Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)

THURSDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2001

MR ROSS MOUNTAIN, MR IMRAN AKHTAR, MS CATHERINE BERTINI, MS DANIELA OWEN, MR KAMEL MORJANE, MR EKBER MENEMENCIOGLU, MS CAROL BELLAMY AND MR NIGEL FISHER

Mr Robathan

  140. If this fragile peace holds in Northern Alliance controlled areas and security is dealt with, we will be able to avoid a humanitarian disaster in terms of starvation; is that what you are saying?
  (Ms Bertini) Yes.

  141. Does that include the southern bit controlled by the Taliban as well?
  (Ms Bertini) Yes. Our distribution systems have been working throughout the country but the area of greatest concern, and you will see on the map we have given you, is actually in the north. Now there are many more routes opening up because of the political changes so we are able to reach many more people by truck. We do intend to get more than our target so that we can pre-position food for the winter, but if we cannot reach everywhere then we will resort to air drops to reach those that we cannot reach by truck. The south is not a problem and, if anything, the concentrations of people in the north are the ones that are most at risk and the hardest to reach.

  142. Are you able to reach them?
  (Ms Bertini) We believe we can reach them. It is not perfect. I do not want to give you the impression that everything is wonderful, the systems are great—no, we need still communications throughout the country and, our staff need to come back and the NGO staff need to come back and we still need additional support for this trucking system and all of those things still need to happen, but we believe we can reach them.

  Mr Robathan: Excellent.

Mr Battle

  143. Just to be absolutely clear, if there had not been the 11 September crisis, there would still have been an impending crisis anyway for Afghanistan because of the 20 years of civil war and the drought, so it seemed to me that there was a food crisis before 11 September?
  (Ms Bertini) Yes.

  144. Did you have sufficient stocks and resources before 11 September? Have you got sufficient resources because we know there has been more money put together now as a result of the coalition to back up the stacks? Is it simply now a matter of distribution? We did hear a couple of weeks ago that the difficulties would be compounded by winter closing in which seemed to create the impression in any event that the trucks would not go through and also drivers were scared of driving into Afghanistan because they would be threatened. What plans have you got for back-up and organised airlifts so that the programmes are received on the ground, as it were, rather than bombed from 30,000 feet? If you would just say how far forward you are.
  (Ms Bertini) To go backwards, firstly, as far as the airlifts are concerned, if necessary, we have got a couple of options. One option is the Southern Sudan-style air drops that some of you may have seen where we fly an aeroplane in and drop food out of the back. We have already been working within the UN to set up that structure and to make sure that we have trained people. We are planning to bring some in from Southern Sudan. You need people on the ground to manage it on the ground and now the security situation is getting better we may be able to use that resource if we need to. Then we have to manage the distribution on the ground. We have the plans in place if we need to use them. We do have the air drops from high above as a contingency, but it is biscuits or small packages of wheat. That is the last of the last resort if we need to. We are already flying food from Quetta up north so that we can then truck it in. That is already under way. We had stocks in the region before because, as you said, this was a disaster beforehand. We never could have moved as much food as we did—even initially when you saw those bags of food moving in in the pictures—if we did not have stocks in the region. Most of the stocks at the time were in Pakistan. A lot of our challenge has been to move them around, get approvals (which we got) from the Iranian authorities to move food through Iran, and be able to use that route, use routes from the north, so we have been successful in being able to do that. We are about 65 per cent resourced. We have given you a resource chart in your packet for food—and I am referring to food—and we are getting additional contributions in from the European Commission which will up that. It is important that we get all the pledges before the end of this calendar year because if somebody is shipping food it takes three months to get it there. If they give us cash, which at this point we prefer because we have got a lot of food in the region, we can buy it locally.
  (Ms Bellamy) I am forever adding—and she is wonderful about remembering this—that non-food items constitute a part of humanitarian intervention as well. By that in this case I am talking about blankets, I am talking about simple medicines, I am talking about water purification stuff, again very simple kinds of things, but we have been getting convoys in that way and others have as well, so this is something that has to go along with the food (although the food is just as critical for starters) and also therapeutic feeding back-up as well for those kids particularly severely malnourished.

