Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)

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

  160. Does it involve disarmament, that there should be no basis on which any militarisation in the camps should take place or recruitment or training of civilians in the camps for military purposes? If there is such a thing it would be very useful as an aide memoire to ourselves to understand the lessons learned from one tragedy to ensure a further tragedy comes to an end, as it were, in Afghanistan?
  (Mr Morjane) The conditions we have put in order to intervene inside Afghanistan in camps which are supposed to be for people who will cross outside, I am pleased to say that we got all the support from all the UN system as such. We put forward four conditions in order to intervene in these kinds of camps. I mentioned two earlier, safety of the people, safety of the humanitarian agent. Then one of the questions was the civilian nature plus also the relationship with the local authorities. It has to be clear with whom are we dealing? Who is responsible for the security around these camps and who should be made accountable for that? I think we will continue to follow these principles including, I repeat, when the people might leave Afghanistan because for us at least in the southern part of the country it is not yet over. The mass influx could happen. We are not saying this in order to bring any kind of additional concern but it is a question of security and safety for the people. We do not know how the Talibans will continue to react in Kandahar and this area and this is why we will continue also to concentrate on our preparedness inside Pakistan.

Hugh Bayley

  161. There are obviously connections between humanitarian relief, post-conflict reconstruction and longer term developments. I was interested, Catherine, on the second page of your paper you talk a little bit about how you distribute food from your warehouses, what the local distribution networks are and you talk about food for work and food for education and rations to get internally displaced people back to their homes. Can you say a little bit more about what happens to your food and what the development implications are of how it is distributed? Also, perhaps, what the impact is on local markets because I imagine in pockets of the country there is not a shortage of food although there may be a shortage of money for people to pay for food. How do you stop destroying the local markets which do exist?
  (Ms Bertini) First of all, the World Food Programme starts with an assessment. It is done if it is a refugee situation with UNHCR, if it is a drought situation with FAO. We do that assessment to find out what the needs are, what kind of food is in the country, what kind of food people are used to eating, what the market place is offering, even the cost, the usual diet of the local people, all of these things come in to play when we do an assessment. The end result of the assessment is how much of what should be brought into the country and distributed to whom. We target always the poorest, hungriest people and we set up systems to be able to reach those people like, for instance, the commercial as well as women's bakeries have census that we had taken and they have to give the food to those people. One of the problems we had with the Taliban authorities earlier was that the census was old and we needed to do a census and we insisted on hiring women for the census so they could go door to door because the people on the other side of the door were women and this was a pull and tug that we had. That is an aside. We do then determine who are the poorest and the most at risk people by locale. Then we sign up partner NGOs in order to help distribute. We organise also, I should say, before we even sign up the NGOs, what kinds of things we think would be useful in a particular area in consultation with the local people. If there are not local authorities or sometimes even if there are we try to get people, especially women, in the community to give us imput about what would be useful. In Afghanistan, I believe WFP was actually the biggest employer if you count food as wages in the Food for Work projects that WFP had undertaken before. I would expect in a reconstruction phase it would continue as a very, very large employer in that sense. The kind of thing that we would do is pay people with food to build irrigation ditches, to rebuild roads and bridges, to improve sanitation areas or maybe drainage in cities. There are a whole variety of things that we do with Food for Work and had been doing in Afghanistan. Of late it is more just direct food aid.

  162. Other agencies, presumably somebody like UNHCR says "Can you do a Food for Work programme for displaced people"?
  (Ms Bertini) Yes, we have a Memorandum of Understanding with the UNHCR. Any time there is a population of over 5,000 refugees we provide the food to UNHCR for those camps. For displaced, it is the responsibility of OCHA, of the resident co-ordinator to make sure the displaced camps are covered and that the food is going to those people.
  (Mr Morjane) It could be for rehabilitation because we have a role in rehabilitation. We get, of course, the support also of WFP in that.

