Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)


  As many as 128,000 Afghan children may die over the next six months from malnutrition, measles, diarrhoea, and respiratory and other infections, exacerbated by winter, displacement and lack of basic services. At least 1.7 million children and 1 million women of child-bearing age remain in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

  UNICEF's goal is to prevent the death from cold, illness and malnutrition of Afghan children, whether they are displaced or stranded in their own communities during the winter.

  UNICEF has so far dispatched 44 relief convoys into Afghanistan, where 44 UNICEF national staff allocate supplies to local partners and NGOs for distribution to beneficiaries. In the coming months, if security and weather conditions permit, UNICEF and partners will attempt to gain greater access to children and women and to provide them with treatment, warm clothing, blankets, measles vaccination, vitamin A and supplementary food.

  UNICEF recently took part in a mission to Badakshan and aims to have international staff back inside Afghanistan as soon as permitted by UN security. UNICEF will also continue to give support to refugee and displaced populations in Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan. We have initiated recovery and rehabilitation planning with Afghan groups inside the country, in neighbouring countries and overseas.

  Against a September appeal target of $36 million, UNICEF has received contributions and firm pledges to the value of $20.8 million and indications of support for an additional $13.4 million. A rapid contribution of £3 million, and existing humanitarian capacity building support from DFID, helped UNICEF to buy supplies and equipment and begin airlifts and convoys as early as 29 September.

  Under the leadership of OCHA, a Crisis Management Group, which includes all major agencies, is playing an important regional and strategic coordination role. However, UN and other agencies are still only able to deliver a small proportion of what is needed inside the country. They need to scale up operations. In this regard, UNICEF would like to stress the following:

    —  UNICEF reiterates the UN Secretary General's desire to see military operations end as soon as possible so that humanitarian relief efforts can go forward at full speed.

    —  We recommend that the Security Council call on the warring factions to stop immediately the recruitment and use of child soldiers and to facilitate their demobilisation and reintegration.

    —  All parties to the conflict must be urged to refrain from using landmines and cluster bombs.

    —  Any humanitarian operation using military assets must retain its civilian and impartial nature.

    —  Even while conflict continues and the delivery of humanitarian assistance remains the priority, reconstruction should begin as soon as possible, especially at local level.

    —  Meeting the survival and protection needs of displaced and refugee women, adolescents and girls should be central to the planning, implementation and monitoring of relief and reconstruction operations


  1.  Children in Afghanistan are facing an overwhelming, life-threatening combination of dangers. These include:

    —  chronic and deep-seated underdevelopment and extreme impoverishment dating from before Afghanistan's 20 year-old conflict;

    —  the destruction of most of the country's basic infrastructure;

    —  chronic vulnerability arising from the erosion of individual and community capacity by more than two decades of war, other forms of violence, human rights abuses and drought;

    —  severe, institutionalised gender discrimination depriving half the population of their human rights;

    —  high levels of internal displacement resulting from the above factors, food scarcity, the loss of productive assets, and the widespread use of anti-personnel landmines;

    —  the escalation of hostilities at the end of September, coinciding with the imminent onset of winter.

  2.  In 1999, UNICEF carried out an analysis of the situation of children and women in Afghanistan. It found that:

    —  one out of every four children dies before reaching his or her fifth birthday;

    —  half of all Afghan children suffer from chronic malnutrition;

    —  50 Afghan woman die daily from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Afghanistan's maternal mortality rate is the second highest in the world;

    —  while only a quarter of all men are literate, only five per cent of women can read and write.

  3.  Before 11 September, the United Nations estimated that 5.3 of the country's 22.7 million people would need humanitarian assistance during the approaching winter. Children and women are by far the most vulnerable segment of this at-risk population. At least 1.7 million children and 1 million women of child-bearing age remain in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

  4.  Over the summer, UNICEF Afghanistan was finalising plans for an accelerated winter programme focused on vulnerable children and women. These plans formed the basis for expanded UNICEF humanitarian programmes included in the United Nations Donor Alert launched by the Secretary General on 27 September. They have since been adapted to reflect the rapid evolution and deterioration of the humanitarian situation.

