NEW DELHI: Three local employees of an aid organisation affiliated with the Aga Khan Development Network were shot and killed by gunmen in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday.

The two men and a woman were working for Focus Humanitarian Assistance, and were killed in their vehicle while travelling in in rural Parwan province, said Noor Aqa Sameh, a district governor in the province. Sameh blamed the Taliban for the killing.

The incident is reflective of the growing security concern in Afghanistan, as tensions simmer between Taliban fighters and the forces battling them. Aid workers are particularly at risk, as statistic after statistic places Afghanistan as the worst country in the world for humanitarian workers. From 1997 to the end of 2014, more than 450 aid workers were killed, assaulted, or kidnapped in Afghanistan.

In 2015, aid workers along with patients in Afghanistan were the target of a US strike at a hospital in the battered city of Kunduz, that killed 42 people. The facility was run by Médecins Sans Frontières (or Doctors Without Borders), who maintained that the facility was struck despite the US military having clear coordinates. This was confirmed by a recent Pentagon report that admits that the hospital had protected status, and that its coordinates were known. After months of whitewashing by US and Afghan authorities, the Pentagon report finally placed the blame of the attack on US forces. The attack was the single deadliest incident for aid workers anywhere in the world -- with the attackers not being the Taliban or Afghan forces, but the US military.

Further, this was not the first time an MSF facility or its workers were targeted in Afghanistan. An MSF maternity ward in Khost, eastern Afghanistan, was bombed six weeks after it opened in 2012. In 2004, MSF left Afghanistan entirely, only to return five years later. After the 2015 attack on its facility in Kunduz, it was forced to leave the city -- with its absence being felt by the civilians who were injured in the pitched fighting between Taliban forces and NATO backed Afghan troops.

This threat to aid workers has created a crisis of sorts in Afghanistan, as the conflict torn country is desperately in need of people to fill humanitarian posts. Posts now remain "empty for a long time" compared to a decade ago, Elise, of France's Acted NGO in Kabul, who declined to provide a last name, told AFP. Candidates need to be reassured "nobody is blowing themselves up every day in front of our door".

The staff shortages along with increased security risks mean that aid groups are entirely absent or have significantly scaled back operations outside of cities -- where they are perhaps needed most. For instance, just as MSF withdrew from Kunduz after the attack on its facility, the World Food Programme (WFP) withdrew from Badakhshan in September after an attack on five of its trucks.

(Source: Huffington Post)

It’s not just in Afghanistan that aid workers are targeted. According to the latest figures in the Aid Worker Security Report, in 2014, 190 major attacks against aid operations occurred, affecting 329 aid workers in 27 countries. This represents a decrease of roughly 30 per cent from last year’s all-time high. However, numbers of attacks remained higher than in previous years. Further, kidnappings again surpassed shootings as the most common means of violence affecting aid workers. As in past years, here too Afghanistan tops the list as most kidnap victims were national staff of aid projects in Afghanistan, and were released following intervention by community elders.