Last three decades of conflicts have rendered Afghanistan one of the most unsafe country in the world. Until these days, practically no part of Afghanistan can be considered completely safe for foreign visitors. The security has significantly improved, however, in many of the areas which are visited by foreign tourists, such as Herat, Bamiyan or Mazari Sharif.
There are two types of potential dangers awaiting inadequately prepared tourists in Afghanistan: one of them is the danger which can potentially befall on the visitors in form of attacks by insurgent groups or organized robbers. The other potential danger may spring from the Afghani environment conditions, lack of hygiene, pollution and dangerous insects and animals.
When visiting Afghanistan, foreigners should bear in mind that in case of emergency, there is a lack of adequate health centres which would supply standard treatment as it is in most of the world countries today. Even a simple treatment can hard to receive, especially in the remote mountainous areas.
One potential danger comes from existence and active operations of the insurgent groups, such as the remnants of former Taliban or the international network of Al-Qaida. These groups are known for their attacks on Western nationals, whether random or targeted. Kidnappings and contract killings or assassinations are some of the tactics used by these groups to earn money and gain attention of international media. High-profile attacks on private sector institutions and personnel have come without prediction.
Besides the terrorist groups, drug lords and gangs can potentially endanger civilians. Often, it is hard to differentiate between terrorism, illegal activities and politically-motivated behaviour. Significant number of attacks against the International Security Assistance Force had civilian casualties as well. Since the fall of Taliban in 2001, drug trafficking, especially opium, has increased considerably. Afghanistan produces almost ninety percent of the opium of the world, and revenues from this drug serves as profits for large number of organizations as well as individuals, these often being government officials.
Another threat in the populated areas can be in the form of a vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) which continue to be of risk to both foreigners and Afghan security forces. For this reason, travelling in armoured vehicles with helmets and body armour is strongly recommended, especially in the capital.
The security situation is the most unstable in the capital, Kabul, Nuristan and Khyber Pass. Due to high rate of unemployment and poverty, Kabul has seen a dramatic rise in crime rate since the fall of Taliban. This crime includes armed robberies in certain districts of the Afghani capital.
Yet more dangerous than the capital is the Khyber Pass. Part of the AH1 highway, this mountain pass with elevation of over 1000 meters connects Afghanistan with neighbouring Pakistan through the Spin Ghar mountains. In the conflict of 2001, it was used as the main route for supplying NATO troops with arms as well as food from Pakistan to Afghanistan as well as for safe passage of Afghanis to Pakistan. Pakistani government paid the local tribes to keep the area secure. However, after Taliban took over the region in 2007, this passage has become very dangerous for both civilian and military crossings. In 2009, it was Taliban insurgents who blew up one of the bridges in the passage, making it impossible for anyone to travel. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan close the passage from time to time due to very high risks of insurgent attacks. Even when open, this passage is not recommended to other than Pakistani and Afghani nationals. While there are reports about the possibility of bribing border guards to cross from one country to another, foreigners are discouraged from visiting this area altogether.
Road conditions should be also taken into consideration when traveling around the country. Outside of Kabul, the road condition varies. Even in Kabul it might be dangerous to drive as many cars don’t use headlights at night and there are no lanes. The roads can be filled with potholes in some of the areas of the capital.
Outside of the capital, a four-wheel drive vehicle is the best option. Many roads are in deteriorated condition and in winter they can be impassable.
MOUNTAINS AND NATURE SAFETY
Since Afghanistan is considered warzone, another potential danger awaits its foreign visitors. One of these are landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO). While the number of victims of landmines and UXO has significantly decreased since 2002, there are still hundreds of people reported injured annually by these devices. Despite the meticulous work of mine clearance organisations, it is advisable to avoid to worn paths and not touch any unknown item. It is also advisable to reconsider visits to such areas as travel insurance does not generally apply there.
Mountainous areas of Afghanistan pose natural threats if form of snake, scorpion and spider bites. Yet further danger can await those coming to contact with mammals. Serious infections can be caused by monkey bites, especially the macaques, as well as by stray dogs or cats. Serious problem in this respect is getting adequate health treatment if the problem occurs.
HEALTH AND HYGIENE ISSUES
One of the greatest challenges when travelling to Afghanistan is the dust. Considered one of the dustiest country in the world, Afghanistan is challenging for individuals who suffer from asthma and respiratory diseases.
It is strongly advisable to bring along all the necessary medication and sanitation products as these might not be available in the country. Even the individuals without medical issues should come equipped with anti-diarrhoea medicine and pain relievers as well as products of personal hygiene. Due to very poor hygienic conditions, it is recommended to use anti-bacterial products when washing the hands. Only bottled water should be consumed.
In terms of food, it is not recommended to eat fresh produce without processing it first. A special care should be applied when eating meat and dairy products. Due to lack of sanitation, there are a lot of flies which contaminate food and spread diseases, especially in summer months.