  5.  In a worst-case scenario, as many as 128,000 children will die in the coming six months, out of a population of 7.5 million Afghans now estimated by the United Nations to be affected by the crisis. This is almost three times as many as the 47,000 children who would die in "normal" circumstances. The worst case scenario assumes limited access and a doubling of specific mortality attributable to measles, diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections exacerbated by high rates of malnutrition.

  6.  The number of deaths can be reduced if security conditions permit the acceleration of relief delivery in the coming month. In this case, UNICEF and partners will provide a larger number of children with appropriate treatment, warm clothing, blankets, measles vaccination, vitamin A, and supplementary food. This combination of inputs would reduce mortality levels considerably.

  7.  It is therefore important that enough resources be provided by donors not only for food and shelter, but also for healthcare, nutrition, water supply, sanitation, protection and education.


  8.  UNICEF's immediate goal is to provide emergency assistance to ensure the survival of children in Afghanistan, whether they are displaced or stranded in their own communities during the winter. We aim specifically to prevent death from cold, illness and malnutrition.

  9.  In light of the above, UNICEF plans to:

    —  continue to position supplies in every country that neighbours Afghanistan in case Afghans seek refuge across national borders.

    —  deliver as many relief supplies inside Afghanistan as possible. Most people appear to be staying in the country. And even if there are mass displacements, it will be the most vulnerable that are likely to be left behind. It is crucial to reach them with the basics they need to survive.

  10.  In the weeks following 11 September, UNICEF prepositioned humanitarian assistance at forward bases in countries neighbouring Afghanistan. On 6 October, the United Kingdom Department for International Development provided an initial contribution of £3 million. This, the first grant received by UNICEF for the Afghanistan crisis, enabled the agency to purchase supplies and equipment for airlifts and convoys and to strengthen its logistics capacity in the Afghanistan sub-region with minimal delay.

  11.  Existing long-term humanitarian capacity building support from DFID's Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Department contributed to UNICEF's ability to deploy 32 out of over 60 additional experienced emergency staff to regional operations. UNICEF deployed teams on the ground in all five countries bordering Afghanistan. UNICEF also procured communications equipment and established forward logistics and warehousing capacity in collaboration with WFP and other partners.

  12.  By 29 September, UNICEF began cross-border surface convoys into Afghanistan and airlift operations to neighbouring countries These convoys and airlifts have enabled UNICEF to position or deliver supplies to be used for the following:

  Survival activities, including:

    —  Provision of winter supplies for up to 525,000 children, all of whom will receive blankets; in the north, central highlands and west of the country UNICEF will also distribute winter clothing, plastic sheeting and tenting.

  The protection of children from the threat of malnutrition and illness, including:

    —  Distribution of emergency health kits to cover 2.4 million children and women (in close collaboration with WHO and NGOs).

    —  Vaccination services and National Immunisation Days in close collaboration with WHO and NGOs; future nation-wide mobilisation of volunteers for child immunisation during National Immunisation Days will allow for outreach and delivery of essential survival items such as blankets, child clothing and family kits.

    —  Therapeutic feeding for malnourished children and cooperation with WFP in supplementary feeding programmes;

    —  Provision of supplies and equipment to ensure access to clean water for 1 million children and women in communities and camps for the internally displaced. This includes collapsible water containers, hand-pumps and purification materials for families and water committees in camps for the internally displaced, buckets, jerrycans and soap, as well as construction of latrines.

  13.  UNICEF also aims to reinforce child protection and create safe spaces for child care and learning. Since schools and other learning spaces are essential activities in restoring a sense of normalcy and dealing with trauma, UNICEF plans to make education a high priority in all relief and reconstruction activities.


  14.  Since the 29 September, 22 UNICEF airlifts have delivered medical supplies, water purification tablets, therapeutic food for malnourished children and other specialised relief and shelter items from the UNICEF supply hub in Denmark.

