Attacks on schools threaten development in Afghanistan

Source: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)

KABUL, Afghanistan, 3 July 2008 In spite of impressive progress made in the past seven years, the security situation in Afghanistan continues to threaten the gains made by the country's women and children.

Girls' enrollment in school is up, as is female participation in government and in the private sector. Around the country, health indicators are slowly rising.

However, according to UNICEF's Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes, Louis-Georges Arsenault, nearly half the country is still inaccessible to most humanitarian aid because the security situation is too dangerous.

'Very refreshing to see'

This week, Mr. Arsenault visited the country for the first time in seven years. He was UNICEF's representative there from 1998-2001.

'During the Taliban era, there was no girls' education available throughout the country and also no women's employment whatsoever. So what I have seen now coming back seven years later is very refreshing to see,' he said.

'This being said, there's a long way to go in terms of gender issues, gender-based violence because the fabric of the society does not change overnight.'

Addressing problems

On the borders of the country, as a war between the Taliban and the Afghan government continues, civilians are threatened.

'In 2007, there were a total of 228 schools which were attacked, resulting in 75 deaths and 111 injured,' Mr. Arsenault said. 'And this year alone, as of June 2008 there've been 83 further attacks resulting in ten deaths and four injured and this is a very alarming trend.'

UNICEF has begun addressing this problem by getting local communities more involved in the development process from the start.

'Days of tranquility'

Abiding insecurity has also made it impossible to provide health care and services to all those who need it. Afghanistan is one of four countries in the world still plagued by polio; without the ability of health groups to move freely throughout the country, proper medicine and inoculations are impossible.

UNICEF and other aid groups have been negotiating with the government and the Taliban for 'days of tranquility' during which humanitarian groups can take advantage of the cease-fire to provide countrywide inoculations and reach those most affected by violence. Negotiations are ongoing.

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