Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by The Rt Hon Clare Short MP, Secretary of State for International Development


  This memorandum sets out DFID's approach to tackling the current crisis in Afghanistan. It contains the latest information and assessment on the rapidly evolving humanitarian situation and DFID's response, along with background information on DFID's programme prior to the current crisis.


  Over two decades of conflict and three years of drought has inflicted considerable suffering on most of Afghanistan's estimated population of 20 million people (map at Annex A). Basic human development indicators are appalling, with some of the world's highest child and maternal mortality rates, lowest literacy rates, and a life expectancy estimated at just 44 years. Disability is common: a legacy of the mines and other ordnance of war. Health and education services had already largely disappeared as had the essential infrastructure of water supplies, roads and communications. In the year prior to last September, over one million people had been newly displaced from their homes, mostly due to drought, and approximately 370,000 were believed to have crossed into Pakistan and Iran.


  2.  DFID's response was located within the UN-led Strategic Framework for Afghanistan. This provided a principled, co-ordinated approach to providing assistance, including a set of ground rules agreed amongst the international community so that assistance was delivered in a way that reached the most vulnerable with minimal diversion, and addressed particularly the needs of women and families. However, the humanitarian agencies never found it easy to work in Afghanistan, in view of the insecurity, harassment, and other conditions and obstacles regularly placed in their path by the warring groups.

  3.  Prior to 11 September, DFID efforts were directed at assistance to refugees in neighbouring countries and at helping to meet immediate life-saving needs (food, water, healthcare, shelter) within Afghanistan. We worked through the UN, ICRC and local and international NGOs. We were also planning to respond to the Taliban ban on poppy cultivation with emergency help to the approximately 500,000 people—former poppy growers and labourers, and their families—who faced extra hardship. We intended to continue to support mine clearance through our global mines action fund. In addition a new initiative to expand the provision of primary education for girls and boys was at an advanced stage of design.

  4.  Between 1997 and September 2001, DFID had provided £32 million for emergency food, shelter, healthcare and water supplies, as well as support for agriculture, mines clearance, education, and monitoring and advocacy in relation to human rights.

  5.  As at 11 September our programme consisted of sixteen commitments valued at about £5 million. Of these, ten were in support of Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan, concerned with the provision of basic welfare services including primary education and health, and food security. Six were in Afghanistan, focusing mainly on emergency relief, but also on food security provision.


  6.  DFID's current objectives are to:

    —  help meet immediate life-saving needs (food, water, healthcare, shelter) within Afghanistan;

    —  support refugee needs for assistance and protection in neighbouring countries (and cross-border operations where feasible);

    —  help neighbouring countries to shoulder the additional burden of refugees through programmes which benefit host populations, for example in health care, food, water and sanitation provision;

    —  strengthen international humanitarian agency capacity and coordination;

    —  help re-establish the international community's presence inside Afghanistan as soon as circumstances allow; and

    —  support the peacemaking efforts of the Special Representative of the Secretary General, and encourage forward planning for Afghanistan's post-conflict recovery.

  7.  In order to maximise humanitarian delivery into Afghanistan, especially before winter snows make operations more difficult in some areas, we are currently supporting the UN, Red Cross and NGOs. Their aim is to deliver as much food, medical and other assistance as possible, while opening up new land convoy routes into Afghanistan. Contingency plans for airdrops or airlifts are also in place, as measures of last resort.

  8.  The Northern Alliance (NA) advance is potentially significant for humanitarian programmes because it should allow, for the first time in the current crisis, direct access to Afghanistan's most vulnerable people, i.e. those that are the poorest and worst affected by drought but have received the least help in recent weeks. Specifically, it should allow delivery of humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable people in the Northern Region, including helping the internally displaced to return home before the winter gets worse. It should also allow access to areas that will become more difficult to reach during the winter, enabling stockpiling relief supplies. There is sufficient current and pipeline capability among UN and other civilian humanitarian organisations in all neighbouring countries to expand distribution into Afghanistan as new opportunities open up.


