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By Lisa Schlein
Geneva
03 February 2009

The United Nations is appealing for more than $600 million to assist millions of Afghans hit by war and drought. This is the first time in seven years that the United Nations is launching a Comprehensive Humanitarian Action Plan to help vulnerable people in Afghanistan.

When the Taliban was removed in 2001, people thought conditions in Afghanistan would improve and the humanitarian problems in the country would lessen.

As a consequence, donors placed less emphasis on humanitarian and emergency aid and more on building a stable political situation by focusing on reconstruction and development assistance.

John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, answers journalists' questions about the situation in Gaza Strip in Geneva, Switzerland, 02 Feb 2009
John Holmes
But things have not worked out as expected. U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, says the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has worsened. So, that is why the U.N. is launching this Comprehensive Plan of Action.

"I think as time has gone on and as some of the problems, the underlying problems have emerged, and of course as the military situation has got more difficult, then it has become clear that the humanitarian situation has got worse and it was only really in 2007 that we began to look seriously at the humanitarian situation," he said.

And, that humanitarian situation, says Holmes, is dreadful. He says the appeal is intended to meet the immediate needs of those made most vulnerable by natural disasters, to those who lack access to basic social services and to those who are unable to buy food because of the soaring prices.

He says the biggest chunk of money, or $354 million, will go to feed 8.7 million people. That is almost one third of Afghanistan's population of 30 million.

The second largest operation, he says will focus on clearing unexploded mines.

"The priorities we are talking about comes against the background of chronic poverty for many people in Afghanistan. The humanitarian indicators, the poverty indicators in areas like maternal mortality, infant mortality are very poor. Afghanistan is very, very close to the bottom of the UNDP [U.N. Development Program] Human Development List of countries," he said.

In addition to chronic vulnerability, U.N. Emergency Chief Holmes says insecurity has contributed to the increase in acute humanitarian needs. He notes the lack of security in some areas also prevents humanitarian aid workers from carrying out their life-saving duties.

The United Nations reports by the end of October 2008, 36 aid workers had been killed and 92 others had been abducted. The U.N. says there have been over 120 direct attacks between January and August 2008.

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