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Snapshot 20–26 August

Syria: Only 41% of Syria’s public hospitals are fully operational. The latest in a number of local truces around Damascus has been agreed between state forces and opposition in Qadam. 191,369 people were reported killed March 2011–April 2014, mainly in Rural Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Idleb, Dar’a and Hama, according to new UN figures.

Sudan: Conflict between Maaliya and Rizeigat has killed at least 300 people over five days in the Karinka locality of East Darfur. Police were deployed to stop the fighting. 256,000 people across 12 states are now affected by flooding, an increase of 80,000 in a week; 70,000 are affected in Blue Nile state alone. 

DRC: An Ebola epidemic, unrelated to the outbreak in West Africa, has been declared in Equateur province, with 16 cases reported, including five deaths. 577 cases of febrile bloody diarrhoea have also been reported in Equateur. Clashes between FARDC and Raiya Mutomboki displaced 12,400 in South Kivu, while in Katanga violence between pygmies and Luba is worsening.

Iraq: Heavy fighting continues in the north. As more IDPs head south, there are concerns that central governorates are reaching saturation point. 20,000 Syrian refugees have returned to Syria.

Updated: 26/08/2014. Next update: 02/09/2014

Afghanistan Country Analysis

LATEST DEVELOPMENTS

25 August: Over 70% of presidential election ballot boxes have been now audited by the Independent Election Commission (UN-supervised process). Officials are at a critical stage, as they have started invalidating fraudulent votes (AFP).

24 August: Over 44,600 Pakistani refugees (6,375 families) are living in Barmal district, Paktika province, mostly among scattered and overcrowded host communities. Some families are living out in the open. Conditions are similar in Khost province (UNHCR).

24 August: In recent weeks, the Taliban have advanced on Kunduz, battling the army, police, and local tribal militias (AFP).

20 August: Five Afghan ICRC staff were released. They were abducted by a local armed group in Herat province on 14 August (ICRC).

19 August: 20,813 displaced families have been assessed, 14,435 in Khost and 6,378 in Pakitka province. 2% of the assessed are undocumented Afghan nationals, and 98% are Pakistani nationals (OCHA).
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KEY CONCERNS

- More Afghans have been killed through natural disasters since the beginning of May than in all of 2013 (UN Humanitarian Coordinator, 05/2014).

- 4,853 civilian casualties in the first half of 2014, 24% higher than the same period in 2013. Ground combat is now causing more deaths and injuries than improvised explosive devices (AFP, 12/07/2014).

- Over 20,000 Pakistani refugee families and Afghan returnees in Khost and Paktika provinces in Afghanistan are in need of food, WASH, shelter, and non-food items). WASH facilities are inadequate to meet health and hygiene standards. Food remains a concern for Paktika and Khost provinces. Access is challenging (UNHCR 24/08/2014).

- Five million Afghans are in Pakistan and Iran

- 659,960 IDPs; 113,000 were displaced in 2013 (UNHCR, OCHA, 02/2014).

- 1.7 million people are in need of protection; 2.5 million are classified as severely food insecure (OCHA).

- The conflict has caused widespread disruption to health services (OCHA).

 
OVERVIEW

Both disasters and armed conflict have prompted a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Assistance needs include food, healthcare, and protection.

The Afghan government faces both internal and external challenges to its capacity and legitimacy, and the outcome of 2014’s presidential transition will have implications for internal cohesion. The security environment remains highly volatile, with further destabilisation expected. The continued presence of international military personnel is seen as vital for the stability of Afghanistan.

Political Context                                                      

National Political Context

At 25 August, over 70% of the presidential election ballot boxes had been audited by the Independent Electoral Commission (UN-supervised process). Officials have begun invalidating fraudulent votes, which is likely to increase tensions between presidential candidates (AFP 25/08/2014).

On 8 August, Ghani and Abdullah signed a deal to form a national unity government by the end of August, regardless of the result of the audit (AFP, 08/08/2014).

Preliminary results on 7 July indicated that Ashraf Ghani won Afghanistan's presidential election, with  56.4% in the run-off vote against ex-foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. However, the results are disputed. Turnout was more than eight million out of an estimated electorate of 13.5 million, far higher than expected. Thousands of protesters marched on the presidential palace at the end of June in support of candidate Abdullah Abdullah’s allegations of fraud (Reuters, 27/06/2014), and an audit of ballots began on 16 July.