  163. What I do not quite understand is where the design of the Food for Work schemes comes from? Is it from the World Food Programme or other agencies?
  (Ms Bertini) It is primarily from WFP but we work in conjunction with the other agencies. For instance, if UNHCR is talking about a certain kind of reconstruction that they want to undertake they would consult with us. We have experts in this and they have some but the primary focus comes from WFP, from our experience broadly worldwide.

  164. Local markets?
  (Ms Bertini) Local markets we look at as part of the assessment process. The most recent assessment which was done —
  (Ms Owen) The 2001-02 FAO/WFP Food Assessment.
  (Ms Bertini) Go ahead.
  (Ms Owen) Basically Afghanistan is a food deficit country and it has been for many years. For this harvest year it had something like a two million tonne cereal deficit. If you consider commercial imports, what WFP brings in, there is still roughly a one million tonne deficit. You are starting your question whether we affect local markets, no, not really, we are in fact bringing in in some cases.

Mr Colman

  165. I just want to come back to this business of protecting the civilian refugee camps to ensure they remain civilian. You said in the case of Rwanda there was one country which offered to disarm and protect the camps, which was Bangladesh. Could I ask you whether you have recommended to the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, that there be a request made for outside military help perhaps from Turkey or Bangladesh or Indonesia, the other countries it is suggested could be sending troops to help in this situation? Has there been a request in terms of protecting refugee camps within Afghanistan?
  (Mr Morjane) We have not yet done this for one obvious reason. In the case of the Congo there was no longer any kind of authority or any government. It was almost an autonomous province vis a vis Kinshasa and the government. This is why the problem was as big. Secondly, I hope that we will not have the same situation as in Kivu where in July 1994 we got 100,000 per day people arriving. It could happen. This is why I am saying certainly we should not ignore this. In the case of Pakistan there is a government, we are in discussion with them, this is why we have been insisting also that our settlements should not be in the tribal area where there is no security whatsoever. We will continue these discussions with them despite the fact that they have been refusing to allow us to be inside the Government controlled area because the problem could be today there but it is a problem for them also. I think Pakistan today is in a very difficult position which of course we understand when it comes to the security and stability and nobody wants to create another problem in the area next to Afghanistan. To be honest with you, we have not reached that level of asking for a foreign force.

  166. Could I ask in terms of camps, which prior to September 11 you were administering in Northern Pakistan, whether this new code of practice you have brought in there as well to ensure we do not get a retraining of the Taliban in Northern Pakistan using all the things I have talked about in terms of recruitment from the camps?
  (Mr Morjane) Certainly not. I am quite confident it is not the case just because those who are in the camps are not at all on the same side as the Talibans. On the contrary, those who are there, the two million we have in Pakistan today, are not linked to the Taliban. This was why there was no risk for us to have Taliban people within the camps. They were there but they all went back. In fact the risk in the camps at that time was not military but the kind of schools, etc, where the Taliban were trained.

  167. Pressing you on that, are you insisting there should be a broad based education which is available both to girls and boys with a broad curriculum for the camps?
  (Mr Morjane) I hope that it will not be in the camps because our hope is to see them going back home.

  168. While they are there?
  (Mr Morjane) While they are there, yes we continue to have an education programme for them together with UNICEF and many NGOs also.

Ann Clwyd

  169. Two years ago about three Members of this Committee visited some of the camps in the North West Frontier area. Some of those camps had been there 20 years.
  (Mr Morjane) Yes.