  15.  UNICEF has also dispatched 44 convoys into Afghanistan (see attached map[1]). UNICEF and other main agencies set up logistics and programme coordination bases in Mashhad and Zahedan (Iran), Peshawar and Quetta (Pakistan), Turkmenabad (Turkmenistan), Termez (Uzbekistan) and Qurgonteppe (Tajikistan). In addition, UN agencies and NGOs have initiated inter-agency coordination cells in the capitals of all neighbouring countries. UNICEF relies primarily on commercial trucking capacity. It is also procuring 10 heavy-duty trucks in Uzbekistan. The agency is also negotiating with bilateral donors for the use of air assets for airlifting supplies to primary logistics bases along Afghanistan's borders.

  16.  44 UNICEF national Afghan staff continue to work inside Afghanistan. They meet convoys at the borders and allocate relief supplies to local partners and NGOs for distribution to beneficiaries.

  17.  Two rounds of National Immunisation Days have been organised. The first took place at the end of September, when more than 5.2 million children were vaccinated against polio and received a dose of Vitamin A. The second took place from 6 to 8 November. Parallel and synchronised immunisation campaigns took place in Pakistan, where they also covered refugee children. The coverage figures for the November exercise are not yet available, but the operation appears to have taken place without any major problems.

  18.  In the past five weeks, UNICEF has delivered and distributed the following supplies

    —  emergency health inputs (through hospitals and health centres) to meet the needs of approximately 330,000 people for three months;

    —  doses of vitamin A for five million children over a period of six months;

    —  plastic sheeting and tarpaulins for over 50,000 internally displaced people (supplies for an additional 160,000 are pre-positioned);

    —  food for therapeutic feeding of 13,000 severely malnourished children (pre-positioned);

    —  high-energy biscuits and supplementary food for some 22,000 moderately malnourished children;

    —  approximately 73,000 blankets to 110,000 children (one blanket for two children). (A further 250,000 blankets donated by the U.S. Government are in the pipeline);

    —  132,000 sweaters and jackets (a further 200,000 are in stock or in the pipeline);

    —  over 100,000 ten-litre water containers and water purification tablets (distributed or in stock in neighbouring countries);

    —  educational supplies and schoolbooks in north-eastern Afghanistan.

  19.  Over 3.4 million doses of measles and tetanus toxoid vaccine and basic supplies for vaccination are in the pipeline for delivery to Afghanistan.

  20.  To cater for the possibility that large numbers of people might be displaced, UNICEF is providing targeted support to refugee populations and border-displaced groups in Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan. UNICEF has initiated parallel programmes for children and women affected by the drought in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. We have also initiated social sector recovery and rehabilitation planning activities with Afghan groups within the country, in neighbouring countries and overseas.


  21.  As early as 17 September, the UNICEF Executive Director appointed Mr Nigel Fisher, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia and former Director of UNICEF Emergency Operations, as Special Representative for the Special Sub-Regional Programme for Afghanistan and Neighbouring Countries. Mr Fisher's mandate is to ensure coherent and consistent UNICEF action in assisting and protecting affected children and women and to ensure coordinated advocacy on humanitarian access at all levels. This is especially crucial since the sub-regional programme covers six UNICEF country offices and three UNICEF regions. Mr Fisher is also charged with ensuring good overall field coordination and communication with partner agencies, in particular UNHCR, WFP, OCHA, UNDP, The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the ICRC.

  22.  Regional representatives of these agencies have constituted a Crisis Management Group. Under the leadership of OCHA's Regional Humanitarian Coordinator, this group and the UN Country Team are able to play a regional and strategic coordination role. Operationally, UNICEF is working closely with WHO in health, with WFP in nutrition, and with IOM and UNHCR in non-food items, water and sanitation, education and child protection. In addition, UNICEF is deploying senior nutritional experts, available through emergency capacity-building support from DFID, to provide technical support to NGOs such as Save the Children Fund, Concern, and Action Contre la Faim, as well as to WFP and UNHCR.


  23.  These achievements show that it is possible to deliver large-scale humanitarian assistance even under the most hazardous conditions. However, there will be many child deaths this winter. The challenge is to prevent as many of them as possible. All humanitarian agencies are engaged in a race against time to deliver supplies and assistance before the onset of winter. The first snow has already fallen in the mountains. The situation is growing more critical with each passing day.