  Chairman: I am going to ask Tony to ask his question and then I am going to ask whether UNHCR colleagues have anything they would like to add to anything that has been said so far.

Mr Colman

  145. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and the situation has improved dramatically, I would suggest, over the last few days. You are also describing a situation over the last few months which does not quite gel with what we have been told by a number of NGOs over the last evidence sessions that we have had in terms of the ability you have had to feed the people of Afghanistan through this very difficult period. Do you believe the NGOs have been unduly pessimistic or have exaggerated, if you like, the situation?
  (Ms Bertini) I like to see the glass half full and some people like to see the glass half empty.

  146. That is a very diplomatic answer but I would like to press you further because you are describing the situation. I think you said that only one of the warehouses actually ran out of food at any time over the last two months and yet we have previously been told that people are literally days away from starvation.
  (Ms Bertini) I have to say that when we did not deliver food from the 12th until the 21st there was a lot of criticism not at the very beginning because nobody knew what was going to happen but in the last few days before we started again on the 21st the NGOs were saying,"Where's the food? Where's the food? Where's the food?" It was never not inside Afghanistan. We could back up and we can dig out from our charts how much was where.[2]

  147. That would be very helpful
  (Ms Bertini) But there were a lot of other problems. For instance, as was mentioned before, we increased our request based on the drought and everything else so we were feeding 3.8 million people, for instance, during the summer. We had already said we needed to increase that to 5.5 million people, now it is 6 million people, that is why we had food already there. So we were moving that food in, a high volume of food already, at about 30,000 tonnes a month up until the 11 September, so there was food in the warehouses. Remember the Kabul warehouse that was taken over one day by the Taliban; it had 5,000 tonnes of food in it. The Kandahar warehouse had 1,500 tonnes of food. We will get you this information on how much food was in place over time. But there are two other problems. There was the problem of moving the food from the main warehouses to the small warehouse or to the distribution sites. As I mentioned, the NGOs do most of that work. The WFP does the bakeries and some of the general distribution but most of it is done by NGOs. They were limited by their staff there. They were limited by communications. When we were expanding they could not communicate with their staff about how to expand and how to use the increased amount of resources, none of us could. There were problems there as well. What we have tried to do to help with that is that now we do not only leave food in Kabul, but we also take it to the locations beyond in the jobs that especially the NGOs used to do. Since the facilities are not available we take it the next step and they pick it up from there and it has worked better.

Chairman

  148. Representatives of UNHCR, are there any comments you would like to make on anything we have said so far?
  (Mr Morjane) On three points, if you will allow me. First of all, to come back to the women issue —

Ann Clwyd

  149. Thank you.
  (Mr Morjane) It is an issue that we should address immediately. I do not think whoever will be in Kabul will have a better position than the Taliban. We have to be very careful about that. We as an international community should push for it and push for it in advance. We have been doing together with UNICEF whatever we could in the camps for the education of girls, for the women but it was not easy, it was a daily fight in order do it. It is a question of good governance and human rights. The international community should not impose a government but a certain way of doing it, not touching the traditional values of the society but at least when it comes to women certainly it is very important. Let's not forget that we are in a country with just ten per cent literacy and that was before the war and certainly with all those who have left the region in Afghanistan the situation is more difficult and certainly it is even more difficult for women. My second comment is on the food situation. It is not at all to contradict Mrs Bertini but I would like to address the non-food items. When it comes to non-food items our position in UNHCR when it comes to the funding of our activities is not that good. Today we still have some problems with our annual programme compared to the special programmes for this emergency. My last point is about security. Tomorrow, in principle, we will have a team going to Kabul in order to assess the security situation before we will be able to send—all of us, the UN as such—a team including the Deputy Special Representative. We have lost six of our colleagues during the last ten years in Afghanistan, but the issue is not only the security of the humanitarian actors, it is also the safety and security of the people themselves. We cannot help them if they do not feel secure and they cannot get whatever assistance all of us will bring them. Thank you.

