Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Security Concerns Complicate Development

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Security Concerns Complicate Development

Article excerpt

Like many humanitarian aid agencies in Afghanistan, Catholic Relief Services is moving away from emergency relief to projects that promote rebuilding civil society.

These days, aid workers in Kabul talk about "capacity building" rather than distributing tents or blankets. While the shift in focus reflects an expectation of political stability, security concerns remain a complicating factor for those trying to alleviate human suffering.

"Operationally for us, security is the most important consideration," said Paul Butler, emergency coordinator for the Pakistan Program of Catholic Relief Services.

Catholic Relief Services has three offices in Pakistan where it has worked extensively with Afghan refugees. Last April the agency Opened an office in Kabul prompted by the return of refugees to their homeland.

Even without war, Afghanistan presents an enormous challenge for international humanitarian aid organizations. The country has one doctor for every 50,000 people. Only 23 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water, and 7 percent of Afghanistan's primary school age children attend school. War and five years of drought have exacerbated the staggering poverty, relegating aid workers to crisis management and emergency relief.

Last winter and spring, Catholic Relief Services spent $4 million distributing essential and nonessential food items to 350,000 households. But now the agency is subsidizing the renovation of two schools in Kabul and working with other nongovernmental organizations and the University of Massachusetts Center for International Education to provide an accelerated curriculum for the 2 million Afghan youth who have missed years of schooling because of war.

Seventy percent of the Afghan population is malnourished, according to the World Food Program. Catholic Relief Services hopes to introduce an agricultural project that would give farmers a $50 voucher to purchase agricultural supplies from local merchants. …

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