been able to return to school. To Gul Ahmad, 30, who has had to leave his hometown in Lashkargah with his two children and now does not know if he will be able to return home. Or Rafiullah, 10, who was sleeping one night when a piece of projectile entered his house and set the bed on which he was resting on fire. He suffers terrible burns.
Most of these people have left what little they had in houses that have been destroyed by the fighting. Many have lost loved ones. Now, in the camps for the displaced, they must adapt to a new environment and new circumstances, such as queuing for water or waking up not knowing what they will eat that day. The case of the girls is more delicate, because some of them have heard their mothers and aunts talk about how things were before and now they wonder what will happen to them.
Every day that passes Active conflict in Afghanistan takes a higher toll on the lives of its women and children. The figures speak for themselves: since the beginning of this year, more than 550 minors have been killed and 1,400 injured. It is a tragedy: child victims during the first half of this year already constitute the highest number of deaths and maimed since UN records exist.
Half of the population, more than 18 million people, including almost 10 million children, need humanitarian aid. To reach them we need to have the guarantee of safe access.
As I write this, I cannot stop thinking about the forecasts we make at UNICEF: if we do not act immediately, this year one million Afghan children under five will become seriously malnourished. Today the country is suffering from a drought that affects almost 85% of the territory and the harvests estimated for this year are extremely poor.
Half of the population, more than 18 million people, including almost 10 million children, need humanitarian aid
We are also very concerned about the increase in serious violations of children’s rights, for example through recruitment by armed groups. That is why we urge the Taliban and the rest of the actors in the conflict to comply with the obligations established by International Humanitarian Law, protecting the life and rights of all.
We need immediate, safe and unimpeded access to the most difficult-to-reach areas to bring much-needed humanitarian aid to the Afghan population, especially those who are paying the highest price: women and children.
These days, we are frequently asked if we are going to stay here despite this critical situation. The answer is yes. We have no intention of leaving. We have been working in this country for 65 years, we are present in all its regions. We have 11 offices and a range of partners who help us get essential supplies to those who need them most. If the fighting escalates to the point of endangering our teams, they may be temporarily relocated, but that will not prevent them from providing vital support through their network of partners. With half a million internally displaced persons and more than 18 million people in need of humanitarian aid, half of whom are children, the needs are enormous and we want women and their children to know that we are here to help them.
Mustapha Ben Messaoud is Head of Operations and Emergencies for UNICEF in Afghanistan
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.