World News

Red Cross says Afghan conditions worst in 30 years

(Reuters) - By Jonathon Burch

KABUL, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Spreading violence in Afghanistan is preventing aid organisations from providing help, with access to those in need at its worst level in three decades, the Red Cross said on Wednesday.

“The proliferation of armed groups threatens the ability of humanitarian organisations to access those in need. Access for the ICRC has over the last 30 years never been as poor,” said Reto Stocker, Afghanistan head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which rarely makes public comments.

“The sheer fact the ICRC has organised a press conference... is an expression of us being extremely concerned of yet another year of fighting with dramatic consequences for an ever-growing number of people in by now almost the entire country.”

The comments came a day before U.S. President Barack Obama was due to deliver the results of his Afghanistan war strategy,

and were the second warning in two weeks by the ICRC.

With more than 30 years of experience working in Afghanistan, the ICRC operates under a mandate whereby it tries to help anyone affected by the war -- including insurgents -- often giving it privileged access to many volatile parts of the country.

But Stocker said many areas of the country, particularly in the once peaceful north, were now inaccessible not only for the ICRC but for the hundreds of other aid groups in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month the ICRC in Geneva warned the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan was likely to deteriorate further in 2011.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were overthrown more than nine years ago, with record casualties on all sides of the conflict. Almost 700 foreign troops have died in 2010 alone, by far the bloodiest year of the war.

But ordinary Afghans have borne the brunt of the fighting. According to U.N. figures, 1,271 civilians were killed in the first six months of this year, 21 percent more than in the same period in 2009. Most of those deaths were blamed on insurgents.

The ICRC has also reported a spike this year in the number of patients with war wounds admitted at the main hospital it supports in southern Kandahar.

More than 2,650 patients with weapons-related injuries were admitted to Mirwais Hospital in 2010 compared to 2,110 in 2009, the ICRC says. A further 1,000 war wounded were treated but not admitted at the hospital over the past two years.

Editing by Paul Tait