  170. You know the problem better than anybody. How do you prevent temporary camps becoming permanent camps? It also seemed to us that the Taliban influence was very strong in those camps. I know because I was invited to address several hundred men and I was told I had to talk to the women separately. All the women were wearing their burkas and as soon we talked to them, women talked to them they took them off and had the same aspirations as women anywhere all over the world. How do you prevent that happening in this situation? I have listened to an extensive briefing this morning about what is going on inside Afghanistan. It does not sound to me as though it is settled by a long chalk. There is going to be an increasing continuing conflict. I wonder if you could address that problem and also, again, could I ask you about the situation of displaced people inside the country. Are you able to have any idea of their numbers by now? Who will tell them to go back to the liberated areas? What sort of programme of information will there be for those people? Then the other category of externally displaced people who have no refugee status, this is a new sort of cooked up title which covers a group of people outside the country but not in refugee camps, what do you do about those?
  (Mr Morjane) I think there are at least three questions. One is the issue of the women and this is why on purpose when the Chairman asked me to add something to what my colleagues had said, I said it is a problem which we will face not only with the Taliban but in Afghanistan in general. It is clear that what you have witnessed, Madam, is not only because of the Taliban, even before the Taliban, when you went to these camps in the 1980s it was the same problem. I must say for one reason or another it was more difficult to convince especially the man and the parents to let especially the girls go to school and the same experience which you mentioned was there already which meant it was not necessarily only the Taliban attitude but also the different mujahidin movements, although it may be slightly different. Ross has been living there and he certainly knows the situation better. This was why I was saying we should have this as the principal, as something we should, certainly as an international community, ask whoever would be in the Government in Kabul to address. Who will tell them to go back? You are asking about returnees, our attitude and position in UNHCR is always to say the refugees will decide to go back except if we are sure about the situation inside the country of origin where we do what we call promotion of repatriation. The situation in Afghanistan today does not permit us to start a sort of campaign to convince the people or to push them back. We will do that the moment we believe in the security, the safety, the structure of the country. Also, we have been talking about rehabilitation and reconstruction, it would be terrible for a country like we described earlier to have four million additional people arriving. Not all of them will go back, even if the situation is better in Afghanistan than Pakistan or Iran. Certainly maybe 20 per cent of them will decide to stay there because the camps which you have seen are no longer camps. This was a population which came to Pakistan and Iran at the beginning as a rural population, maybe 10 per cent were urban, it has been urbanised in these camps, in these settlements. In Iran you have only maybe three per cent of the refugees in Iran who are in camps, all the rest are in the different villages in the urban areas. This is an issue we should address. What I would say very briefly is that the refugees one day decide to leave, they never ask for authorisation from anybody, from UNHCR or from whoever. They will decide. They are the best barometer to say where is our interest, where is our safety, where is our security. They will do the same. In the same way they will decide when they have to start going back and this is why our problem and difficulty is to be ready at any moment because we have to work on assumptions and certainly to understand their will or their wish. Externally displaced people, yes, this is a new concept or new notion which in UNHCR we are not necessarily in favour of. It has been presented by the Pakistani Government as a new status which should be given to a new group. We are talking more about temporary protection. It is true in order to try to convince the Government of Pakistan, Iran and three other neighbours, we try to explain that you should not maybe give them a full refugee status, especially because Pakistan is not a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugee Status but just give them temporary protection and we promise the moment the situation is better these people will go back. It is difficult. It is difficult to make a distinction and this is why we have today what we call the invisible refugees because 140,000 people manage despite all the difficulties to cross into Pakistan and they are with the others in the camps you have seen which creates another problem for us and for our colleagues in the system, how to assist them, because they are with other communities who have been there for ten or 20 years. Thank you.

Mr Robathan

  171. On the refugees, which is a problem to get our minds around, we know these camps have been around a long time, I was with Ann in the camp in 1999. At the moment with a fluctuating front line within Afghanistan, with all the people who have fled from the combat, there are estimates of perhaps over five million internally displaced and internally stranded people. That is the estimate that I got from DFID two days ago. Do you have any idea how many people are without shelter as winter approaches? It seems to me quite a lot of people will have a couple of mules and be kipping behind a sand dune.
  (Mr Morjane) Inside Afghanistan?

