HERAT, Afghanistan — Two female Finnish foreign aid workers were shot and killed while riding in a taxi in Herat, Afghanistan this past Thursday. Unknown assailants on a motorcycle opened fire into the vehicle before fleeing, officials said.
Police do not know why the attack occurred or what the women were doing in the city at the time of their death. The government in Herat is investigating the incident, but no one has made an arrest.
The two women worked for the International Assistance Mission, a non-profit organization that provides education, hydroelectric power structures and medical care to Afghanistan. Workers for IAM are required to know provincial languages before beginning aid work and generally serve terms longer than three years.
Both of the killed aid workers had served in Afghanistan before 2000 and were returning to service; one had been in the country for one and a half years before being killed, while the other had arrived just days before her death. They were to serve important positions in the IAM efforts to fight poverty, including mental health projects, female business development projects and administrative leadership.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time IAM workers have been killed while in the field. In 2010, gunmen shot ten IAM doctors running a mobile eye clinic.
In recent weeks, many attacks and periods of unrest, including some conducted by the Taliban, have occurred in Afghanistan. The attacks come as the country is working to count votes for its presidential elections and as NATO and U.S. forces begin to leave. Many of the remaining foreign military units left in Afghanistan are transporting ballots securely and checking for voter fraud.
Some Afghanis of the Pashto ethnic majority, including the Taliban, oppose the candidacy of the half-Tajik contender Abdullah Abdullah. While the struggle to count votes continues, the Taliban have attacked multiple high-value targets in the country, including the airport in the capital of Kabul.
The recent violence and stalled vote-counting process suggest ethnic tensions may again hurt Afghanistan.
IAM does not use aid to advance any religious or political cause, though it is officially a Christian group. It hires Afghan workers to supplement its community aid efforts. It is currently unclear if the slain women were targeted for political, ethnic or religious reasons.
Afghanistan is a country where many people lack access to basic resources. According to the World Bank, over one quarter of the population is not immunized for diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus, and 44 percent of people do not have access to clean water. 35 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and as conflict continues Afghanistan’s poor will struggle to survive.
The recent escalation of attacks, combined with the withdrawal of foreign security forces, makes it more difficult to get help to the people who need it. Both governments and NGO’s need to be able to send workers into the field to build wells and establish medical clinics. Without ways to ensure the safety of their staff, aid agencies will be more reluctant to send people to dangerous places where they could otherwise help others.
The loss of the two foreign aid workers killed in Afghanistan is tragic and does not bode well for future developmental efforts in the country. If violence against civilians increases, fewer agencies will be able to make a positive impact on these communities.
– Ted Rappleye
Sources: The New York Times, International Assistance Mission 1, International Assistance Mission 2, Tengri News, The World Bank 1, The World Bank 2