Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 130)



Ann Clwyd

  120. We talked earlier about the importance of targeting aid on particularly vulnerable groups. Women were vulnerable in Afghanistan before military action. Can you give us some assessment of the position of women as you see it now in this situation, particularly as there are a lot of war widows and there were even before this military action?
  (Mr Ali) I think in any crisis women tend to be the most vulnerable. Afghanistan is no different, even before these current events. Access to women is very difficult, it is part of the local laws, part of the local structure, it is something we have to accept and work with. A lot of the agencies try and develop mechanisms to ensure that women do get assistance and we do try and verify. In our programmes, one of the things we do is we employ health couples. These are husband and wife doctors who along with our assistants will go and do educational water and sanitation, they will talk about the safe use of water because we are doing drought related programmes, and through that we get the women involved and make sure they get the assistance which is due to them. Women, I think, at the moment are still vulnerable and will continue to be so. Access will remain difficult to women but these are realties that we have to accept and develop mechanisms to make sure that although they are vulnerable they are not necessarily made more vulnerable by being left out.

  Chairman: Piara?

  Ann Clwyd: Could we have the other reply.

  Chairman: Okay, but I am conscious that we are running against time.

Ann Clwyd

  121. We have not mentioned women and women are very important in this situation, Chairman. I would just like to hear from the one woman giving evidence.
  (Ms Kelly) I would agree and I would say in all honesty as Christian Aid at least half of our work has been women programmes, despite the difficulties with the restrictions imposed by the Taliban and so on. I think that with the priority now on emergency relief distribution it is also fair to say that many of the kinds of programmes, long term developmental programmes, we had in the villages, are not functioning very well, if at all, at the moment, particularly in the remote areas. To the best of my knowledge, perhaps a perennial weakness is also to say that I have not seen a lot of very particular attention being paid to the needs of women, and particularly vulnerable women, in this crisis.

Mr Khabra

  122. Once the conflict is over in Afghanistan, are there any plans for the refugees to go back and re-settle or as they going to end up like a camp we visited about two years ago in Jalozzi, very close to Islamabad?
  (Mr Walker) Yes. I think it is very difficult to say at this juncture. Clearly all refugees, including host country governments, would like to see people returning to their homes. I am sure all Afghans who are not in Afghanistan would dearly love to return at some point. The question is when are the conditions going to be suitable to allow them to do that. Certainly we have seen over the last 10 to 20 years long term refugee settlements in Pakistan, for example. The reason why people have not gone back is because the conditions have not been right for them. As we were saying earlier, I think there is this onus on us all, the international community, to ensure that we are putting in long term support to enable conditions in the long term to allow people to return. I hope that our Government will certainly sign up to that commitment.

Chris McCafferty

  123. Given that you have told us that most of the movements of people are within Afghanistan rather than crossing the border, I am curious as to whether there are any particular ethnic groups which are choosing to cross the border? Are there more women and children or is there nothing significant? Can you tell us that? The point that Ann made about the status of women, I am interested to know whether any of the agencies have been working with women on sexual and reproductive health programmes and if any of those are available in the camps and in the villages?
  (Ms Kelly) We have but not in the camps.

  124. Right.
  (Ms Kelly) I cannot answer for the camps themselves.

  125. You are working with women on these issues in the villages?
  (Ms Kelly) In the villages, yes.
  (Dr Mukarji) We have a programme in Afghanistan where we have been training traditional birth attendants and working with women in looking at health and other problems and trying to do that as part of our long term development programmes in western parts of Afghanistan. Going back to your earlier question that was related to what kind of groups. As Sakandar said, the people who are likely to cross the border are more close to the Pakistan area we are talking about because of the fact that ethnically some of the communities, the Potanza, are the same kinds of people across the border and have some connections with it. It is probably ethnically more likely to be that community that is crossing the border. The reality in terms of internal displacement is covering all kinds of communities inside Afghanistan.

  126. It is not particularly more women?
  (Dr Mukarji) For women and children in certain areas it is much more difficult to walk a long journey and find the necessary mechanisms to go elsewhere. You must also recognise in present day Afghanistan that many families are women led families or child led families because they have already lost husbands or men in that family. We are dealing with a very difficult situation because of the 20 year civil war.

