The topic of civilian casualties in military operations in Afghanistan is attracting lots of international attention these days. But a far more serious problem from the Afghan perspective is the matter of avoidable deaths connected to a lack of human security.
During the first half of 2010, about 3,000 civilians were killed in combat operations. In contrast, more than 50,000 Afghans die annually due to the human-security deficit. Most of these victims are newborns, young children and mothers who die during childbirth.
Before proceeding, it is worth defining the concept of human security and differentiating it from another notion, protective security. Human security is a developing idea that encompasses human rights, good governance and access to economic opportunity, education and health care. It is a concept that comprehensively addresses both "freedom from fear" and "freedom from want." Human security should not be conflated with protective security, which essentially deals with the ability of an individual to operate in a safe and secure environment. Yet although human security and protective security cover separate areas, they are inextricably intertwined in Afghanistan.
Not only is the human-security deficit causing avoidable, health-care related deaths, it is also helping to fuel the insurgency. A lack of “freedom from want” may be forcing up to 60 percent of Taliban insurgents to fight. These “10-dollar-a-day Taliban” would probably not be filling the insurgents’ ranks if they had an alternate way to support their families.
Compounding the problem for Afghans is the fact that the bulk of foreign assistance delivered to the country is designed to address problems related to protective security. Indeed, a whopping 80 percent of international aid goes to promote “freedom from fear.”
This immense imbalance between security and development, or civilian aid versus military assistance, is partly why the Afghan government continues to remain weak. In effect, the Afghan government receives a very small amount of discretionary funding, which is not even enough to reform a ministry. Hence, a proportionally small amount of civilian aid, coupled with ineffective aid delivery mechanisms, has perpetuated weak governance and has fostered petty corruption in Afghanistan’s deeply insecure human environment.
Bringing about change will require a rebalancing of the assistance ratio between human security and protective security, and it will also take an infusion of trust on the part of the international community for the government in Kabul.
Although corruption in Afghanistan seems to be a hot topic in the international press, it should be noted that the Afghan government has been holding its own in the democratization sphere. The international response to underinvestment in development came in 2000, when world leaders adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – a set of eight development-related goals – to be achieved by 2015. The MDGs provide a framework for the international community to work together toward a common aim, ensuring that human security reaches everyone, everywhere. Because Afghanistan endorsed the Millennium Declaration only in 2004, the deadline for reaching its country-specific goals was set at 2020. In addition, Afghanistan has set a security outcome as the 9th, self-adopted MDG – a goal that impacts progress toward all other goals.
Since 2004, Afghanistan has made continued progress towards its MDGs. The government has been able to reduce child mortality from one in every four children to one in every six, an important achievement in MDG4. Seven million more children now attend school, marking unprecedented success toward MDG2. With one of the lowest telephone access rates in the world in 2001, the percentage of cellular subscribers had increased to 21 percent of the population by 2006, well on track to reach the target of 50 percent by 2015.
In spite of Afghanistan’s strong economic progress, per capita income in the country remains the lowest in the region. Only 27 percent of Afghans have access to safe drinking water, 12 percent enjoy reliable access to adequate sanitation and just 9 percent can depend on steady supplies of electricity. More than 40 percent of the Afghan population remains unemployed, and more than half hovers on the brink of poverty. Another 8.5 million, or 37 percent of the people, are in the borderline of food insecurity and thus hunger.
Clearly, the security picture is mixed in Afghanistan. Much has improved, but so much more needs to be done. To have a secure and prosperous Afghanistan, we must ensure that healthy Afghan mothers give birth to healthy children. Programs must shift from haphazard local projects implemented by various non-state actors to strategic national programs reaching far and wide with a long-term vision.
The Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS), implemented by the Ministry of Public Health, and the National Solidarity Program (NSP), managed by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, offer examples of the Afghan government’s successful development of national programs that cover some critical needs among the rural population. The two national programs cover more than 80 percent of the population in over 25,000 villages. As a result, access to health care has increased from less than 5 percent under the Taliban to more than 80 percent now across the country. This government-led effort is saving thousands of lives each year.
This past summer on July 20th in the Kabul Conference, the Afghan government presented to its nation-partners a blueprint for true partnership: the Afghan government urged the donor community to channel at least 50 percent of all aid resources through Afghan state institutions – including the Ministry of Public Health – and to align their independent aid efforts with the priorities of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy.
One of the core objectives of the National Development Strategy is to address Afghanistan’s human security needs so that children can be better nourished, mothers have skilled assistance in childbirth, and families can have access to electricity, clean water, and education.
If the bulk of Taliban fighters can see that their basic human security needs can be met by the government, they would likely disengage from the insurgency and opt to lead peaceful, productive lives. It should be clear to all at this stage that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won purely through the use of force. The Afghan government and its international partners must work together and mobilize our resources to invest at least 50 percent of all international aid and national revenues to change forever Afghanistan’s dire human security situation. The time to act is now.
Dr. Suraya Dalil is Afghanistan’s Acting Minister of Public Health, and Ashraf Haidari is the Chargé d'Affaires of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington DC.