Outgoing ICRC head raises Afghan concerns

Oct. 8, 2012 at 11:58 PM
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KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- The outgoing Red Cross head in Afghanistan has given a disturbing assessment as the war there makes it increasingly difficult for Afghans to get healthcare.

Reto Stocker, who is leaving after heading the International Committee of the Red Cross for seven years, said the war has taken a turn for the worse as far as ordinary Afghans are concerned.

"I am filled with concern as I leave this country. Since I arrived here in 2005, local armed groups have proliferated, civilians have been caught between not just one but multiple front lines, and it has become increasingly difficult for ordinary Afghans to obtain health care," he said Monday in Kabul, the ICRC said on its website.

Stocker's comments come at the same time as a warning from the non-profit International Crisis Group that the Afghan government is "far from ready" to assume security responsibility when U.S. and NATO forces withdraw in 2014.

"People are not just suffering the effects of the armed conflict," Stocker said. "Hardship arising from the economic situation, or from severe weather or natural disaster, has become more widespread, and hope for the future has been steadily declining."

Stressing that issues such as healthcare should be off limits, he said attacks on healthcare staff, vehicles and facilities cannot be considered part of the ordinary conduct of war.

"Healthcare must remain available to everyone who needs it. It must be provided impartially, on the basis of medical considerations only," he said.

Stocker noted the media and civil society are becoming more forceful in bringing to light the plight of the civilians.

He warned that "as international forces pull back, and funding available to the Afghan government is reduced, it could become more difficult to maintain acceptable conditions in the prisons."

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