  172. Inside and outside.
  (Mr Mountain) We do not have precise figures and the figures that you have been given, even before the 11th, we were collectively, as the humanitarian community, dealing with five million plus vulnerable people, not all were displaced. We were estimating about a million were displaced at that stage. Since then, of course, there have been a great deal more displaced and some of those, as Kamel has just said, have managed to find their way across the Pakistani borders as invisibles. Some have been allowed across who are vulnerables because they were old or they were very young. A lot of people have also been stuck across the border by the border both in Pakistan, by the Pakistani border and by the Iranian border, who have not been, if you will, as enterprising as those who have managed to sneak across in other places. They have posed a major difficulty for us all because they are clearly asylum seekers. The issue is not simply one of running from winter, of requiring food and requiring health services, it is also requiring protection, these people are running scared. Therefore that has been a difficulty and Afghanistan remains effectively a country that is not only land locked but the borders are closed to all refugees which is an extraordinary situation. These people are stranded in their own country where there is a war going on. We have been collectively trying to see how we can deal with those people as we advocate very strongly for the borders to be opened in accordance with UNHCR mandate and the High Commissioner for Refugees in particular has been very vocal on that. When will they go home was a question asked. Hopefully some will go home with the changing political fortunes but more will probably also be created by the changing political fortunes. It is extremely difficult. There are some IDP camps which are a bit more established in Herat and in Kunduz which have received support, including for winterisation, from the international community. Iran has been quite prominent in a couple of those cases. What we need to do now is indeed to reach people, ideally in their home, and those that are outside their home and then try and reach those who are in need. That is why we need close collaboration with our non-governmental colleagues as well.

  173. Do you have any idea how many people may literally be without shelter as winter approaches, hundreds of thousands? Have you any idea? Hopefully they will all go home and construct a shelter.
  (Mr Mountain) I do not have a precise figure but I would think we are talking hundreds of thousands because this has changed, this is changing as we speak now, the numbers of people who are moving.
  (Ms Bellamy) People are moving now, they are moving again.
  (Mr Mountain) Some may go home but others will be displaced. For example, we were in the business of trying to get some sort of fix on IDP numbers until, frankly, the events of last Friday started happening. We cannot get into what you might call the Pashtun heartland now, for simple security reasons—to get any kind of sense of what is happening there; and we need to. The humanitarian mandate is to reach those in need wherever they are in the country under whoever's control. If that means Taliban control, the Taliban still have armed authority over a significant part of the country. There are IDPs and people who are vulnerable in there. We have to find new ways to get in there.
  (Ms Bellamy) We are hoping to provide some information based on the immunisation campaign which still went ahead last week, because we were set to go ahead, in terms of where people are and some idea of who they are and whether they have moved or whether they are still in their regular location. It will give us at least some picture.

Tony Worthington

  174. I want to go back to what happens next after the conflict. I am puzzled about from where authority will come? I go to your website and I see you are powerful organisations that OCHA organise in emergencies. When does an emergency end? From where does authority come in and you end? You cannot have hundreds of NGOs descending on Afghanistan saying "We will put a school there and water there". Where is the authority going to come from? I cannot believe Mr Brahimi, for all his skill, which is revered, is within the next few months going to get a functioning civil administration going. If we do not do that, well, the Northern Alliance is not famed for good governance so what will happen?
  (Mr Mountain) Poor Mr Brahimi. He has been a month in the job and he has not solved the Afghan crisis.