Mr Khabra

  150. All of you have a challenge in front of you, particularly in view of the fast-changing military situation in Afghanistan, and I wish you well. As you know, the World Food Programme is to take the lead in establishing a Joint Logistics Cell using staff on secondment from other agencies and you have got money from the DFID up to $.4 million towards this project, and I wish you well. I am going to ask you a few questions but I will ask them altogether. In practice, how does the UN achieve co-ordination of all actors across the wide region? How is co-ordination achieved across and within the different regions of Afghanistan? To what extent are UN offices co-located. What are the pros and cons of co-locating offices? Are there any coverage/security benefits from having a number of offices for the different agencies? A number of questions which may have quite a lot to do with the efficiency of the delivery of the programme which you have in front of you.
  (Ms Bertini) The perfect person to answer that is Ross Mountain from OCHA, the co-ordination unit for humanitarian aid.
  (Mr Mountain) Thank you very much indeed. In terms of the co-ordination of all actors, that means not just the United Nations' actors but the vital non-governmental partners that we have. First of all, I need to underline that even prior to this immediate crisis the whole Afghan consolidated strategy (indeed there was a Strategic Framework for Afghanistan) included very much the non-governmental organisations and thus dealt with the different facets of how they work together. That is the concept. Coming down to practical structures, this breaks down into various committees, some of which used to meet in Islamabad, but others of which met inside the country and in regions. The structure inside the country was to have Regional Co-ordination Offices which brought together not just the OCHA co-ordination offices but also representatives of all the agencies and non-governmental organisations. If I may, in relation to the situation we have now, when all the international staff needed to be withdrawn, these groups were repositioned across the border from the area for which they had responsibility. For example, the team that is in Herat was moved to Mashhad in Iran. The team that was in Mazar was moved first of all to Turkmenistan and they are now in Termez, Uzbekistan. The idea was that they should help cross-border efforts but, as my colleagues explained, also be positioned to move back in quickly inside Afghanistan when conditions allowed. Many of the UN offices in different centres are co-located but where that is not possible they are obviously in close touch. In terms of security, each of these Regional Offices has a civilian security officer attached to them. We are very grateful to DFID that it has come in and strengthened our capacity at this time through the UN Security Co-ordinator to provide the additional assistance we need to have trained security personnel not only within each of these teams but in each of the surrounding countries. All agencies have strengthened the capacity of UN offices in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran and Pakistan, in addition to the Afghanistan team so that they could in fact operate more effectively in supporting the total operation. I want to underline the importance, as my colleagues have, of non-governmental organisations to our operation. This has meant in the Central Asian Republics—where there is in general a rather limited experience of dealing with non-governmental organisations, facilitating their operations under the UN umbrella in many cases. Mr Oshima, the Emergency Relief Co-ordinater, was out there recently (I accompanied him) and he spent a considerable period of time negotiating with the authorities so the NGOs could overcome problems with visas and access permits in order to be able to get to the border and operate inside Afghanistan out of these countries in the north.
  (Ms Bellamy) Just to follow up, when things really began heating up in September, called by Mr Oshima at OCHA, the principals of the four agencies here got together and we agreed in the course of one week on each of us nominating a regional person (because this covers several countries at this point). We each have one of those people, Nigel, UNICEF, we each have one. We agreed upon the person who would be the overall co-ordinater, Mike Sackett, who was the OCHA person. We have pretty regular conversations, at least phone conversations. In the course of yesterday, just to give you an idea, HCR, OCHA, World Food and UNICEF were at three separate meetings with different groups (but together as organisations) on the humanitarian side. I would also report on the development side that there is already a development group working. We are co-locating some warehouses. You also asked why something does not work or why it might not be advisable. You will find, since you are going to Pakistan, that the building that a lot of the UN agencies are in in Pakistan is of concern to us because it is the tallest building in Islamabad and it sits there as a perfect invite for anybody who wants to create any problem. So every once in a while we also have to take a look at whether it is inadvisable that you are in the largest target in a particular area.

