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drone-strike-humanitarian-aid-civilian_opt
The moral, ethical, and legal questions and uncertainties about secretive US drone strikes have increasingly become subjects of media attention. Many have criticized the Bush and Obama administrations for effectively engaging in endless, unchecked war, in many places, all the time. But one question has gone largely unasked in the debate over unmanned US strikes: what are the effects of drone strikes on humanitarian aid?

As we know, poverty and terrorism are closely linked. The daily struggles of those living in extreme poverty breed despair and desperation, and leave many, especially youth, vulnerable to terrorist groups’ incendiary messages. Poverty reduction is an important part of US national security and foreign policy, and yet drone strikes may be undermining attempts to combat extreme poverty on the ground.

Organizations working in rural areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and other drone strike-targeted regions have reported increased hostility and resistance in relation to drone strikes. Suspicions are always aroused in the days and weeks following a strike. According to NGO security officials in Somalia, following a 2008 drone strike, attacks on aid workers increased from one to two a month to six to eleven.

Aid workers have been accused of complicity in drone strikes. Often, workers who have been collecting information for aid purposes are accused of passing on sensitive information that supposedly enable strikes, such as GPS coordinates. Some workers have been killed, either by hostile locals or as a direct result of strikes.

One of the biggest problems that aid organizations and NGOs face in dealing with drone strikes is the lack of human personnel involved in the attacks. There are no authorities on the ground to address the safety of aid workers or civilians in the region. It is difficult to determine responsibility for the attacks because even though drones often operate from regular military airbases, they are under the CIA’s jurisdiction.

Some groups, such as the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), have had success interfacing with the US government through the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). But others, like the Center for Civilians in Conflict, have had zero success in lobbying Congressional leaders for greater oversight of drone strikes. Civilians in Conflict released this report in 2012 on the effects of drone strikes on civilians.

The effects of drone strikes on humanitarian aid cannot be underestimated. Compounding tensions in areas already struggling with poverty and violence does nothing to alleviate the problems. Instead, it hampers the valiant efforts of those risking their own lives to make a positive difference. If the US government wants to positively contribute to poverty relief and reduction efforts, it needs to evaluate the effects of drone strikes on humanitarian aid work in targeted regions.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: IRIN
Photo:

Afghan_Women_Cycling
Although women throughout Afghanistan are rarely permitted to even drive cars, a group of Afghan females has been changing minds by riding bikes. The Afghan National Cycling Team, led by 16-year-old Salma Kakar, hopes to be the face of a new phenomenon in the country – more women riding bikes, and possibly even representing their country in the Olympic games.

A nonprofit started by U.S. cyclist Shannon Galpin, called Mountain2Mountain, helped give the team their initial bikes and other gear to get them started. Galpin, no stranger to Afghanistan herself, was involved in volunteer work in the country and during her time there had a chance to cycle throughout Afghanistan’s mountain trails.

Despite aid from Galpin and support from team coach Abdul Seddiqi, the women still face immense hurdles. Afghan men still hold the belief that women do not have a place in society outside of the home, and for this reason the riders are often heckled and have even received death threats. Although the women cover their heads, wear long pants and sleeves when they ride, Seddiqi usually has them train in secret to avoid any danger.

Salma maintains that despite what many Afghan men may think, a few have actually shown support and Salma is confident that their cycling team will be able to create lasting change, with cycling being just the beginning of the road to Afghan women achieving new freedoms.

Galpin hopes that not only will the bicycles be a vehicle for the women to get around, but also a “vehicle for social change.”

Christina Kindlon

Source: NBC News

Afghanistan_Poverty
The citizens of Afghanistan have now weathered a 12-year war in the country and, as US and as NATO forces prepare to pull out by the end of 2014, a new study confirms that poverty and vulnerability are more significant to the development of mental illness and anxiety than exposure to war.

The study, focusing on war and mental health in Afghanistan, says that war is undoubtedly an identifiable precursor to mental illness, but that poverty and vulnerability are actually “stronger and probably more persistent risk factors that have not received deserved attention in policy decisions,” said Dr. Jean-Francois Trani.

The study elaborates on the origins of mental illness and political violence, saying that unemployment and lack of access to resources contribute to the absence of one’s place in a social hierarchy, which leads to mental anguish that, in turn, can cause young people to act violently towards any government or institutions of authority.

The study calls these social and cultural predetermined factors “social exclusion mechanisms,” and maintains that these factors were in place before war began, but are exacerbated by military conflict. The researchers recommend that policymakers take into account all factors of these at-risk groups to create a more stable and self-sufficient Afghanistan.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Washington University in Saint Louis
Photo: Trends Updates

USAID Helps Strengthen Communities on Afghani Border_opt
Quinoa seems to be on everyone’s mind lately, but for the district of Mastung – a district located on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan– sheep and shepherding account for more than 40% of the economy. Unfortunately, many farmers in Mastung use outdated techniques which limit their production even though demand for wool is high.