  24.  The current volume of deliveries is insufficient. The UN and other agencies are unable to deliver enough relief assistance to meet humanitarian needs inside the country. All agencies will have to scale up operations significantly if they are going to be able to limit the number of child deaths.

  25.  The problems are multiple: in the absence of international staff, Afghan staff face enormous challenges. There are tight controls at the borders, road blockages, and uncertainty caused by the ongoing conflict. The security situation constrains our capacity to reach vulnerable groups rapidly, to monitor and assess the situation, and to follow up on population movements.

  26.  A wide range of other factors will determine the feasibility of expanding and accelerating relief operations. UNICEF has strengthened its interaction and information exchange with the Coalition Humanitarian Liaison Centre in Islamabad. It is hoped that this will lead to:

    —  increased assurance of safe passage corridors for convoying;

    —  improved liaison with coalition partners on convoying, distribution planning and related security concerns;

    —  integration of convoying operations with WFP and IOM;

    —  improved beneficiary identification, strengthening of distribution networks and monitoring of delivery of assistance to beneficiary populations;

    —  expanded donor contributions of air assets and other service packages (logistics, transport, warehousing).


  27.  The Donor Alert launched by the Secretary General on 27 September included UNICEF's Afghanistan Sub-Regional Programme, for which $36 million were required at the time. In response, UNICEF has received contributions and firm pledges to the value of $20.8 million. UNICEF has also received indications that donors may provide an additional $13.4 million. If these latter contributions materialise, UNICEF will have received only $1.8 million less than its 27 September target. In other words our component of the September donor alert will have been 95 per cent funded.

  28.  Reference has already been made to DFID contributions to UNICEF's Afghanistan programmes. These were especially crucial since they were the first to be received by UNICEF. UNICEF has recently submitted a request to DFID for additional funds (£5.2 million) to meet the needs of 1.7 million children and 1 million women of child-bearing age for one month. The United Kingdom National Committee for UNICEF has also already mobilised $1.1 million, with the possibility of at least an additional $1 million for UNICEF's Afghanistan programmes.

  29.  A new donor alert will be launched by the United Nations on 27 November 2001. UNICEF will update and increase its appeal totals with a view to securing funds to take key survival programmes and activities to scale.


  30.  Prior to September 11, much energy was spent in safeguarding and countering the erosion of humanitarian space in Afghanistan. Since then, the problems have become more acute as military and other activities encroach on the space available for humanitarian action. In its attempt to take key survival programmes and activities to scale, and to protect and promote the interests of children, UNICEF would like to stress the following:

Humanitarian access:

  31.  UNICEF reiterates the UN Secretary General's desire to see military operations end as soon as possible so that humanitarian relief efforts can go forward at full speed.

  32.  UNICEF and other agencies working for children cannot access all children in need in Afghanistan unless all warring parties do all they can to facilitate convoys and other means of access. UNICEF and partners seek to assure increased access through improved beneficiary and distribution partner identification; improved liaison and security planning with coalition partners, and humanitarian corridors for the safe passage of humanitarian assistance.

  33.  Warring parties must recognise that, in Afghanistan, there is no proper distinction between military and civilian infrastructure. The destruction of roads, bridges and telecommunications facilities is having a real and serious impact on the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Fear of bombings is also hampering the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance.

  34.  Early in the crisis, the United Nations evacuated all international staff from Afghanistan for security reasons. The Taliban interdiction on electronic communication from the offices of UN humanitarian agencies and their demand for a significant reduction in the activities of those offices seriously impeded UNICEF activities in Afghanistan.

  35.  The return of international staff of the UN, NGOs and the ICRC to Afghanistan is an essential element in the struggle to assure child survival this winter. In a situation of conflict, the safety and security of humanitarian workers remain paramount. Resources need to be allocated for the acquisition of communications equipment and logistics capacity. Only when these are in place will it be possible to reach more vulnerable children and women and improve assessment, programming, distribution, and monitoring.

