Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 188)



  180. You did not have the resources until after 11th September?
  (Mr Mountain) We were 45 per cent funded on the consolidated appeal, which involved many of the NGOs as well before 11th September.
  (Ms Bellamy) 45 per cent again means food, and it needs to be, but the non-food—
  (Mr Mountain) The point you make is that ironically the events that have occurred there have obviously brought much more attention to Afghanistan and allowed us to do a great deal better. I am more than pleased to talk about the additional requirements for resources now, because that is also extremely important. We have learned, perhaps before, but very starkly in this case, there are three stages of commitment. I want to say how much we have appreciated the commitment of a range of donors, and very prominently the United Kingdom. As we deal with the global donor situation there are, first of all, pledges, then there is the second phase called commitment. We have pledges out there of hundreds of millions of dollars but until some government says, "We are giving this to WFP", then it is out there. Then the third stage, of course, is paying. The second stage is writing a letter and the third stage is getting it into our accounts. These are three separate stages we are discovering. I did mention DFID, I know I can speak for colleagues here, we have been extraordinarily appreciative of the very proactive, rapid response of DFID and OCHA. You were the first government to respond, to get money out—
  (Ms Bertini) To all of us.
  (Mr Mountain)—on the table and to give us the flexibility to deal with it. We have also benefited from personnel support and we will be benefiting in the days ahead of modules that will be supplied. We have managed in the co-ordination through leadership shared between different agencies, of course by sector, but also as our colleague was talking before about the Joint Logistics Centre which is, in fact, an inter-agency effort, led very strongly by the World Food Programme, again we have support from DFID on that. We have a Humanitarian Information Centre, again we have agreed to do that on a collective basis. OCHA, as it happens, has taken the lead there and we have had personnel support also from DFID. We are extremely appreciative of your Government's very proactive and very supportive policy. They have just announced or about to announce additional support to us, which I understand was agreed yesterday.
  (Ms Bertini) DFID was first, immediately. Not only do they give money, they give a lot of support. They call round to other donors, the Minister herself does this and says, "You need to get involved here". They are creative and they are very supportive.
  (Ms Bellamy) I was going to say ditto to that. I did not want to take away from what Ross was going to say, the next phase is "we are going to need more money". I wanted to point out in response to your question, were we ready. It has been a consistently under-funded emergency, as we say. We actually identified it, our national committee, their key winter programme this year was going to focus on Afghanistan, that was before 11 September, and that was because it was such an under funded emergency up to that point.
  (Mr Fisher) Can I add my voice to the chorus, I think one thing that is very new is the consistent international recognition that the whole crisis now is a result of lack of peace and security in Afghanistan and that the long term resolution of those problems is part of a long term resolution of the international crisis. It is very important, I think, that the international community follows that rhetoric with investment, long-term investment and not only in Afghanistan, it is required in Tajikistan, it is required even in Balochistan and northwest frontier provinces. The crisis is sub-regional, not only in Afghanistan. If you look at the issue of education, the lack of good quality education is one of the many root causes of this problem. Investment in education is a long-term process, you do not see the benefits of it for a long time. We all hope that the noise that is being made about the importance of long-term commitment is followed by long-term resources.

Ann Clwyd

  181. Why is it that the UN always has to go in cap in hand? I have been in other humanitarian crisis, such as Sudan, and there was an argument where your agencies said they were short of money and the government here said you were not short of money. Is it your expectation that money is going to turn up and you have to make these noises about the need for money to make it turn up. Lastly, how has the United States responded to your appeal for funds?
  (Ms Bertini) I speak for WFP only, the US is the major donor to WFP worldwide. So far in this calender year they have given WFP $1 billion of food and related costs. For the food we had already in place they had given something like 65 per cent of that, you saw all of those bags USA big wheat bags and for this latest appeal they have given 17 per cent of the food and 42 per cent of the money for the special operations for all of the transport. Yes, we always have to go with our hand out because we are all voluntarily funded. UNICEF and WFP get no dues whatsoever from the UN, nothing. Everything is raised. UNICEF raises a lot of money from individuals, but most of our money come from governments, we always have to have our hand out. Back to the comparison with NGOs, I do not think the UN wrings its hands quite as often as, perhaps, some of the NGOs who might even need to get more resources from people writing cheques. I think we have to find a balance. When we say we really need assistance we really do. As Carol said, food is sometimes the first thing donors give. The United Kingdom gives cash more often. The large donors, the US in particular, gives food in large amounts. It is the cash follow-up that we need. If WFP says we are desperate for food in a certain places we are not kidding.
  (Ms Bellamy) Emergencies do not start and stop very quickly any more, maybe it is a substitute for the lack of political will in some places. The extent and length of humanitarian assistance in the states is longer than I think people expected in the past, for example in Sudan. They go on longer these days. I think sometimes we would be glad to have ourselves put out of work in some of these places if there could be, with all due respect, the intervention that perhaps the international community needs. We do come back, we come back often, we recognise that, because it goes on and on and on and on. We would like to see it shorter in some cases.