  9.  Since 11 September, we have set aside £40 million for immediate humanitarian assistance to Afghans. I made £25 million of this available from existing DFID resources on 19 September, and announced a further £15 million on 18 October, which the Chancellor made available from the Central Reserve.

  10.  So far allocations of over £36 million have been made, of which over £22 million has been disbursed to UN agencies, the Red Cross Movement and NGOs. The balance will be made available when satisfactory accounts and interim reports are submitted by agencies that have already received funding. We have allocated £6 million to both WFP and UNICEF; £3 million to both UNHCR and WHO; £2 million to OCHA; £2 million to UNMAS; £800,000 to UNSECOORD; £4 million to the Red Cross movement; £1.6 million to IOM; and £5 million to NGOs. Allocations to UN agencies include technical, logistical and other material support. We have seconded a site planning specialist to UNHCR in Pakistan; two specialists to OCHA in Pakistan to set up a Humanitarian Information Centre; four air operations advisers to UNHCR in Geneva and to WFP in Rome and Islamabad; and a nutrition specialist to UNICEF in Pakistan. Further details of DFID allocations are at Annex B.

  11.  We have strengthened the DFID office in Islamabad with additional staff, as well as placed DFID specialists in Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to work alongside British Embassies and international agencies there.

  12.  At the request of UNHCR, DFID has provided three relief flights to Iran and Pakistan consisting of tents, shelter material and communications equipment. A flight to Uzbekistan is planned shortly to support the anticipated increase in aid operations into northern Afghanistan. Details are listed in Annex C.

  13.  My Department has a well rehearsed system for ensuring that emergency proposals are processed speedily. Decisions are made on the basis of expressed need, agency track record, technical merit, and ability to deliver on the ground. Once a funding decision has been made in principle, the receiving agency is notified immediately through a pledge letter. This is usually sufficient for agencies to begin implementation while formal grant agreements are signed and the funding processed.


  14.  On 18 October, I announced a £15 million package of economic assistance to support the Government of Pakistan in its continuing economic reforms. This is in addition to the £11 million that has been set aside for assistance to poorer communities in Pakistan, particularly those most affected by new influxes of refugees, and the ongoing £15 million programme of targeted technical assistance in the areas of economic management, education and health.

  15.  The £11 million will support the delivery of public health services through the Lady Health Worker Programme, the supply of drugs and health equipment, and water and sanitation services through the Sarhad Rural Support Programme. It will focus particularly on North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan, where most of the Afghan refugees have settled, but will also take account of Pakistan-wide needs.


  16.  The operating environment in Afghanistan was very difficult before September. Since then it has become more challenging. Factors include the uncertain security situation; the dangers of mines and unexploded ordnance; the absence of international humanitarian workers in most parts of the country; reduced numbers of Afghan national staff due to their fears for personal safety; and interference and restrictions by armed groups, particularly in the use of communications equipment. As parts of Afghanistan are secured, we hope that the situation will improve for increased assistance to populations there. Elsewhere, difficulties are likely to persist until the whole of the country is able to enjoy stable security and a co-operative working environment.

  17.  The UN has estimated that there are some 5 to 7.5 million vulnerable people inside Afghanistan. The latest assessment of the humanitarian situation is as follows:

Food and nutrition

  18.  Though levels of chronic malnutrition nationwide are high at 45-60% prevalence (typical for many poor countries), there is currently no indication of significant famine-related deaths. Annex D contains a WFP map of food insecure areas of Afghanistan. The most food insecure areas are the provinces of the north and centre of the country; the most needy in these areas total around 500,000 people.

  19.  WFP reports that, in October, it managed to despatch over 27,000 metric tonnes of food into the country. In the week to 11 November alone, it despatched nearly 16,000 tonnes of food to Afghanistan (see Annex E for graph showing average despatch figures). The average daily target of 1,700 tonnes is now being exceeded; according to WFP, this has been achieved by bypassing primary warehouses and increasing WFP trucking capacity in the region.

  20.  DFID's best assessment, based on information from humanitarian organisations, suggests that, by and large, aid is reaching its intended beneficiaries. There are good prospects for opening additional routes into the country, particularly as access improves to different parts of the country.


