Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by CARE International UK


  CARE International believes that the international community must take all necessary steps to ensure that:

      1.  Large-scale deliveries of food and other vital aid are expanded now, because winter is coming ;

      2.  The humanitarian effort in Afghanistan is placed firmly under civilian leadership; and

      3.  There is longer-term commitment to building a peace and supporting reconstruction and development in Afghanistan.


  The humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan was already upon us before 11 September, away from the media spotlight and the global political agenda. The people of Afghanistan are suffering from the aftermath of more than 20 years of conflict and three years of severe drought, and now face heightened risk and fear as winter approaches and military action intensifies.

  CARE International along with other agencies has been calling attention to the plight of millions of Afghans facing starvation for many months. Even before the events of recent weeks, the humanitarian community faced tremendous challenges to respond to this need, in terms of

    —  capacity to deliver aid on such a scale in a country with poor infrastructure;

    —  restrictions on access to the most vulnerable people and areas by the Taliban;

    —  reluctance of the media and donor governments to be seen as supporting the Taliban.

  The conflict has intensified all the above constraints, and added new ones. If the international community had taken action on the humanitarian crisis earlier, the dilemmas facing it now would be less acute.

  We cannot re-write history, but that is no reason to compound the difficulties we have created for ourselves. It is not too late to do something to reduce the suffering.

  CARE urges all parties to accord highest priority to the provision of humanitarian assistance to the millions of innocent Afghan civilians caught up in the crisis. In the window of opportunity available before the full onset of winter, priority must be given to humanitarian rather than military purposes.


  Some 7.5 million Afghans are estimated by the United Nations to be at risk. They need food and other basic assistance in order to make it through Afghanistan's harsh winter, which normally sets in by mid-November. Humanitarian organisations know that, in order to meet that need, they need to move some 50,000 MT of food per month into Afghanistan. Currently, the UN and NGOs are only moving a fraction of that amount across Afghanistan's borders to those in need.

  The United Nations and NGOs have sufficient food in the pipeline in neighbouring countries to meet Afghanistan's needs. They cannot deliver it into Afghanistan in sufficient quantities because of the poor security conditions prevailing in much of the country. Humanitarian organisations routinely work in places that might be considered unsafe, but moving large quantities of food into Afghanistan means contracting private truck drivers who will not necessarily accept the same level of risk. There are limits to the level of insecurity to which we will expose our staff, partners and service providers


  It is clearly preferable, and for obvious reasons, to provide support to needy people in situ than to relocate them to camps inside or outside the country. For this to happen, humanitarian space must be created inside Afghanistan. This entails:

1.  Humanitarian agencies having access to vulnerable communities

  There have been a number of incidents against NGOs both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The operations of aid agencies in Taliban-controlled areas are being greatly impeded by local authorities. Aid workers have been harassed, and in some cases, attacked. A CARE pickup truck was taken by the Taliban in Kabul, with the driver beaten and tossed into a ditch. Some agencies have had their offices and warehouses attacked or seized. Aid agencies have been severely restricted from using communications equipment, cutting them off from their offices within Afghanistan and neighboring countries, hindering operations and undermining staff security. Recently, authorities have also attempted to impose large taxes on deliveries of aid into the country.

  While these are generally isolated incidents, they add up to a stance of non-cooperation and obstruction of international relief efforts. The Taliban must be pressed into removing restrictions on the operations of humanitarian organisations and allow them to do their work freely in the best interest of the Afghan people.

  Humanitarian organizations, including NGOs and the UN, must be afforded safe and secure access to all affected civilian populations, both inside Afghanistan and in neighbouring countries. If conditions do not permit normal humanitarian operations to reach large numbers of those affected, extraordinary measures (airlifts and humanitarian corridors, etc.) should be considered on a temporary basis.

2.  Cessation of internal hostilities

  Afghanistan has been in a state of almost perpetual civil war for twenty years. This conflict currently pits the Taliban, controlling most of the country, against the United Front/Northern Alliance. The temporary and uneasy stalemate of recent months has been broken by the renewed flow of arms, equipment and moral support from outside. With the expectation that the winner will take all, the civil war is set to intensify. In such circumstances, humanitarian aid becomes a weapon, and aid agencies targets.

  This is not a war between two organized disciplined armies. It is not realistic to expect a formal negotiated ceasefire to be completely effective. Nevertheless, international pressure can be applied to achieve at least a declared undertaking by all sides to allow humanitarian activities to take place.

  Much could be achieved if the international community simply refrained from actively waging war or encouraging others to do so on its behalf. Creating a humanitarian window in the warfare can also provide an opportunity to work actively towards a political solution to Afghanistan's civil war.

3.  Halting air strikes

  Air strikes increase the risks that private transporters and aid agencies face in trying to move large quantities of food into the country. Among the targets already hit have been ones in the vicinity of major population concentrations in Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Mazar-i-Sherif, and Herat. When people flee, humanitarian action becomes more problematic. Even when only strategic locations are targeted, there is always a certain probability of damaging infrastructure which would be needed for effective humanitarian intervention.