Hugh Bayley

  182. I am just wondering, although in the short-term there is a desperate need for the work you do, are humanitarian operations actually putting off the resolving of political problems? You have been in Afghanistan for a long, long time, does that let local leaders off the hook and, if so, what should we do about it?
  (Mr Mountain) Perhaps one might turn that question around, as I think Carol Bellamy was just saying, if more concerted action had been taken at a political level by political actors and those who are concerned with that then we would not need to be going in there to pick up the pieces. That has been a problem. You cannot build the future of any country with dead bodies. We try and reach the vulnerable wherever they are, under whoever's mandate, guidance, direction or manipulation, so that they stay alive. We do not pretend that we are the political players there. There are other parts of the UN, if you will, but there are also other forces in the world that have the possibility to influence, hopefully, the earliest possible conclusion of these conflicts. Sudan is another situation we can talk about.

  183. Getting back to the positives, you were saying, all of your agencies were saying, within the next few days you will be sending in missions to find out about the security situation and see how quickly you can re-establish your expatriate staff in the country. How long do you think—and I am asking you to guess—that it will take to get people back in and what difference will that make on the ground when you do get people back in?
  (Mr Mountain) I can have a quick shot at that, if I may. One is we are back in Badakshan. We do expect, all going well, by the weekend to be back in Kabul, Herat and Mazar. We have no news on Jalalabad and Kandahar at this stage. What difference will it make? We certainly hope that it will provide support to—the word "heroic" is not misplaced here—our national staff who have carried this extraordinary burden remarkably throughout this period. We have about 700 UN national staff that have been inside and, of course, there are a well over 1,000 non-governmental national staff, plus those of the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and the ICRC also. Many of them have done this at the potential cost of their lives, continued these programmes and used radios, and so on. We certainly hope to be able to provide them with support, to be able to focus our programmes on the vulnerable, to pick up more of the gaps and to see how we can increase our effectiveness.
  (Ms Bellamy) You may recall, the Taliban issued an edict prohibiting communications with staff now. All of our staff found a way to communicate and sometimes it was actually even in the government offices, with the government monitoring, but nevertheless they were able to communicate, or they came across the border to Peshawar or some other place. It is not that the international staff are smarter or better or anything than the local staff it is just sometimes the kind of pressures that local staff can be under can really be lessened a little bit by having international staff out there. I have to just also say, it is extraordinary what the national staff have done, they have managed to continue to keep things going, these are all of the national staff, and really just should be recognised, and we certainly do that.
  (Ms Bertini) If I can be so bold as to suggest, if there is any way that you can find to salute them.

  Chairman: Absolutely. We will certainly seek to ensure in what we say we pay tribute to those UN national staff, without whom a lot would not have been possible to have been achieved. Obviously they have shown great bravery during this time, they were not to know how quickly the Taliban regime was going to collapse, and they put themselves at great personal risk.

  Hugh Bayley: I do not want to go over the ground we have already covered in terms of security but it seems to me there is a fine judgment to be made between a greater military presence which might compromise the independence of humanitarian workers and a poor security situation and too little of a military presence which might compromise your ability to deliver aid. International law provides very clear responsibilities, although they are not always followed, of course, on the treatment of military personnel. Does there need to be a revision of international law to do more to protect humanitarian workers in conflict situations?


  184. Whilst you are thinking of an answer to that interesting question, Nigel Fisher I think you had something you wanted to add?
  (Mr Fisher) I wanted to say something about the international work of NGOs, they are the especially important in the north of the country, which is relatively clear, they are having with the Governments of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to get clearance and recognition so that they can move back in. In all of those countries the UN is trying to provide an umbrella agreement so that they can come in as UN partners. I would say that the Governments are resisting. While we are working on this I would say those governments who are influenced, very usefully remind those governments that these people are important players and they should facilitate our umbrella role and not resist it.

  185. The NGOs have flagged that up to us.
  (Mr Mountain) I am very grateful that you brought this up because indeed in the United Nations the humanitarian community, and very particularly the people working with the World Food Programme have suffered very badly, and also UNHCR and on occasions UNICEF. We have lost more civilian humanitarian staff than the UN have lost peacekeepers. That is one concern. There has been, mercifully, increased attention to the need to protect humanitarian workers. We understand that in the International Criminal Court that is being set up the whole concern about attacking humanitarian workers is being seen as a violation of that code. That is one aspect. We do believe that much more needs to be done on that side. Catherine Bertini has been a major champion of this, particularly in our system.
  (Ms Bellamy) It is not only just the laws, more financing for security has to be available. It remains underfunded in almost everything.