  151. What sort of co-ordination assistance and help will you be seeking from the local community in order to overcome the difficulties of language or culture or any other problems you may face during that period? You have previous experience and you can depend on that experience and you may not be able to find the right kind of people, those that are able to help you. What are you going to do about that?
  (Ms Bertini) A small minority of our staff are international staff brought in from somewhere else. The vast majority of our staff are local staff in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We could not operate without those people. We count on their advice, direction and contacts. Even on the point of women in the bakeries in the major cities in Afghanistan, it was WFP female staff members who convinced the Taliban that since women could not work and there were many widows who would otherwise starve that there needed to be bakeries run by women funded by the WFP to keep those widows going. So we count on their expertise.
  (Mr Fisher) Can I give a very specific example on inter-agency co-operation and then move on to that question. In each of the regions within Afghanistan there is a team led by OCHA and each of us are members of that. When international staff were forced out of Afghanistan in early September those teams relocated as a group to neighbouring countries. For example, the teams from Kabul and Jalalabad went to Peshawar and from Herat they went to Mashhad and from there they co-ordinated cross-border movements. That worked very well. On the other area, besides what Catherine said, we have been working also with local NGOs to work out very systematically their capacity on the ground and their capacity for distribution so that we can report very accurately on what they are doing. There are a lot of very qualified Afghans whom we are contacting to see how in the recovery process we can involve them so they can have a very strong participation role because they fear greatly that the international community will "pre-cook" a lot of the solutions from which they will be excluded.

Tony Worthington

  152. My question follows on from that and what Carol was saying as well. We have been told that there are three elements to this emergency: one, the military, and we have got to hope that comes to a full successful end soon; the political, which is really Mr Brahimi and the development of a new government; and the humanitarian, and you have described that and OCHA's central role which, compared to other situations, seems to be working pretty well. Surely there is a fourth element which is the development element that we are now in a situation where if we do not put the development structure in place we are going to have disorder, we are going to have uncertainty, these kids have got to be got to school, we have got to get medical services there, water, all those things have got to be done. I am not at all clear what the structure is for doing that, not on a British basis or an NGO basis but on a United Nations' basis. Can you help?
  (Ms Bellamy) It is not all in place at this point. I want to make also the point that I am sitting here with my humanitarian colleagues but I also need you to look at them as development colleagues as well because none of these four agencies will leave. It is not as though there is a big wall that stops. We will go back and work on the water and kids and others but, that being said, there will be more actors that will come in as well. On the development side that is starting to be put together. Already among the UN development agencies there is an outline which we hope, even by Tuesday, we will be able to have more on because there is going to be this sub-ministerial meeting in Washington on Tuesday. That will have representation, I believe, from a number of governments, a number of development banks and will focus largely on recovery and reconstruction with the Afghan support groups which meets a week later focused mostly humanitarian issues. That will begin to identify some of the key areas, whether it is water or governance or the judicial system or food or refugees, those issues, and identify responsibilities, so that is in the process. The planning for that has already gone on. It is not as far developed at this point as the humanitarian, as you might expect, but it is actually moving ahead quite rapidly.