Mr Robathan

  175. Two hundred years.
  (Mr Mountain) It is an extraordinary challenge for the whole governance area. He is obviously talking to lots of people and, as we reflected earlier, there are these consultations which are seeking to establish a transitional authority. We read in the paper that President Rabbani, who was head of the Jamiat-e-Islami Party is apparently going back to Kabul. It is very complicated and I certainly do not have the mandate or knowledge to talk about how this is going to be worked out on the ground. Indeed, something has to be worked out and there needs to be hopefully a central authority but there are local authorities, there are shuras. There has been an Afghan tradition of people getting together in local areas and that in a sense is a little bit what is happening now, local governance structures and that provides at least some form of coherence, if you will, at the local level. Many of these have become very militarised, they have become militias over the period of the war and that is a major problem. You were asking about when does an emergency cease. It is a little bit like when do refugees go home. I guess from our perspective in the system emergencies cease when you are able to deal with a government that is able to take on responsibility for its own programming with international support as necessary but they are able to deal with the basic needs of the vulnerable populations.
  (Ms Bertini) The social services do not have to wait for a government. In other words, what UNICEF does, what ICRC does, what World Food Programme does and others, we just keep doing it in a more extensive expansive way with local people and that will provide at least some sort of a safety net. How extensive is yet to be seen.

Tony Worthington

  176. I am trying to understand Mr Brahimi's role. Does it simply consist of trying to put into place a framework of government with all the ethnic minorities together making sure that it is a broad based government. Is he also the authority, until that is in place, for doing what is going to be for a huge country the necessary co-ordination of where resources go and who is doing that or who is down to do that?
  (Ms Bertini) Again, I think as Ross said, there is hope to pull together very quickly some attempt to come up with a representative transitional council at this point which would lead to some stronger, more coherent government. This is a country that at the local level has had functioning local government.

  Tony Worthington: What is Plan B if he fails?

Chairman

  177. I think that might be a question we have to ask the Secretary of State.
  (Mr Morjane) If I may help maybe. Certainly Mr Brahimi is a special representative of the Secretary-General. His terms of reference are not only to help the new government, he is responsible also for the co-ordination of all activities of all the UN but especially when I look at the Resolution which was adopted just yesterday by the Security Council I think it gives you, maybe not the answer. Let me, if you permit me, Chairman, just read what the Security Council is saying. "Our friends at the United Nations should play a central role in supporting the efforts of the Afghan people to establish urgently such a new and transitional administration leading to the formation of a new government and express its full support for the Secretary-General's Special Representative. . ." etc. It is very important to say it ". . . draws on Member States to provide support for such an administration and government including through the implementation of quick impact projects. Urgent humanitarian assistance to alleviate the suffering of Afghan people. . ." etc and then it says "Long term assistance for the social and economic reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan and welcomes initiatives towards this end". When I look at this and I add it to the famous Brahimi Report, where he—not only him but all his panel, all his people—insisted that a peacekeeping operation or whatever peace effort we will be undertaking in a particular country should be a global approach or should have a global demarche meaning that it should not only be security, military, etc but also other activities which should go in parallel, I do not know what the Security Council and the Secretary-General decided but certainly it is something going in this direction.

