UNITED NATIONS: Nearly four lakh people have been newly displaced in Afghanistan since the start of the year, with a huge spike from May, a spokesperson for UN chief Antonio Guterres has said, amid the deteriorating security situation in the war-torn country.
The US has already pulled back most of its forces from Afghanistan and is looking to complete the drawdown by August 31, ending its nearly two-decade military presence in the country.
Afghanistan has been witnessing a series of terror attacks since the US began withdrawing its troops on May 1.
The Taliban insurgents have overrun one-quarter of Afghanistan's provincial capitals.
"Since the start of the year, nearly 390,000 people have been newly displaced by conflict across the country, with a huge spike since May, Spokesman for the Secretary-General Guterres, Stephane Dujarric said at the daily press briefing on Wednesday.
He said according to UN humanitarian colleagues, between July 1 and August 5, 2021, the humanitarian community verified that 5,800 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have arrived in Kabul and are seeking safety from the conflict and other threats.
They have received assistance including food, household items, water and sanitation support.
Dujarric said most of the internally displaced persons staying in Kabul are hosted by friends and family, but a growing number are staying in the open.
Ten teams were deployed to assess the situation for people staying outside in parks and open spaces.
They identified an additional 4,522 displaced men, women and children in need of shelter, food, sanitation and drinking water.
A temporary health clinic and mobile health teams are providing health services to these people, he said.
Despite a worsening security situation, humanitarian agencies are staying and delivering to people in need, reaching 7.8 million people in the first six months of this year.
The ability of the United Nations and local and international NGOs (non-governmental organisations) to stay and deliver depends on the removal of bureaucratic hurdles by the parties, staff safety, and additional funds being urgently mobilised, he said adding that the USD 1.3 billion Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan remains just 38 per cent funded, leaving an almost USD 800 million shortfall.
The Secretary General's Personal Envoy on Afghanistan and Regional Issues Jean Arnault is in Doha where meetings between representatives of Afghanistan and the Taliban, other regional representatives and envoys are continuing in different formats.
"I'm not in a position to give you details, but I can tell you that he is there and fully engaged," Dujarric said.
Replying to a question on whether there are any plans by the UN offices in Afghanistan to scale down or evacuate staff because of the rapidly changing security situation and number of provincial capitals falling to the Taliban, Dujarric said contingency plans are continuously updated and reviewed in order to keep all UN staff safe while at the same time delivering as much aid as possible.
"But forefront in our mind is helping the people of Afghanistan and keeping our staff safe, he said, adding that there has not been any evacuation of UN staff from Afghanistan. Our footprint, as of now is we have about 3,000 or so national staff and about 300 international on the ground. There are more people that are working. Because of COVID, they had been working remotely."
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement Tuesday that the Taliban must cease their military operations in cities.
Unless all parties return to the negotiating table and reach a peaceful settlement, the already atrocious situation for so many Afghans will become much worse.
The Taliban have captured more than half of Afghanistan's 400-odd districts.
Their attacks on provincial capitals have violated the 2020 peace deal between the Taliban and the United States, The New York Times reported.
She said, in Afghanistan, since July 9 in four cities alone Lashkar Gah, Kandahar, Herat and Kunduz at least 183 civilians have been killed and 1,181 injured, including children.
"These are just the civilian casualties we have managed to document the real figures will be much higher," Bachelet said, warning that even before the latest Taliban military offensives on urban centres, the UN had documented a steep increase in civilian casualties.
The situation in the southern city of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, starkly demonstrates the harrowing impact that hostilities in urban areas have on civilians.
In only the two weeks since July 28, when the fighting started in the city, the UN received reports of at least 139 civilians killed and 481 injured.
The available food supply in the city is fast diminishing and shortages of medical supplies were also reported.
Electricity and water were cut off in most parts of the city.
Bachelet said that the sweeping takeover of an estimated 192 district administrative centres by the Taliban, the attacks on provincial capitals including Qala-e-Naw, Kandahar, Lashkar Gah, Herat, Faizabad, Ghazni, Maimana, Gardez, Pul-e- Khumri, and Mazar-e-Sharif, and the takeover of at least six provincial capitals - Zaranj in Nimroz province, Sheberghan in Jawzjan province, Kunduz City in Kunduz province, Taloqan in Takhar province, Sar-e-Pul in Sar-e-Pul province and Aybak in Samangan province have struck fear and dread into the population.
She also warned that the proliferation of pro-Government militias being mobilised against the Taliban may also put civilians in additional danger.
"People rightly fear that a seizure of power by the Taliban will erase the human rights gains of the past two decades," she said.
"The people of Afghanistan are speaking of their deep fears of a return to the worst of the human rights violations of the past," Bachelet said.
"Women, minorities, human rights defenders, journalists as well as others who are particularly vulnerable need particular protection. There are very real risks of renewed atrocities against ethnic and religious minorities."