UN calls for more funding and security in Afghanistan
GENEVA, July 11 (UNHCR) - Funding and security in Afghanistan were at the top of the agenda as the Afghanistan Support Group met in Geneva today to call for continued donor support in the face of a $777-million funding shortfall that has affected rehabilitation operations, including refugee reintegration, in Afghanistan.
"The situation is still fragile, there's a long way for Afghanistan to go," said Vidar Helgesen, the State Secretary of Norway, which is chairing the 15-nation Afghanistan Support Group. "We need donors to join in.... We're in this for the long haul," he added at a press conference at the UN European headquarters in Geneva on Thursday.
He noted that the group was still short of $777 million in humanitarian aid, of which $397 million was needed immediately for operations in the third quarter of this year.
"The consequences of this shortfall will be felt across the board," warned Kenzo Oshima, the Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Citing examples, he said the food programme and refugee reintegration would be affected.
Returning and reintegrating refugees and internally displaced Afghans are seen as key factors in building human and social capital in Afghanistan. But the UN refugee agency, which has received $205 million out of its $271-million budget, has had to cut some of its reintegration programmes.
"Twenty-five percent of our budget is still not funded," said UNHCR head Ruud Lubbers. "We've got money left for the next two months, but we really need about $70 million for the third quarter."
Lubbers added, "It's sad that we've had to trim some of our programmes in Afghanistan. We provide beams and windows to help returnees set up home, but we've had to cut these shelter kits from 100,000 to 50,000."
UNHCR's current shortfall comes as refugee returns exceed expectations. The agency has revised this year's returnee estimates from 1.2 million to 2 million, and as of Wednesday, 1,231,439 Afghans had already returned home from neighbouring countries.
Pledging to address the humanitarian crisis in his country, Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani also reiterated his government's commitment to improving security conditions through good governance and the rule of law. But efforts may be hampered because the government itself is critically short of money.
Insecurity in Afghanistan has been highlighted by the recent assassination of Afghan Vice President Hajji Qadir. In northern Afghanistan, there have also been reports of factional fighting and persecution of ethnic minorities returning to their home areas.
In a positive development, UNHCR's Chief of Mission for Afghanistan, Filippo Grandi, has received safety assurances for refugees returning to northern Afghanistan after meeting with three of the region's main leaders recently. General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Ustad Atta Muhammed and Sardar Saidi told the UNHCR representative they were trying to control factional fighting and were discussing measures to guarantee a safe return for refugees and internally displaced Afghans.