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Briefings & Documents Menu / Anti-war Briefings Menu / Briefing 07

20 October 2001

War, Famine, Lies:
War Sabotages Aid Effort

  'Quite 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 culpable.'

Christian Aid emergencies officer, Dominic Nutt, Independent, 11 Oct.

Disgraceful Complacency

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., p. 1)

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., p. 11)

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., p. 5)

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, 11 Oct.)

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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