  And, as anyone who has been in one will testify, air strikes terrify ordinary people.

4.  Integrity of Humanitarian Action

  Aid delivery decisions should be rooted in the humanitarian imperative and should not be used to further any partisan political or military agenda. Every effort should be made to reach those in greatest need in, and/or from, both Taliban and opposition-controlled areas.

  To this end he humanitarian effort should be under civilian leadership, and any interaction by humanitarian organizations with military forces should be limited to the provision of assistance to needy civilian populations, and should always serve to promote human rights.


  Notwithstanding the above, it is unlikely at this late stage that international political opinion will swing behind a call for a "humanitarian pause". The military option has been set rolling and it is likely to be allowed to run its course. Whatever our disagreement and frustration with current approaches, the humanitarian imperative is paramount. If we cannot achieve the best possible outcome we should at least seek to minimize the consequences of the worst.

  The international community, and specifically the British Government, must recognise the following obligations :

1.  Right to Humanitarian Assistance

  There is a need for urgent, massive relief assistance prior to the onset of winter. Harsh winter conditions in Afghanistan render roads to remote parts of the country impassable from mid-November until March, making it difficult for large numbers of Afghans to reach aid or for aid to reach them. Considerable uncertainty remains regarding the magnitude and direction of population movements, and donors and humanitarian agencies should be flexible regarding the locations where food and other relief supplies are ultimately directed. What is clear is that not enough food is currently getting in to Afghanistan.

2.  Protection of Civilians in Conflict Areas

  The international community must be prepared to ensure the protection of civilians, particularly internally displaced and refugee populations, and safeguard against their infiltration by military forces.

3.  Treatment of refugees

  Neighbouring states should open their borders to refugees needing to flee the crisis in Afghanistan, subject to the security screening needed to separate combatants from genuine refugees and avoid further destabilization of border areas.

  All refugees have a right to be provided an adequate standard of protection, food, water, shelter, and other basic needs. All refugee camps should be established and managed in accordance with international conventions and humanitarian (e.g. SPHERE) standards.

  Some of the planning to date for refugee camps in Pakistan raises serious concerns in the humanitarian NGO community, including camps being sited too close to the Afghan border and in inhospitable locations, possible restrictions by local military and civilian authorities on access of international humanitarian workers to refugee camps, and the potential militarization of camps.

4.  Reconstruction and Development

  While the international community must focus at present on the need for immediate, massive humanitarian assistance, our efforts should be informed by a desire to help the Afghan people break the cycle of conflict, extreme poverty and despair. We must seek to support and encourage those working for peace and avoid actions that propel Afghanistan down the path of intensified civil war and the complete breakdown of security. The only stable, long-term solutions to the current crisis are ones rooted in the right of the Afghan people to determine their own destiny.

  Essential to creating a climate of hope for the future among the Afghan people is an international commitment to aid in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. Such a commitment could provide an important incentive for a broad range of parties in Afghanistan to intensify efforts to address the country's fundamental problems. Among the minimum conditions for a major program of long-term assistance to Afghanistan should be respect for the rights of all of its own citizens, including women, minorities, and other vulnerable groups, as well as adherence to important legal and diplomatic norms in the country's dealings with the rest of the international community.


1.  Large-scale deliveries of food and other vital aid must be expanded now

  The international community must plan more actively for large movements of people within or out of Afghanistan. It is much more likely to be a question of "when" this is going to happen rather than "if". The secrecy surrounding the tactics behind the military intervention has lulled the international community into a false sense of uncertainty as to the likely humanitarian outcome.

  We should not be deceived by the relatively low volume of movement to date. Already the stream of people crossing the borders with Pakistan, still officially closed, is increasing sharply. Recently, 8,000 people came across in one day. At this eleventh hour, it is clear we have done too little too late to avert a crisis of massive proportions. All available routes and means of getting aid into and around Afghanistan should be employed. During the next month, it is particularly important to get supplies in place in areas that will be made inaccessible with the onset of winter.

2.  The humanitarian effort must remain firmly under civilian leadership

  The distinction between the humanitarian response to the Afghan famine and the military response to the September 11 attacks in the United States has been blurred. Political leaders should publicly reassert that important distinction between the political and humanitarian spheres of action. The UN should manage all humanitarian operations, including the refugee camps, and resist pressures to allow the military to do so.

  Military forces can provide security and possible logistical support in certain areas of the country, but the failure to make a clear distinction in functions may put the lives of humanitarian workers at immediate risk, as well as compromise the integrity of the UN agencies and NGOs in future.

3.  The international community must make a commitment to seeking peace in Afghanistan soon

  The conflict in Afghanistan has a history of constantly changing rivalries and alliances, and none of the parties involved has a greater claim than others on integrity, humanity or principle. Replacing the Taliban by a different faction will not end the war. It will mean nothing for millions of ordinary Afghans unless there is a political process that ensures plurality, safeguards the vulnerable from persecution, and establishes the foundations for prosperity. To help achieve this, the international community must guarantee to back a longer-term programme of rehabilitation and development

CARE International UK

19 October 2001

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