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Poor Security Hampers Afghan Relief Effort, ICRC Says

An ICRC nurse cares for a newborn baby in a hospital in Kandahar Province. (file photo)
KABUL (Reuters) -- Security constraints are hampering humanitarian operations across much of Afghanistan, where violence has spread to more areas this year, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said.

More than 4,000 people, around one-third of them civilians, scores of foreign troops, and around 30 aid workers have been killed this year as Afghan and foreign troops battle to contain the deepening and widening Taliban insurgency.

The violence, the bloodiest since U.S.-led troops toppled the Taliban in 2001, has prompted Western politicians to warn that Afghanistan risked sliding back into anarchy.

"The security situation in Afghanistan has worsened over the last year and a half, and the armed conflict has remained intense in 2008," the ICRC said in a statement.

"Regular fighting between armed groups and national and international forces has continued in more than half of the country.... Access to remote areas remains a major problem in most parts of the country," it said.

The ICRC continued to respond to the needs of those affected by the armed conflict, but security constraints still hamper humanitarian operations "in many areas," it added.

Mountainous Afghanistan, locked in three decades of war, largely relies on foreign aid for some 90 percent of its budget and for food supplies for most of its people.

Six million of the estimated 28 million population in Afghanistan face food shortages as crops failed due to drought this year and the harsh winter approaches, parliament said.

The United Nations, the ICRC, and the Afghan government have launched a program to pre-position food before the winter and access is cut to remote areas by snow, the United Nations said.

The UN World Food Program has allocated 36,000 tons of food for distribution and 38 percent has already been pre-positioned in some areas, it said.