  153. Can I just follow that through because no matter how successful Mr Brahimi is, this talk of creating a government, you do not do that overnight, you do not get it functioning overnight and there is no civil administration, as far as I can see. There is nothing in place. We do not want to pre-cook it—I think that was your expression—for the Afghanis. Does this not mean there has to be some kind of UN protectorate, some kind of structure that is creating this? We have to convince the people that things are better than they were before September 11 and are going to get better still. How is that going to be done?
  (Ms Bellamy) Do you want a go at that, Ross? I think the Secretary-General of the UN, through Mr Brahimi, has made quite clear that we do not think the UN should be running the country. The model of a Kosovo or East Timor is not the model although I think the UN is certainly prepared to try and provide advice and support and as much guidance as possible.

  154. Support and advice to whom?
  (Ms Bertini) Good question.

Chairman

  155. Catherine said good question.
  (Ms Bellamy) You are pushing us a little bit beyond our own mandate at this point. It is not as though we do not want to respond to you but we really think that these are questions which have to be dealt with by some of our other colleagues, if I might say.

Tony Worthington

  156. Ross is bursting to say something.
  (Mr Mountain) I do not think I would put it quite that way. I think Carol has covered well the position that has been taken under the leadership of Mr Brahimi in terms of what we do not want to do and what we are prepared to do, which is to provide support, and notionally the support is to a provisional council or a transitional administration made up of Afghans. That has been the basis of his recommendations. It is hoped, as I understand it—as Carol said this is beyond our remit indeed—from the presentation that Mr Brahimi has made to the Security Council that they are looking towards trying to bring together a meeting of key Afghans and Afghan institutions even as early as next week. I am reporting what others are doing.

Mr Colman

  157. My question is primarily to the representative of UNHCR. The reports out of Afghanistan are saying that the Taliban is sort of melting away. Clearly the report we have had is that in Makaki camp near the Iranian border the fighters have mixed in with the civil population in the camps. We all remember what happened post the Rwanda massacres and how the Interahamwe moved across into the Congo and actually took part in the refugee camps set up by UNHCR and others. I think a number of us are getting very concerned that the Afghans in the camps could be used as possibly human shields or recruiting for in fact the Taliban to be able to fight back. Could I ask what lessons you have learnt in a sense from the Rwandan situation that you are now going to or are implementing in the camps both within Afghanistan and in Iran and in Pakistan to ensure there is not a repeat, as it were? Are you ensuring that anyone who comes into the camp is disarmed and there is no way there can be any recruiting or any human shield being developed?
  (Mr Morjane) Thank you. It is certainly a very important question for us which during the last few weeks created a lot of problems for UNHCR, not only with the government but also others. This is why we refused to intervene in the two camps at the Iranian border. It was for the same reason that we decided that we would not be there because we cannot guarantee the civilian nature of these camps. Despite all the pressure which was exercised on us by especially the Iranian Government, because they sent the Iranian Red Crescent to be in charge, even foreign NGOs were involved there but we said we could not do it for two reasons. One because we believe that whatever is the situation it is the principal that borders should be open even if we have to look into practical reasons and pragmatic solutions. We drew the lesson, yes, from the Congo. I was in charge of the operation in Rwanda in 1994. Certainly I remember the time when the Secretary-General asked for forces in order to make these camps and to take the military elements out of the camps in the Kivu, out of 60 countries—60 governments—which were asked to give military forces in order to do this, we got only one reply.

  158. From?
  (Mr Morjane) Bangladesh and nothing else. They found it would cost a lot and they could not do it. I think the Congo paid for it. As you know I have come back from the Congo so I know exactly what the situation is today. This is why we took this position in Afghanistan because we might have the problem the other way. The Talibans will be leaving Afghanistan and there are some indications, as you know—which we have heard already, which I cannot confirm—that they are planning to cross into Pakistan. There were indications that 80 of them managed to enter and of course we have to make sure that they will not go to the camps. This is again the responsibility of the government and this is why also we had all the difficulties with the Government of Pakistan when it comes to the places and the sites where we should put the refugee settlements.

  159. Is there a code of conduct as to on what basis UNHCR will go forward?
  (Mr Morjane) Yes.


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