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is a former World Bank economist of Pashtun descent; his running mate is Uzbek ex-warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. Abdullah Abdullah, of Tajik descent, ran against Karzai in 2009, and was Karzai’s foreign minister until 2006.

Peace Talks with the Taliban

Although various official and informal sources have evoked renewed preliminary contacts between Kabul and the Taliban, no substantial talks have yet been launched. Peace talks with the Afghan Taliban have been stalled since mid-2013.

Security Context

Civilian casualties soared by 24% to 4,853 in the first half of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013. Ground combat is now causing more deaths and injuries than improvised explosive devices (AFP, 12/07/2014). In the first three months of 2014, the UN recorded 187 civilian deaths and 357 injured from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), a casualty number up 13% compared to the same period in 2013.

The east and southeast are most affected by violence, although an increasing number of attacks are being carried out in the northwest and Kabul.

There is widespread concern regarding the capacity of the 352,000-strong Afghan security forces. Afghan troop casualties climbed by 79% during key fighting months in 2013, as the Taliban has intensified attacks during NATO’s withdrawal, according to a US report. Afghan security forces and civilian casualties are close to the record levels registered during the peak of the insurgency in 2011.

International Military Presence

On 18 June, NATO officially handed over authority in the remaining 95 districts in the south and east of the country to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). In May, UK troops pulled out of their last outpost in Helmand. The last remaining UK troops are in Camp Bastion, and are expected to leave later this year.

Afghanistan–US Bilateral Security Agreement

The Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) will determine the scope and strength of the US military presence in Afghanistan. According to official sources, the US had planned to leave more than 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to work on counterterrorism and training. President Karzai has been reluctant to sign the agreement, but the two candidates in the second round of the presidential election have both affirmed their intention to sign the BSA.

Taliban Activity

The Taliban is intensifying activities as international forces withdraw. Since May, insurgents have targeted foreign military, humanitarian personnel, and civilians seen to cooperate with the Government. Remote parts of southern and southeastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan, remain under insurgent control. Their numbers have increased by 15% since the beginning of 2013.

In recent weeks, the Taliban has advanced on Kunduz, battling against the army, police and local tribal militias. Militant attacks on Kunduz have intensified as NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is approaching (AFP, 24/08/2014). In June, armed clashes between 800 Taliban and Afghan forces took place in Sangin, Musa Qala, Naw Zad and Kajaki districts of Helmand province (UNAMA). Sangin, a strategically important district at the centre of Afghanistan’s opium trade, has frequently been the scene of fierce fighting between the Taliban and US-led NATO forces (AFP).

 

Incidents

On 10 August, a suicide attacker targeted a NATO convoy in Kabul, killing four civilians and wounding at least 35 others. The Taliban claimed responsibility (AFP, 10/08/2014).

In July, there was an attack on Shi’ite Muslims in Ghor province, and suicide bombings at markets in Khwaha Ghar district, Takhar province, and Urgun district, Paktika province (UNAMA, 26/07/2014; WSJ, 25/07/2014; AFP, 24/07/2014; AFP, 15/07/2014). The attack in Urgun was the worst so far this year, killing 89 people. Attacks in Kandahar and Parwan killed 22 people (AFP, 12/07/2014; AFP, 08/07/2014; UNAMA, 08/07/2014).).

At least 150 attacks killed 46 people across the country during the presidential run-off poll on 14 June. Two employees of the Independent Election Commission were killed in Helmand. Presidential front-runner Abdullah escaped an assassination attempt in which six people were killed.  

Humanitarian Context and Needs

Access

The fluctuating security situation is continually changing the operating environment and access (WFP, 22/05/2014). Active hostilities and threats of violence are most problematic in contested areas. Movement restrictions are increasingly being applied to aid workers.

Security and access constraints are challenging response and relief efforts in flood-affected areas.

Insecurity and Attacks against Aid Workers

On 20 August five Afghan ICRC staff were released. They had been kidnapped by a local armed group in Herat province on 14 August (ICRC, 20/08/2014).

Two female Finnish aid workers were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Herat city on 24 July (AFP, 24/07/2014).

In July, 20 incidents were reported, with six aid workers killed, one wounded, seven abducted and one arrested (OCHA, 14/08/2014). Security incidents involving aid workers are increasing. From 2013 to 2014, 140 aid workers were killed, 240 injured, and 335 kidnapped (OCHA, 18/08/2014). In 2012, 175 incidents, including 11 deaths, were recorded (OCHA, 30/11/2013). In 2013, over 55% of incidents were attributed to insurgent elements, but incidents attributed to pro-government forces had risen significantly, especially in contested areas (OCHA, 10/2013).