Hugh Bayley

  186. Who provides the security, the military or other people?
  (Ms Bertini) The UN has a security office, the normal budget for that security office is half a million dollars. That is it, that is what the secretariat, up until recently, has put into security worldwide. Then each of us are expected to contribute in the countries where we need special security. There is never enough so we end up hiring our own security people on top of that in order to do the protection. The Secretary General proposed that the UN have quite an expanded security operation, including not only security to help protect our staff, train our staff and provide counselling for our staff but also one thing which does not happen which is a follow up when something bad happens. There was a UNICEF staff member and a WFP staff member who were shot in the head and murdered in Burundi in 1999 and to this day nobody has held Burundi accountable for these murders. It is not a system set up where the country where the murder has taken place is held responsible for whomever in the country did it. That was also part of this overall operation, a proposal of the Secretary General's that there be more diligence on this matter. In any case the ultimate resolution was that the General Assembly said, "This is a very good idea but it should be funded by the UN agencies not by the General Assembly budget, except for a small amount of the total". We all criticised that a lot because when is the General Assembly start making priorities. Okay here is a budget, the budget is tight—some people do not even pay all of the time—here they are, here is the budget, what is your priority? One of them does not happen to be security of staff.

Mr Robathan

  187. I take your point entirely about security provided by the UN and also the emphasis one might put on pursuit of the people killed, but I do not understand Mr Mountain's point, how would you change the law internationally? Surely if a UN worker is killed in Kabul that is murder, just the same as if a person walking down the street is killed in Kabul. There might be a difference in emphasis from the UN's point of view?
  (Mr Mountain) The point I was trying to make there was that the International Criminal Court which is to look at issues like genocide, and so on, I believe does have an article in its mandate that stipulates that the assassination of humanitarian workers also falls within the purview of the Court that will be set up.

   Mr Robathan: It would be pursued internationally rather than just nationally.

Hugh Bayley

  188. It is basically a court of second resort, if the national jurisdiction deals with the matter that is fine, but if it does not then—
  (Mr Mountain) I would feel more comfortable with a lawyer answering this question.
  (Mr Morjane) I would like to inject two additional ideas, one is it is certainly not written in the international convention that we will give protection and security to our police and to the military workers. Here I can use the Geneva Convention for ICRC, this does not prevent the fact that ICRC people are killed despite the fact they are supposed to be protected by their own rule. That is for an obvious reason, we are not in countries where you have a state, where you have authority, those that were killed were not killed by the police. We do not know who they were killed by. The four police from ICRC who were killed this year in DRC up until now ICRC does not know because nobody will tell them, the gunmen who are controlling the area, or rebel movement which is there or some other people. Secondly, we have within the humanitarian agencies—here not only the UN, because it is different, especially as ICRC has the NGOs—two schools of thought when it comes to your question concerning the role of the military, including the peacekeepers. Peacekeepers can certainly create an environment which will be certainly better for us when it comes to our security, but you have agencies, you have NGOs, in particular ICRC, who do not want to be protected by the military because they think the fact that we have the military with us makes our security even less than what it has been, because they want to keep a certain level of neutrality, which is not necessarily our case. We have some conditions for that. As I said, peacekeepers can in many instances help indirectly to have better conditions for our activities.
  (Ms Bellamy) Securing transportation routes, de-mining, some of those type of matters.

  Chairman: You have been generous with your time, our colleagues have other meetings they have to get to. I understand you have a meeting at Number 10 very shortly. I am grateful to you for the amount of time you have spent with us this afternoon. Can I just make three very brief points, really just as a request. There is always a danger in these sort of situations when the television cameras and journalists disappear world attention falls away. Each of you as agencies will have long term plans for Afghanistan, I think it would help us help you if you can let us have—I appreciate you have an enormous amount of work on—some indication of what your long-term plans are and then that enables us to ensure that within in the Parliamentary framework we can ensure there is a lobby for those long term plans.[3] Secondly, funding, we have had a quick canter through the mechanics of the United Nations system this afternoon, if you can let us have a note you can help us to help you on the mechanics of the funding of each of your agencies.[4] Actually if had not been for UNICEF, WFP and UNHCR we would have been in a much greater crisis and it is sometimes ludicrous that UNICEF is having to go around cap in hand to individuals around the world rather than have real structured funds. Lastly, failing states, we have had some discussion this afternoon about failing states, Afghanistan was clearly in the state a failing state. I think we certainly welcome your thoughts on how does one identify a failing state?[5] What other failing states are there? What other Afghan crises are there around the world to which we are not paying sufficient attention? Otherwise we just move to them with the television cameras when there is a pretty hopeless situation and maybe we ought to lobby the other potential failing states and what we ought to do about them. I apologise to colleagues, because there are ten of us and eight of you talking about a fascinating subject, I think we could have gone on for a long time and I apologise to colleagues if they did not have the opportunity of getting everything asked and I apologise to you if on occasions there have been comments you have wanted to make and there has not been time. I think we have exchanged as much in headlines as possible and that has been extremely helpful. If there is anything that you feel that you would like to have said to us or you would like us to have asked will you please let us have that in a note. As you know, we are hoping we will be going to the region shortly. We look forward to meeting representatives of your agencies in the region and carry on and continue the discussions in the days we will be in the region. Thank you very, much for all of the time you have given us this afternoon.

3   Ev 104-6. Back

4   Ev 103, Ev 106 and Ev 108-112. Back

5   Ev 107-8. Back

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