Aid workers involved in redevelopment are not only worried that the rising insecurity is jeopardizing projects, but fear it is pushing disgruntled Afghans into the hands of the Taliban and adding fuel to a guerrilla war that now rages across much of the country.
In the past two months, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has suffered 12 attacks on trucks transporting goods, compared with 12 in the 10 months before that. Hundreds of thousands of dollars-worth of aid has been stolen. "[The attackers] are typically stopping the vehicles that are carrying food, detaining the drivers and the vehicles for a period of time, offloading the food and usually allowing the drivers and the vehicles to go on," Rick Corsino, the WFP's country director, said.
A series of UN "security accessibility maps" obtained by The Independent paint the same picture, showing areas considered to be in the top danger category spreading across the country in the past year. In June 2006, few places fell into this category. Most of Helmand was then tagged as the second- worst level - a high risk/ volatile environment. Large swathes of the provinces of Kandahar and Zabul were high or medium risk, while a significant part of Uruzgan was high risk. Areas of extreme risk did exist in those regions and in eastern provinces such as Khost and Paktika, but they were relatively small in size.
The change since then is stark. According to the May 2007 map, almost all of Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul and Uruzgan is regarded as an extreme risk/hostile environment. Huge sections of the eastern border with Pakistan also fall into this category. Meanwhile, two extreme-risk areas now sit on the fringes of Kabul province, and a high-risk area even exists inside its boundaries.
Mr Corsino said one possible reason for the spike in attacks on WFP vehicles could be that the trucks were now transporting more food than before, but he also feared that a "further breakdown of any kind of order or law in parts of the country" was a contributing factor.
He said: "There seems to be no penalty for those that are doing these things. They seem to get away with it all the time. The risk of being caught out or punished is almost nil."
Although the level of loss to the humanitarian agency is still "tolerable", Mr Corsino is worried because it is increasing. Problems are even cropping up in the north, where most people are traditionally hostile to the Taliban. "We have had incidents over the past couple of weeks in provinces and districts where we had never had that before or had not had anything for a very long time," he said.
Acbar, the agency that acts as a link between 94 NGOs and the Afghan government, is similarly worried about the impact that insecurity is having, particularly in the south.
Acbar's director, Anja de Beer, said: "The radius of activities is shrinking. It's more difficult to go out to further away districts because travelling there is more dangerous. I think you see the difference there: they [the NGOs] try to remain present in the province, but it's much more difficult to continue to work in the more isolated areas or to expand."
That increases the risk that the lack of development might add to an already worrying decline in security. Afghans throughout the country often complain they have not received the aid they expected after the US-led invasion. As a result, some say they will turn to crime or join the Taliban.
On 30 May 2006, four Afghans - including three women - working for ActionAid were shot dead in the northern province of Jowzjan. Gyan Bahadur Adhikari, the NGO's country director, believes the dangers are only increasing. "I cannot particularly calculate what is going to happen tomorrow - that makes me worry," he said.
Asked if the situation was getting worse, he replied: "Yes, that is obvious. In the north I used to hear nothing about suicide bombing, now it has started."
© 2007 The Independent