To help with this dilemma, USAID has funded an agricultural project in which Australian shepherds, who are among the world’s finest, instruct a best-practices workshop which teaches Mastung farmers current techniques and educate the farmers on how to use current technologies. These new techniques have been combined with direct marketing practices and, with the two disciplines combined, the result is an 80% growth of income for farmers in the communities where these practices have been implemented.

While this type of growth does help border communities in Pakistan, the strengthening of these communities has an unforeseen effect on U.S. national security and global security as a whole. It is no secret that extremist groups target poor communities by offering financial assistance and other forms of aid. In a region which has been plagued with extremist groups such as the Taliban, contributing to the economic growth of communities and helping them remain stable prevents the spread of terrorism and extremist ideology. For the Mastung, fighting terrorism with wool production is a win-win situation.

Not only do these contributions help create a better life for those in the border communities of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but they also help these communities as a means to furthering global security as a whole.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: TheNews.com
Photo: Pakistan Today

US-Troops-Leaving-Afghanistan

Last week President Obama announced that he plans on bringing home 34,000 troops from Afghanistan within the next year. The presence of American troops in Afghanistan over the past 12 years has served more than just a military purpose, but also a humanitarian one as well.

Despite the corruption and backlash from the Taliban, U.S. soldiers have been successful in creating a much safer community for the Afghan population through constant patrolling on both land and in the air. They have also provided the necessary institutions to provide health care and educate young girls. However, with the removal of most of the remaining troops, certain experts and members of Congress are worried that the $15 billion aid program for development and aid in Afghanistan will have been a wasted effort.

Because of the United States’ current economic standing, continuing to fund civilian-focused programs in Afghanistan is seen as creating a dependency on American assistance. In order to convince Congress and the President to at least gradually remove U.S. troops and continue to provide a small amount of monetary aid, Anthony H. Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggests that those in support of aid must quickly plan out their selling points and present a case to Congress that shows social and economic improvements in Afghanistan.

The argument against continuing aid is the belief that after all these years, the Karzai government still remains unaccountable and unable to keep corruption out of its administration. Those in support of aid believe that the Afghan people need more time to adapt if they are to begin independently managing their own affairs.

Over concern for the safety of Afghan women and girls from the Taliban, many senators, both Republican and Democrat, have come together to fully support the continuance of civilian assistance.

The main priority for all is to make sure that the billions of dollars that have been put into rebuilding Afghanistan and the American lives lost in doing so will not go wasted. All sides of the issue also understand that aid can no longer be given at the rate it has been for the past decade.

Reaching a middle ground that can guarantee the safety of Afghans but at the same time encourage them to actively build upwards from the foundations already set seems plausible and will hopefully remain an important concern while troops are being removed.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: The New York Times

Afghan_wedding
In war-torn Afghanistan, the country’s youth believe that there is something much stronger than a life of poverty and the Taliban regime’s oppressive rule: love.

Although banned by the regime, Valentine’s Day is becoming a popular, albeit secret, celebration among Afghanistan’s romantic young couples. In a country where most marriages are arranged, Suliman and Farzana Sharifi’s marriage is unique, as the 23-year-olds met and married for love and consider Valentine’s Day a special celebration of their relationship, and hopefully even a way to reduce hate and violence in their country. Farzana said, “when love comes even the Taliban can’t stop anybody.”

An American charity operating in the region had the same outlook, and has been using weddings as a tool to fight against rampant poverty and against Taliban recruitment throughout Afghanistan. The act of marriage can be prohibitively expensive in the country, where the average annual income is a mere $500, and a dowry to the bride’s family  for marriage can reach up to $10,000, making a wedding financially impossible.

Comfort Aid International recognized this conundrum and set-up the weddings of 38 couples last year alone, which local representative Sayeed Saleh Qasimi says is a vitally important way to keep young men away from Taliban recruitment: “We did this to prevent our youth from joining the Taliban side. They often join the Taliban because they are single and poor.”

Comfort Aid International has collaborated with local NGOs to negotiate dowry prices down to make it much easier for young couples to marry, and so far has coordinated weddings for over 1,000 couples in Afghanistan. One beneficiary of the charity, Sayeed Hussaini, is young and unemployed but maintains that he would not have been able to marry without the charity’s help. He also points out that young men do not have many choices financially, saying “a lot of people are doing bad things for money like joining the Taliban.”

The Taliban have been known to target regions where severe poverty is rampant, using poor and uneducated youth who have minimal opportunities for survival other than to join the extremist cause that promises food and shelter.

Hussaini goes on to state that he is still very poor, but will not join the Taliban and risk his life, because of his new wife.

Christina Mattos Kindlon

Source: NBC News