Chris McCafferty

  178. On Wednesday, along with some other women MPs in our British Parliament, I met with five very brave Afghani women who came to Parliament to talk about the plight of Afghani women and to launch a campaign to promote the involvement of Afghani women in politics and the economic and social life of Afghanistan as well. It seems to me that the best way to bring about change is really through role models. The women, particularly two of the older women who remembered 20 years ago when things were different in Afghanistan, said that there were at that time, not many but some women politicians, and clearly there were some women doctors, lawyers and teachers. What I would like to ask you is in your experience how many of those women are still alive and living in Afghanistan or are they all refugees like the five women we met on Wednesday because it is more difficult if women like that are all abroad now and not in their home country?
  (Ms Bertini) Carol and I both have experience in this area especially knowing that there are very, very strong Afghan women like the ones that you met who have been working almost against the forces of authority in the last five years inside the country and they have been working in their trained professions that they were trained in before they could not go to school any more, whether they are doctors or teachers who are doing these against the law informal schools or working for NGOs or working for our agencies and if only there is an opportunity I think that there will be many people who are wanting to take part. Of course there are many women in Pakistan who say they want to go back as soon as it is safe to go back. I want to highlight this and also go back to the women's issues which were raised earlier because UNICEF and World Food Programme have been especially strong in terms of trying to ensure that our programme is in support of women. It has been because the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan made early on, in I think 1997, a very strong statement about women's rights in Afghanistan and what he expects to be done. I think not only the UN has to now, at this time of a lot of change, insist on these issues but so do any other governments or other international organisations which are involved in the process. If we wait until six months from now when everything is set up—if it were here and we waited, we would have to fight harder, the women, in order to get in and obviously it is a bigger struggle in Afghanistan. This is something I think is a very, very high priority item for all of us.
  (Ms Bellamy) There are clearly many women who are still there who can assume leadership. In terms of education, as you know, under the Taliban girls were not getting schooling and boys could go to school but the reality is the majority of trained teachers who still were in Afghanistan were women. Boys were not getting an education either and in many cases those women were teaching but they were teaching in these informal schools. They have kept that network alive. The same in the area of health, again are there enough, no. Are there women in the Diaspora who will come back in, we hope so. There are women who can take leadership. We are both known as strongly pushing this issue but it really has to start from the beginning and not be an afterthought in the peace making process
  (Mr Fisher) Can I just add. Last Saturday, for example, I was in Peshawar with a group of 30 Afghans, half of them were women. We tried to look at what could pose a system for looking at education, health care, protection of women. These are people with networks. We came to the conclusion from the outside we do not have to invent the process of networking. Afghans have these networks and we can support them. Therefore, I think each of our agencies, any actor, NGO or otherwise, in Afghanistan has contacts, the issue is co-ordination. We need to find a mechanism of putting together that common information. There is a meeting at the end of the month in Islamabad, a watching brief meeting, organised by the World Bank, ADB and UNDP where this will be one of the major items, how do we not reinvent wheels? There is work which has already been done in the past on education, health and so on. There are people in Afghanistan, there are people in Pakistan and beyond who can work on this. Last month I was in Virginia near Washington meeting with another group, there are lots of networks out there. We need to combine our information so we can identify people who can work at policy level right down to community level.

Mr Battle

  179. Can I go back to the particulars of what has been described as a humanitarian crisis. This time last year as Minister in the Foreign Office I was trying to campaign to get resources for Mongolia—they had two hard winters on the run, the animals died—and during that crisis somebody said to me that more people are going to die in Afghanistan next year than live in Mongolia. Did we get properly prepared for it? Is the "crisis" under control now? Will the winter make no difference, so we do not need to worry about the humanitarian crisis? The second question is, were we actually prepared for this? Did you get prepared for it or, perversely, has September 11th, as it were, and the attention given to Afghanistan as a result helped to resolve the crisis?
  (Mr Morjane) We confirm this. This is why we are also concerned. We are here to discuss Afghanistan and sometimes I wonder if we asked ourselves the question about other situations. It is exactly what you have been saying about Afghanistan one year ago, certainly, yes, one of the main reasons behind all this is the fact that Afghanistan has been forgotten for a certain time.
  (Ms Bertini) No, it was not forgotten. From WFP's perspective we were feeding 3.8 million people in Afghanistan in the summer. In the summer we did a new assessment and we announced then there were 5.5 million who were desperately at risk. We had a programme that was supposed to start on 1st November for 5.5 million people. After September 11th when the UN did a quick assessment they said there were 6 million people. We were roughly a similar amount. Does that mean we are reaching everyone? No. Does that mean now everyone is healthy because there is physically enough food on the way? No. In the North, where the people are most at risk, there are people in pre-famine conditions due to the drought, due to the conflict and due to the poverty to begin with. There is still a lot to do. I expect that those people are going to have a very, very difficult winter because they are in weakened conditions to begin with of three years of not enough food. Were we prepared? Yes, I think so because the numbers of people are not that much changed, but their conditions have changed because of all of the political matters that have been going on.
  (Mr Mountain) Prepared is one thing and having the resources to do it is the another. We did not have it. Food was doing a great deal better than non-food.


 
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