  36.  UNICEF aims to have international staff back inside Afghanistan as soon as permitted by UNSECOORD, the UN security office. The process for obtaining permission has proven to be very lengthy. However, a UNICEF staff member was one of three internationals on a mission to Badakshan in recent days and widened security clearance is anticipated shortly. Interagency missions involving international staff will include Termez-Hiraton-Mazar, as well as Mashhad-Herat. The UN is also sending two exploratory missions from Quetta and Peshawar to IDP camps near the border. As soon as the situation permits, the number of staff, both national and international, inside Afghanistan will be increased in these and other areas.

Child soldiers:

  37.  Under-18 year olds have been used as soldiers by all warring factions throughout 20 years of resistance and civil war in Afghanistan. UNICEF is collecting data on such abuses and will use these to challenge Taliban and Northern Alliance leaders.

  38.  We recommend that the Security Council call on the Taliban and the Northern Alliance to stop immediately the recruitment of child soldiers and their use in hostilities and to facilitate their demobilisation and reintegration.

  39.  Those children who have been recruited must be demobilised and returned to their families. Demobilisation also demands the creation of special centres for former child combatants, for their feeding and health care, and to develop opportunities to learn and earn through livelihoods training.

Mine action:

  40.  Increased risk of landmine casualties is certain to result from increased population movements as a result of the current military offensive.

  41.  All parties to the conflict must be urged to refrain from using landmines and cluster bombs which, particularly when they fail to explode on impact, can cause horrendous damage to children who pick up the brightly coloured devices thinking that they are toys.

  42.  Extra resources must be made available for mine awareness education and for support to survivors of mine accidents. There is an urgent need to maintain support for mine action programmes, particularly those directed at children, and to initiate new mine awareness activities, particularly for the displaced populations.

Humanitarian Neutrality and Impartiality:

  43.  With regard to initiatives to devote military personnel and assets to humanitarian operations within Afghanistan, it will be important to take into consideration the following considerations:

    —  A humanitarian operation using military assets must retain its civilian and impartial nature. The operation must remain under the overall authority and control of the humanitarian organisation responsible for the operation, whatever the specific command arrangements for the military asset itself. To the extent possible, the military asset should operate unarmed and be civilian in appearance.

Discrimination against women and girls:

  44.  Meeting the survival and protection needs of displaced and refugee women, adolescents and girls should be central to the planning, implementation and monitoring of all relief operations. Concrete steps should be taken to detect and prevent sexual and other forms of violence against women. Women should participate in the design and management of relief camps and settlements. Coordination mechanisms for humanitarian intervention, military operations, peace-keeping, and population displacements should include advisers on the protection of women's and children's rights. Education, particularly of girls, should be central platform of both emergency relief and reconstruction.

  45.  The Taliban authorities have institutionalised and legitimised discrimination against women to the fullest extent. They use the control of women as a means of controlling the population at large. The systematic and flagrant violations of women's rights in Afghanistan must be stopped. Those in power must commit to full respect of women's rights, including the right to freedom of movement, expression, association, employment, health and education.


  46.  Even while conflict continues and the delivery of humanitarian assistance remains the major operational priority, thinking is beginning on national reconstruction processes. UNICEF believes that social sector reconstruction, especially at local level, can create hope among the population and help create conditions for political settlement. Thus activities which encourage employment and reconstruction, especially of schools, have to take place while the delivery of humanitarian assistance continues. UNICEF has held discussions with the wider Afghan community at home and abroad to promote their ownership of, and participation in, the process of developing future social governance infrastructures, policies and institutions. It is also coordinating with other agencies to operationalise these principles.

  47.  As planning for reconstruction proceeds:

    —  every effort should be made to ensure that the rights, protection and well-being of children and women are fully and systematically taken into account in priority setting, resource allocation, programme planning and national policy-making;

    —  efforts must be made to consult with all levels of Afghan society both inside and outside the country;

    —  the United Nations system, the donor community, and international non-governmental organisations will need to provide more support to strengthen the capacities of national institutions, local non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations to ensure sustainability.

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)

13 November 2001

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