Displacement

IDPs

As of 31 March, 659,960 people were displaced due to conflict (UNHCR).

Clashes in Helmand province in June displaced significant populations from Musa Qala, Nawzad, and Sangin districts. The majority moved to Lashkargah and Nahari Sarraj districts. Most are with host families or in rented accommodation, while some are in emergency shelters. Displacement within Sangin is reported to be substantial (OCHA, 14/08/2014).

Refugees in Afghanistan

Since Pakistani military operations began in North Waziristan in mid-June over 44,600 Pakistani refugees (6,375 families) are living in Barmal district, Paktika province, mostly among scattered and overcrowded host communities. Some families are living out in the open. Conditions are similar in Khost province. Recent assessments indicate overcrowding, and inadequate WASH facilities that do not meet health and hygiene standards. Food remains a concern for Paktika and Khost provinces. Access to the scattered villages is time consuming and expensive (UNHCR, 24/08/2014).

As of 19 August, 20,813 families displaced by Pakistani military operations in North Waziristan have been assessed, 14,435 in Khost (several thousand in Gulan refugee camp) and 6,378 in Paktika province (OCHA, 20/08/2014). 98% are Pakistani nationals.

Returnees

Returning Afghan refugees make up 2% of families displaced from Pakistan’s North Waziristan, and assessed in Khost and Paktika provinces as of 19 August. The returnees’ provinces of origin are mainly Paktika (35%), Khost (20%), Paktia (11%) and Baghlan (7%) (IOM, 15/07/2014).  

From January to March, 2,346 Afghan refugees voluntarily repatriated to Afghanistan. This figure represents a sharp decrease (56%) compared to the same period last year, primarily due to the extension of Proof of Registration cards in Pakistan until 31 December 2015, and the uncertain situation following the elections in Afghanistan. 

Afghan Refugees in Other Countries

As of 31 December, an estimated 2.4 million Afghan refugees and illegal migrants are in Iran, including one million undocumented Afghans (UNHCR and IOM). Afghan refugees in Iran face persecution, arbitrary arrest, detention, beatings and harassment by authorities (Human Rights Watch, 11/2013).

Roughly 2.9 million Afghan refugees and illegal migrants, including one million undocumented Afghans, are in Pakistan. Some 60% of Afghan refugees in Pakistan are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the burden is causing tensions. Kabul and Islamabad agreed at a UN-backed meeting to continue efforts to solve the protracted refugee situation.

An estimated 200,000 Afghan refugees are registered in other countries.

Disasters

In the beginning of August, twelve families were affected by flooding in Mihtarlam district, Laghman province. Another 1,762 individuals were affected by flooding in several villages in Matun district, Khost. In Gardez district, Paktia, 100 families were affected by flooding, with 30 houses severely damaged, 40 hectares of land affected and water sources contaminated. In Wardak province, 100 families were affected by flooding in six villages of Nirkh district; 52 houses were severely damaged (IOM/USAID, 11/08/2014).

In Khost province, major public works programmes – including the building of bridges – are needed to help bridge ravines and protect locals from the effects of seasonal flooding (IWPR, 14/08/2014).

As the flood season comes to an end, about 150,000 people have been affected (compared to 65,000 in the same period last year), 175 killed and over 16,000 homes destroyed in 2014. This figure excludes the 7,000 affected and 5,000 displaced by the landslide in Argo, Badakhshan province, where investigations are ongoing and the exact death toll has not been verified (OCHA, 12/06/2014; IOM, 22/05/2014). More Afghans have been killed through natural disasters since May than in all of 2013 (UN Humanitarian Coordinator).

Food Security

People affected by flooding in northern provinces have received assistance for two–three months, and are in IPC Phase 2, Stressed. Without further assistance later in the year, around 140,000 people will likely move from Stressed to Crisis food insecurity (IPC Phase 3). They will need assistance as the lean season of February–April 2015 approaches (FEWSNET, 31/07/2014). In addition to the flood-affected, IDPs displaced by the conflict and returnees from Pakistan face food insecurity. Resources of host communities are limited (FAO, 03/07/2014; UNHCR, 03/07/2014).

However, the vast majority of households are able to maintain food purchases and essential non-food expenditures, and the above-average harvest will allow many households to stock sufficient grain for winter and the lean season in 2015. Most areas are likely to remain in Minimal food insecurity conditions (IPC Phase 1) through at least December (FEWSNET, 31/07/2014).

