Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100
TUESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2001
100. It is still not clear. They are not performing
as well as they would like to themselves, are they, because of
the problems about distribution, the problems of security and
so on? What I am asking is whether it is feasible to ask the World
Food Programme to be doing more at the present time to distribute
(Mr Ali) I think generally the aid community as a
whole has been caught by surprise. The air strikes happened, the
evacuation took place and whatever mechanisms were in place have
been disrupted and now we have to look at alternative mechanisms.
I can, again, go back to the scenario we have in Helmand where
on 22 September we were due to distribute 870 tonnes of food.
1,600 tonnes of food is already in a Kandahar warehouse of the
World Food Programme. The problem is that it is not World Food
Programme individuals on the ground, the UN system as a whole
has its own security rules and mechanisms and, practically, I
am asking the people in the World Food Programmebecause
we all have common objectives and work together"Can
we get a release order to be sent to the warehouse in Kandahar
and have that 870 tonnes from the 1,600 tonnes released to take
it to the people?". Their problem is that the UN is not giving
its staff the security clearance to go back into Afghanistan to
places where the warehouses do exist to physically release whatever
food is available inside the country. We need to address that
101. Is that due prudence about the safety of
people or is it bureaucratic?
(Mr Ali) I can give an example. Amongst the UN staff
there are local staff. Some Afghan staff, for example, in UNICEF
have turned around and said "This is our country, these are
our people, irrespective of the security clearance or not we are
going to go back in and resume our activities". Now the expatriate
UN staff cannot do that because the security risk is very high
and difficult for them but those are local staff. As an agency,
you cannot impose or encourage people to risk their lives. So
it has to be a systematic policy decision which the World Food
Programme or the UN as a whole has to address. Now this does not
mean that the World Food Programme is not performing because in
return what we are doing is, along with the NGOs and the World
Food Programme, we are finding alternatives. One alternative is
to take food directly from Pakistan to the actual distribution
sites so there is no stop over, there is no storage and the food
can go in the commercial trucks and NGOs can receive it at the
other end and distribute it. Because I think the community has
been caught by surprise, as a whole, to develop these alternative
mechanisms and make them effective quickly, it is that time which
is running out.
102. Would it be possible for both of you to
give us a paper on this particular issue so we get this absolutely
Before this I was getting the impression compared with other catastrophes
in the past that the co-ordination by the UN was rather better
than it had been in the past. Whereas in, say, Rwanda or particularly
in Kosovo we would meet NGOs and they were constantly complaining
about a lack of co-ordination by UN bodies and a lack of leadership,
we have not experienced that in this case. Am I reading this wrongly?
(Mr Ali) I think the co-ordination is
not the problem, it is very effective and it is actually very
good. The problem is the alternative mechanisms that need to be
developed have to be developed quickly because the facts are the
UN staff are not allowed to go back inside Afghanistan for the
moment and if they are not allowed to go back inside Afghanistan
practically it is difficult to release the food which exists.
So, the alternative is to take the food directly from Pakistan
to the distribution points. Now to take that food to the distribution
points you have the threat of air strikes, you have local threats,
these are the things which I think have to be addressed in its
entirety, not singling out any one particular agency. I think
it is just trying to develop alternatives quickly. One of them
could well be the pause in the air strikes which would allow people
to say "Well, if there is a pause we can get the necessary
security clearances to go back, stock up the food that we need
and let the NGOs then distribute it from their own". The
other one could be "Well, let us create a safe haven, get
the food in there or let us create some kind of a corridor and
get the food in there". Or, as WFP is doing at the moment,
getting in as much as it can under the circumstances to wherever
it is possible and then secondary distribution will continue from
103. I do think it would be helpful, it is an
interesting area and if you could expand upon it, it would help
our report. In terms of leadership, if, for example, you have
got a problem with the Pakistani Government, you said the Government
has been pretty good but say you have got a problem in a camp
there or a border issue, are you absolutely clear who you would
go to in order to negotiate for the Pakistan Government?
