Afghanistan: No Time to Lose on Health, Nutrition, and Justice

My Mother’s Day article on Afghanistan emphasized the urgent need for action on improving child health and nutrition. This is a country where one in five children dies before their fifth birthday.

If this horrifying reality does not move one to action, nothing will. This is only one of many crucial fronts where we have to take action in Afghanistan.

Save the Children is working in Afghan communities to improve basic health and nutrition. Many lives can be saved with relatively simple improvements in these areas. A key part of this work is training doctors, nurses, and midwives so they can better care for infants and mothers. Save the Children’s efforts need funding in order to reach enough Afghan communities.

The UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) hunger relief operation is facing a $257 million shortfall at last report. Donations from the international community are needed to provide foods like supplementary plumpy for infants. This is a food that can rescue children from dangerous malnutrition.

Low funding also threatens the school feeding program for over a million Afghan children. We want to not only sustain this program, but expand it into a universal one. All Afghan children should be able to attend school and receive the meals. WFP also runs Food for Work projects to improve infrastructure and agriculture. If the funding goes, so does the foundation for Afghanistan’s recovery and development'”and that is food.

On the security front, it is urgent that Afghanistan make vital reforms. In a new report Oxfam is highlighting alleged cases of torture, killings, and abuse of children committed by Afghan security forces. Abuses are likely to escalate if there are not enough systems and accountability in place to deal with these criminal acts and deter their continuance. There is also little or no process for victims to be compensated. Training of Afghan security forces needs to be improved, with an emphasis on quality and accountability over quantity.

Sarah Holewinski of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) says, “Afghan forces must not only prevent abuse and ensure accountability and remedies for victims of violations, but also ensure that civilians are not put in harm’s way as they conduct their operations. Where civilians are inadvertently harmed, Afghan forces must recognize those losses and make amends.”

Rebecca Barber of Oxfam says, “The Afghan people have high hopes for their security forces. They need to know these forces will protect them and be brought to justice if they commit abuses'”or public trust and confidence in the government could be seriously undermined.”

She adds, “Billions have been spent in Afghanistan and thousands of lives have been lost. The sacrifices on all sides should not be in vain. A trained army and police forces that are accountable to their own people is key to the legacy the international community will leave behind and crucial for establishing lasting security in Afghanistan. There is no time to lose.”

Barber’s phrase is fitting really for the whole situation in Afghanistan. One way we can help is to press for the right policies and support for groups like Save the Children, WFP, CIVIC, Oxfam, and so many others working in the county in constructive ways. There is no time to lose in getting the Afghanistan strategy right, one that meets the needs of the people.

Article first published as Afghanistan: No Time to Lose on Health, Nutrition, and Justice on Blogcritics