War, Famine, Lies:
War Sabotages Aid Effort
simply, the bombing must stop as soon as possible,
and the international community, under the auspices of the
UN, must launch a huge and credible aid effort - within days,
not weeks - guaranteeing the safe passage of convoys. If
this is not done before the winter snows come, thousands -
even hundreds of thousands - will certainly die.
If this happens, then the "civilised" Western powers
who have put so much store by humanitarian values will be
Christian Aid emergencies officer, Dominic Nutt, Independent,
Clare Short, International Development Minister,
is now launching disgraceful attacks on aid agencies in Afghanistan.
Earlier she herself warned that 'there is a real danger of a famine'.
(FT, 4 Oct., p. 7) Now she dismisses the concerns of experienced
aid agency officials as 'emotion'. (Guardian, 19 Oct.,
Short has actually said that 'There are some agencies who quite
frankly want to raise money and therefore want to be in the news.'
(Telegraph, 19 Oct., p. 11) Short, Minister for the Department
for International Development (DFID), has called for aid deliveries
to be doubled: 'I do believe it's do-able.' (Guardian,
13 Oct., p. 7) This would mean delivering the UN World Food Programme's
(WFP's) 'most optimistic projection' - roughly 76,000 tonnes -
before mid-Nov., when the winter sets in and snow cuts off remote
areas. According to the Guardian, this would still 'leave millions
facing starvation' in the central highlands and in the north.
(Guardian, 12 Oct., p. 6)
At first, the WFP said that 250,000 tonnes were needed inside
Afghanistan by mid-Nov. (Guardian, 12 Oct., p. 6) When
ARROW talked to Khaled Mansour, WFP representative in Islamabad,
on 18 Oct., he said only 26,000 tonnes were needed in remote areas
of Afghanistan before winter set in. While it is true that the
250,000 tonne figure applied to all Afghanistan (for the whole
five-month winter), and much of the country will continue to be
accessible by road during winter, the suspicion must be that Western
pressure is influencing the WFP's public assessments of need.
Jon Barton of Christian Aid says, 'There are two regions that
are soon going to be cut off because of the snows. We need to
get 70,000 tonnes to them in the next few weeks and we are not
going to be able to do that.' (Telegraph, 19 Oct., p. 1)
'Oxfam said it could not move a 250-ton wheat convoy into a central
mountainous area where 400,000 trapped people are living on wild
vegetation and essential livestock after a missile exploded on
Tuesday close to a food depot in the Afghan capital Kabul. It
would have been the first food into the area, Hazajarat, since
September 11.' (Telegraph, 19 Oct., p. 11)
Sam Barrett of Oxfam says, 'We need to get 4,500 tonnes of food
into the region. Our drivers are too scared to drive.' (Guardian,
19 Oct., p. 3)
'Dominic Nutt, of Christian Aid, said the system for distributing
aid inside Afghanistan had almost collapsed, with most local staff
afraid to work after American bombs hit the Red Cross building
in Kabul two days ago.' (Guardian, 18 Oct., p. 4) However
much food the WFP gets into the central warehouses, it is NGOs
like Oxfam and Christian Aid who actually distribute aid to the
remote areas. They say this is not possible while the war goes
on, because labourers are afraid to load and unload, and drivers
are afraid to drive to remote regions about to be cut off. This
is not 'emotion', this is fact.
Clare Short claims that she met local representatives of the NGOs
'as opposed to their spin doctors' (!) and was assured by most
of the agencies that 'the distribution networks are holding up.'
Alison Woodhead, of Oxfam International, said, 'I don't know who
she has been speaking to but I have been spoken to our people
in the area and we have not got enough food to deliver.' (Times,
19th Oct., p. 1) Dominic Nutt of Christian Aid again: 'We are
still in the country, we have Afghan staff working there and Afghan
partner organisations. That's where our information comes from.
Where does her information come from?' (Telegraph, 19 Oct.,
No Taliban Harassment Of Aid Convoys
Tony Blair told the House of Commons that
it is the Taliban 'who are the obstacle that are stopping the
food to get through' - the Taliban are 'harassing the UN convoys'
and 'taxing some of the food coming into Afghanistan'. (Guardian,
18 Oct.) Untrue, says WFP regional spokesperson Khaled Mansour:
'We have no problem with the Taliban regime regarding the food
convoys.' Mansour 'said there had been only one incident two weeks
ago in which the Taliban had tried to impose a tax, which the
WFP had refused to pay'. (Independent, 19 Oct., emphasis
added) It appears that out of this one incident, Blair has constructed
a Taliban campaign of 'harassment' and 'taxation'.