(Mr Walker) I think it is very clear. Clearly we are
working, in terms of refugee camps, with the United Nations High
Commission for Refugees. First and foremost they have a key role
in working and negotiating with the Government of Pakistan although
clearly we are involved together on that. There are joint fora
for actually raising issues and trying to look at solutions to
the very real problems that exist. Overall I think we are all
very clear that it is the United Nations that has a key role in
leading, co-ordinating and managing the whole humanitarian assistance
effort. With regard to that, I think we all welcome the appointment
of Lakhdar Brahimi as the new special representative. I think
the issue is to what extent he and his colleagues are going to
be properly resourced to manage what is going to be an extremely
complex role here, not just the humanitarian but also the longer
term political and the future of the situation there. Yes, just
to sum up, the United Nations has a clear role at the forefront
in leading and co-ordinating this humanitarian programme and a
key role also in the discussions and the negotiations and the
agreements with securing the safe access for agencies and the
UN to actually do their work. It is the only agency that can move
towards ensuring proper impartiality.
104. Mr Brahimi was my next question. When we
were talking last week to Oxfam and CARE they said they hoped
Mr Brahimi would have a humanitarian role.
(Mr Walker) Yes.
105. Chris's words were that we are "a
week later". Is it clear what his role will be on the ground?
(Mr Walker) I think there is a need for further clarity.
It is possibly a little clearer than it was last week. Our understanding
is that he is fully charged with bringing to the forefront, humanitarian
aspects of the UN's role along with the human rights and also
with the political incredibly complex and difficult role. I think
there is a danger obviously that we have seen declining expectations
of what Mr Brahimi can achieve and I think the question there
is the need for proper commitment from the international community
to make sure that he has the full backingthe full backingpolitically
as well as in terms of resources to effectively carry out that
106. I was noticing earlier that the warehouse
in Kandahar of the World Food Programme was occupied by the Taliban.
Who would negotiate with them? Who would be talking to the Taliban?
If your wishes are going to come true there has to be co-operation
with the Taliban. Who is doing that on the ground?
(Mr Ali) I think the lead role for inside Afghanistan
lies with OCHA so in any policy discussion, any governmental role,
the lead is taken by OCHA and the other agencies come under that
107. There is clarity about that and that role
is being fulfilled as well as it could be?
(Mr Walker) Sorry to butt in, there is an issue as
well with the new special representative Lakhdar Brahimi, a need
for clarity about this role regionally, how he relates with those
key UN posts amongst OCHA, UNICEF, UNHCR, WFP. Certainly, from
Save the Children's point of view, I think that is not as clear
as it could be and does need some further work.
108. I have got a couple of quick questions
and then what I will do is a tour de table starting with
Mr Robathan. So any colleagues, though they are not obliged to,
if they have any final questions they can ask them and then I
am going to ask you if you have anything you would like to say
which you do not think has been covered. You have asked for a
pause in the bombing, how long?
(Dr Mukarji) For as long as the international community
can give it because we need, with the UN leadership and the International
Red Cross and others, to be able to work not just on a pause but
with secure mechanisms to get the adequate supplies of food in.
We have to work on two fronts. On the one hand we need to get
the pause and on the other hand we need to get the mechanisms
for which we can get the food and the other supplies in. If we
could dream dreams here, enough of a pause so that we can respond
to the humanitarian crisis in the immediate future.
109. Since we agreed that winter is in 15 days'
time or the snow will start in 15 days' time, if there was a pause
for the next 15 days how much food aid could you get into Afghanistan
during that period?
(Dr Mukarji) Sir, you have already heard from my colleague,
there are more logistic problems than just the actual pause.
110. No, no. If between now and winter, 15 days,
if there is a pause, how much food aid could you get into Afghanistan
during that time?
(Mr Ali) At the complementary side of food and distribution,
for NGOs, most of us, we complement the bigger food agencies.
(Mr Ali) We take care of mainly the distribution side.
So how much food can we take in? I think we will have to ask WFP
because they are the food agency and they would have the best
112. From your knowledge of what has happened
on the ground, if there was a respite for the next fortnight,
how much food aid do you think the World Food Programme would
(Mr Ali) I cannot give you an answer on the whole
of Afghanistan but we know the needs of Qandahar and we know what
used to come, we know the needs of Qandahar, Helmand, Nimroz,
Zabul, the southern part of Afghanistan, and we know the needs
of the Central Highlands. I think WFP used to have the capacity
to be able to meet those needs regularly. Every month there was
a food allocation for these areas and that monthly food allocation
would come. If the situation of security, and there is a pause
and all that, is taken care of I do not see why that need could
not be met again. However, the added problem is that there is
actually a gap. Food has not been distributed for September, we
are at the end of October, so you are looking at perhaps two months
of existing needs and then enough stocks to take people through
the winter. So, these are the facts, how long the pause should
be, we should base it on the facts we have.
