Afghan refugees arrive at the UN's repatriation center as part of their journey home. Peshawar, Afghanistan, September 9, 2016. (Mohammad Sajjad/Associated Press)

A suicide bomb killed at least 20 in Kabul earlier this month, just as the United Nations reported a marked rise in the number of children dying in Afghanistan’s protracted conflict during 2016.

Mark Bowden, the United Nations humanitarian aid coordinator in the country, said the level of civilian casualties in Afghanistan was unlike anywhere else in the world outside Syria.

Speaking with International Peace Institute Senior Adviser Els Debuf, he said there was a need for “far better rules of engagement in the conflict and far more thought being given to how you can minimize the impact on the civilian population.”

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

You’ve been the UN humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan for the past four years. How would you describe the situation today, and how do you see it evolving in 2017?

We have a more serious humanitarian situation now than we had four years ago because the nature of the conflict has changed. When I first came, there were considerable civilian casualties, but over the years we’ve seen the continuing increase in the numbers of civilian casualties, with a disproportionate impact on women and children. Read more