Taliban Police Oppose Raids On Aid Offices
The Taliban did seize two WFP warehouses
(one has been returned). The Taliban have also been blamed for
raids and confiscations by 'armed men' on aid agency premises,
but there is no evidence that this is Taliban policy, and the
available evidence suggests that several of these raids have been
opposed by the Taliban.
On 12 Oct., according to the UN, 'rogue Taliban groups
raided a local UN office' in Mazar-i-Sharif, 'beat up its Taliban
guards, and exchanged gunfire with Taliban policemen
who came to their protection.' 'Such a confrontation - Taliban
against Taliban - is entirely new.' (Independent, 16 Oct.,
In Kandahar, the same weekend, 20 armed Arab fighters 'forced
their way into the office of Islamic Relief, a British-based aid
agency'. 'When about 15 Taliban police intervened at the request
of Islamic Relief, fighting broke out,' said Stephanie Bunker
of the UN. The local Taliban authorities told Islamic Relief 'they
were not in a position to guarantee their safety because clashes
[had] broken out between non-Afghan armed elements and Taliban
police', added Bunker. (Independent, 17 Oct., p. 3)
Bunker says that 'non-Afghan armed elements' 'have allegedly taken
over empty private residences as well as some aid agency offices,
sometimes taking possession of their vehicles and some office
equipment.' (Independent, 17 Oct., p. 3) Arab fighters
seem to be breaking with Taliban discipline.
The raids on aid agency offices have been turned into potent war
propaganda against the Taliban authorities - who have actually
made attempts to protect some offices, according to the UN. Clare
Short says it is the aid agencies that 'don't have to be too concerned'
that the 'allegations they make are not totally accurate'. (Telegraph,
19 Oct., p. 11) What about the Prime Minister? Or Short herself?
Stop The War
The breakdown of the food distribution system
because of the bombing has led to a call by Mary Robinson, UN
Human Rights Commissioner, supported later by six international
aid agencies including Oxfam and Christian Aid, for a pause in
the air strikes to allow aid to be delivered. 'We must have a
pause in order to enable huge humanitarian access and to allow
a number of Afghans to come across the borders,' said Mary Robinson.
(Guardian, 13 Oct., p. 7)
Airdrops Are Not The Answer
A 12 Oct. statement by Oxfam criticised
the air dropping of small food packs: 'Trucks are the only way
to deliver the vast quantities of food that are needed'. Drops
of 37,500 meals per night are 'a drop in an ocean', when 5.5 million
people need enough food for six months.' www.oxfam.org.uk
Dominic Nutt of Christian Aid criticises
the air-drops: 'Christian Aid's experience tells us that much
will end up in the hands of warring parties, that fighting over
the food will occur where it does reach hungry populations, and
that the weakest - women, children and the old - will go without.'
'After Angola, Afghanistan is the second most mined country in
the world and dropping aid in open country will expose desperate
people to increased risk from this menace.' (Independent,
Open the Borders
A million Afghan refugees are expected to
attempt to enter Pakistan. The border is closed. The US apparently
demanded 'the closure of Pakistan's border with Afghanistan in
order to prevent Arab terrorists fleeing'. (Telegraph,
15 Sept., p. 4) The border closure threatens lives.
The Role OF The Taliban
A 'senior aid worker' in Afghanistan: 'The
one thing the Taliban did was greatly improve security. From the
humanitarian perspective, the collapse of the Taliban could make
the situation far worse than it is at present.' Andrew Wilder,
field office director (Pakistan/Afghanistan) for Save the Children
(US) for five years: 'A major concern would be in the event of
a power vacuum in Afghanistan and the return of an anarchic situation
similar to the pre-Taliban period, when convoys could well be
looted.' (Independent, 11 Oct.)
According to humanitarian experts,
there is now a risk that war may trigger a famine in Afghanistan
in which thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people may
die. This crisis cannot be solved by airdrops. The bombing is
undermining the aid distribution system - it must stop. Current
attempts to overthrow the Taliban risk creating a power vacuum
which could have a serious impact on the aid programme - this
must stop. The US must allow the opening of the Pakistan border.
The aid programme must be kept distinct from the military campaign.
We have until mid-Nov. to avoid the famine.
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