113. I was not going to ask a question but I
would just say as humanitarian organisations presumably your work
will always be badly affected by any warfare assault. So basically
you would like the war to stop full stop, would you, and the bombing?
Let us be honest, is that not inevitable? I do not blame you,
I entirely see your point.
(Mr Ali) For Islamic Relief, I think we have worked
in operations where there have been bombs falling around us, be
it Kosovo, be it Bosnia, be it other places.
114. In Afghanistan where they have been fighting
a civil war for 18 years.
(Mr Ali) Yes. So agencies are used to war. The point
here is I do not think any of the agencies are getting into the
political discussion of whether the war should continue or should
stop. The agencies want to put forward the fact that there are
over five million odd people who need essential supplies in the
near future and that it is what we want to happen.
115. There is an immediate crisis now in Afghanistan
and the media and the world's attention is on Afghanistan. Do
you think that the people of Afghanistan in terms of the crisis
are the people at this moment in the most need in the whole world?
(Mr Ali) Could you repeat the question?
116. Is this the only crisis? Are there others
in more need who have not been noticed in your view?
(Mr Ali) Well, the UN Secretary-General in June declared
Afghanistan as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. So
if we are basing it on that then at the moment, according to the
UN's own Secretary-General, it is the worst crisis, I believe.
117. I read a report a few days ago that the
World Food Programme was buying snowploughs. Now there will be
parts, I suspect, quite large parts of Afghanistan where the roads
will remain open or could be kept open. Should the World Food
Programme, therefore, be spending the next, whatever it is, two,
three, four weeks concentrating solely on getting food to the
most remote areas which will be cut off and maybe even transshipping
food which is already in bigger cities to smaller centres, to
which it would be difficult to get through to in the winter? I
mean, trucks will be able to get to Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad
right through the winter, maybe with great difficulty, maybe the
journeys will be longer. Is concentrating now on the most inaccessible
areas something which ought to happen?
(Mr Ali) This map, which is by the World Food Programme,
mapped out very clearly the urgent areas that need immediate supplies.
Yes, what you are saying is quite true that in the next few weeks
we need at least to get the urgent supplies in. Then there are
secondary urgencies which could be the second round of distribution.
118. Is that what is happening as far as you
(Mr Ali) This is a priority at the moment, yes.
119. If you look at the list that is linked
with something you said earlier. If you look at the list of OCHA's
partner organisations on the ground, there are something like
25 of them and you look and see there are six from Britain, six
or seven from France, the usual clutch of Scandinavian ones and
so on and so forth. What does it look like on the ground in terms
of the distribution of aid? Does it look like a lot of white Christian
Europeans giving out aid? You mentioned good Afghani NGOs, are
they being used fully? What do you feel about that issue? Are
there enough Islamic organisations and are they there and are
they being given the resources to do a job? Does it matter?
(Mr Ali) I think to clarify what does it look like
on the ground in terms of who is giving out the assistance, most
agencies work through local staff so most of the time the face
that you see in front of the beneficiary is often local staff.
There is the management which consists of expatriates from Europe
or other places and that management is often concerned with the
needs assessment, the monitoring and the evaluation, the impact
of the assistance. In terms of local NGOs, we know that there
are a lot of good NGOs that are being approached because for areas
which we find difficult at the moment to access directly, we have
gone to some of the world credible NGOs and they have said "We
have got so much on right now from requests like yourselves, from
international NGOs, that we are not in a position to assist you".
We know that they are being utilised and they are being used.
In terms of Islamic NGOs, Islamic Relief is the only European
or Western, so to speak, NGO that has a significant presence inside
Afghanistan. I would say it is the only British NGO that has a
significant presence inside Afghanistan. I think more importantly,
what we have found important is to ensure that we collect to a
co-ordinating mechanism. Islamic Relief would not promote working
in isolation, working outside of a plan that is put forward by
the international community. I think that is something which Islamic
Relief is making a key effort to do. I do not see a lot of other
Islamic NGOs on that table.
(Ms Kelly) I would just add, speaking on behalf of
the local agencies, local partner organisations with whom we work,
they have felt actually very well consulted and included in many
of the discussions with WFP and the UN which have been going on
in Pakistan. Many of them, of course, have been responsible for
large scale distribution prior to this. They have indicated to
us that it has been a fairly positive experience for them.
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