An estimated 2.5 million people were classified as severely food insecure at 31 March (OCHA). A further eight million are considered food insecure.

Agriculture and Markets

The average wheat price increased by 21.7% compared to  last year, and is 36.3% higher than the previous five-year average price, i.e. May 2009–2013 (FAO, 30/06/2014; WFP 13/08/2014). Afghanistan remains dependent on wheat imports as wheat is the staple food for most Afghans, and continuous currency depreciation is fuelling price rises (WFP, 31/07/2014). Compared to last year, bread and cereal prices have increased 7%; vegetable prices have increased by over 21% (FEWSNET, 03/06/2014).

An estimated 30,000 hectares of agriculture land (both irrigated and rain-fed) and perennial crops have been affected by flooding (OCHA, 15/05/2014).

Health and Nutrition

While most Afghans now have access to basic public healthcare, the quality is so low that many patients seek private services at a higher cost than they can afford (MSF quoted in IRIN, 02/07/2014). The number of people in need of access to health services has increased from 3.3 to 5.4 million (OCHA). Conflict is causing widespread disruption to health services.

High numbers of wounded due to clashes in Helmand province, particularly in Sangin, are straining emergency healthcare. 528 people were recorded injured between 22 June and 23 July, with 360 referrals to Laskhargah hospitals in the same period (OCHA, 14/08/2014). Nine health facilities in Helmand remain completely blocked due to ongoing hostilities (WHO, 24/07/2014).

2013 saw a 60% increase in the number of people being treated for weapon wounds, stretching trauma care needs beyond the existing response capacity. In Helmand province, there was an almost 80% increase in hospitalised injuries caused by conflict in 2013.

The Health Cluster reported a 40% increase in security incidents in health facilities from January to April 2013 compared to 2012.

Diarrhoeal Disease

The rise of diarrhoea cases registered by the health clinic in Gulan refugee camp, Khost province, indicates that access to safe water is a concern (UNHCR, 21/07/2014).

Malnutrition

500,000 children under five years of age are severely malnourished (National Nutrition Survey, UNICEF/Government, 18/08/2014). Provinces in need of urgent attention are Uruzgan, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Khost, Paktia, Wardak, Kunar, and Laghman (OCHA, 31/07/2014).

At end March, around 1.45 million children under five and pregnant and lactating women were in need of nutrition assistance. At 31 March, there had been 53,000 avoidable deaths from causes attributable to acute malnutrition, and 45% of 420,000 deaths among under-fives were attributable to undernutrition (OCHA).

Measles

Gulan refugee camp, Khost province, has recorded a measles outbreak, with 18 mild cases without complications or deaths (WHO, 24/07/2014).

Polio

In 2014, eight polio cases have been reported, mostly in conflict-affected areas. The most recent case was reported on 17 June in Khost province, linked to the virus in North Waziristan, Pakistan. Health workers have been vaccinating displaced children, with at least 35,000 children having received vaccination before entering Paktika or Khost provinces (Global Polio Eradication Initiative, 13/08/2014).

Extensive cross-border movement is one of the major challenges and cause for the spread of the polio virus. Kunar, Nangarhar, Laghman, and Nuristan, eastern Afghanistan, remain the four high-risk provinces for polio; four cases of the Pakistan poliovirus were reported between 1 January and 30 April. Afghan and Pakistani authorities agreed in July to cooperate in an anti-polio campaign in the border areas of both countries (DAWN, UNICEF, 12/07/2014).

In June, Afghanistan was on track to stop endemic transmission before the end of 2014 (Global Polio Eradication Initiative, 11/06/2014).

Protection

At end May, around 1.7 million people were in need of protection assistance, mainly IDPs and people otherwise affected by conflict. IDPs need durable solutions for their protracted displacement (OCHA).

Protection concerns are growing for Pakistani refugees and Afghan returnees in Khost province. Access to women and girls in Gulan camp remains a challenge (UNHCR, 23/07/2014). The presence of landmines is also of concern.

On 1 August, the Government confirmed its commitment to end and prevent recruitment of children in the Afghan National Security Forces, with the endorsement of the 2011 Road Map Towards Compliance (UN, 01/08/2014). The Afghan National and Local Police and three armed groups (Taliban, Haqqani Network, and Hezb-e-Islami) have been listed for recruitment and use of children.

The Taliban has been listed for attacks on schools and hospitals (Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, 02/06/2014).

Updated: 26/08/2014

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