Mr Colman

  127. Earlier in the month there seemed to be considerable disagreement between Clare Short and the NGOs in terms of what was going on on humanitarian relief in Afghanistan. Do you believe now there is a coming together of views or is there still this gulf, if you like, between you? Is there a mechanism there on a daily basis to agree with DFID with your own views as to what is actually happening on the ground?
  (Dr Mukarji) There have certainly been some differences with Clare Short but I would like to emphasise that we fully support her commitment to humanitarian issues and we are also concerned about this. We are working behind the scenes with DFID and her staff to try to find mechanisms to avoid misunderstanding and recently her statement of 24 October recognised the role and potential of the NGOs. A few of us agencies are having a meeting with her on Thursday morning to discuss some of these issues and Afghanistan is on the agenda. We recognise that Government has a certain role and NGOs have a certain role and that is the beauty of our democratic space and our democratic system. We need to maintain that so we have the ability to articulate our concerns and to be able to put on the agenda certain dimensions which have not been heard or not seen. That sometimes appears to be difference of opinion but we are both committed to the humanitarian agenda in Afghanistan and see it sometimes from different points of view.


  128. Mr Ali, is there anything you would like to add to that?
  (Mr Ali) I support what has been said.
  (Mr Walker) Absolutely. I think behind the scenes for practical purposes there is good collaboration. We are meeting on a very regular basis, to answer your question. In fact, there is a meeting this afternoon between the British agencies and DFID. Even between meetings there is regular sharing of information and discussion, so I believe it has been fruitful both here and on the ground in Pakistan and elsewhere.

  129. I am going to ask in the last few minutes if there is anything you would like to say by way of wrapping up anything that has not been covered. Is there anything that Christian Aid feels we have not covered? Is there any policy point that you feel we have not given sufficient emphasis to?
  (Dr Mukarji) First of all, I want to thank you for the opportunity of speaking to this Committee meeting because we are privileged to be able to share with you our concerns. It is for us and our network and our support base a very serious crisis and we are deeply worried about the long-term implications not only to the region but the international community in what is happening over there. We are urging our government, which has taken a lead in this, to continue to take a lead in not just the other dimensions of strategy but on the humanitarian one because we think the humanitarian crisis if not met adequately will have its implications on other dimensions of the situation. We are urging our Government, working with the international community and working with the local people, to find a solution and we are here to help, we are here to be partners in that process.
  (Mr Ali) Firstly, I would like to make a clarification. I think earlier on I may have said that Islamic Relief is the only British Islamic NGO in Afghanistan but—

  130. We all understood that.
  (Mr Ali) My colleague gave me a note so I thought I should clarify it. My message to the Committee would be that we understand it is difficult to get information from inside Afghanistan at the moment and we also understand that it is difficult to see on television the reality inside Afghanistan at the moment, and therefore often the focus of the media and the focus of the world's attention is to talk about "refugees". An example of that is often when we talk about internally displaced people we often refer to them as "refugees". Islamic Relief and the agencies here are on the ground, they have seen the reality, they continue to monitor and I think what we are putting forward to the Committee today is the reality. The reality is there are over five million people in Afghanistan in crisis, a huge majority have been displaced, comparatively what has crossed the border is very small and those who have crossed the border, good or bad, do have a host government, have an infrastructure, have access to food and water and we can get food and water delivered to them. That is not the case inside Afghanistan, there is no water or electricity in many of the cities we have had reported to us. Local coping mechanisms will soon break down with the huge number of people that families are hosting. Under these difficult scenarios and under this difficult situation where there is no information coming out it does not mean that there is no crisis inside the country. I think the crisis inside Afghanistan should be at the top of our agenda.
  (Mr Walker) A couple of points really for the Committee. First of all, from Save the Children's perspective, let me just point out and be clear to you all that, yes, Afghanistan at the current time is one of the worst countries in the world to be a child. We have a war currently being waged. We know from our past experience of all wars, certainly modern warfare, that it will impact disproportionately on the civilian population and on children, who make up nearly 50 per cent of the population in Afghanistan. If I can just quote from our founder, Eglantyne Jebb, back when our organisation started in 1919, she said "All wars, just or unjust, disastrous or victorious, are actually wars against the child". I wanted to make that point. Finally, I would like to say for consideration by the Committee that obviously we are concerned as agencies that there appears to be very little evidence that military objectives are being met as quickly as we thought and the humanitarian situation is reaching crisis proportions. Indications are from some of our leaders, Geoff Hoon notably and others, that this is not going to be a quick war, it is going to take time. We have heard as much as four years, possibly longer. From Save the Children's perspective it is hugely difficult to conceive of an effective humanitarian aid effort actually taking place over a period of time which compensates for what is very damaged infrastructure in Afghanistan, a lack of services and hugely disrupted agricultural production over potentially such a long period. Thank you.

  Chairman: Thank you all very much for coming and giving evidence today.

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