  21.  The main suppliers of non-food assistance (UNICEF, IOM, ICRC) are being increasingly effective in delivering shelter materials, blankets, and clothing. We estimate that 80% of the immediate needs for blankets, warm clothing, plastic sheeting and tents for targeted vulnerable beneficiaries have been delivered.


  22.  Data on health conditions are patchy. WHO's disease surveillance system, corroborated by other health agencies, indicates that no serious epidemics have occurred. WHO and UNICEF have shipped sufficient emergency health kits into Afghanistan in October to serve 1.4 million people for three months. Taking into account other agencies' programmes, about 40 per cent of the immediate needs for medical supplies have been met. Agencies are procuring further supplies to meet the rest.

  23.  Early reports of UNICEF and WHO's countrywide polio immunisation and vitamin A campaign indicate that at least 45 per cent of its target of some 5.3 million children were reached.


  24.  The challenge of winter has been part of our planning. The most difficult-to-reach areas are in the Central Highlands and parts of the north-east. Overall some 0.5 million people are the most vulnerable. With the right equipment, which is being procured, delivery of relief will still be possible to most parts of the country. Airdrops have been planned as a last resort, but the evolving security and access situation in the country makes the need for these less pressing.

Internally Displaced Persons

  25.  Estimates of the number of internally displaced inside Afghanistan range from 1-1.5 million, clustered in around a dozen locations. Details are patchy and the UN is working to improve its understanding of their distribution (a map of current estimates is at Annex F). We know that the most vulnerable are in the north and north-west. We also know of camps near Herat, Chaman and Jalalabad housing some 50,000 people. Recent military developments on the ground are allowing many of the internally displaced to go home.


  26.  Communication difficulties and lack of reliable information have long exacerbated the difficulties of providing assistance to Afghanistan. We anticipate that this will now improve rapidly. Co-ordination for humanitarian assistance is the responsibility of the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which has appointed a Regional Humanitarian Co-ordinator based in Islamabad, but who is due to return to Kabul as soon as possible. My Department has allocated £2 million to OCHA in response to the current crisis to support these co-ordination efforts. This includes the provision of technical personnel who have set up a Humanitarian Information Centre (HIC) to collate and communicate humanitarian information on the needs and programmes, to all concerned agencies. This contribution is also being used to increase the capacity of the Offices of the UN Resident Co-ordinators in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Pakistan and Tajikistan.


  27.  UNHCR believes that 100,000-135,000 Afghans have entered Pakistan since September 11. This is in addition to the two million Afghans already living in Pakistan prior to 11 September, both in camps and absorbed into communities.

  28.  New arrivals to Pakistan are currently being housed in existing camps or integrated into communities, with some also being housed in Killi Faizo staging camp in Balochistan. Camp conditions have been poor but are steadily improving as assistance is delivered to refugees, and people are moved to better equipped facilities. Several hundred of those in Killi Faizo have now begun moving to a new camp at Roghani. Some 15 new camps are undergoing preparation in Pakistan.

  29.  So far few new refugees have entered Iran from Afghanistan. Previously between 1.5 and 2 million refugees were reported to be living in Iran; at the same time several thousand have also returned to Afghanistan in recent days.

  30.  Our overall assessment is that there is now sufficient assistance being provided in Iran and Pakistan to current refugees and sufficient reserve capacity to address the needs of any foreseeable exodus. As the situation changes inside Afghanistan, we anticipate large numbers of refugees will return.


  31.  Beyond immediate efforts, we are actively involved in the process of forward planning for Afghanistan. This is the central role of Ambassador Brahimi, Kofi Annan's Special Representative for Afghanistan, who is working to develop a consensus among Afghans and the international community on the future governance of Afghanistan. Ambassador Brahimi and his United Nations Special Mission for Afghanistan (UNSMA) have the support of a dedicated Integrated Mission Task Force (IMTF) comprising senior representatives of UN Agencies and Departments. We have earmarked £1 million for strategic support to Ambassador Brahimi and his peace-making efforts. This includes help to establish a Planning Task Group, which is linking the IMTF to expertise in the Afghan diaspora. DFID support to IOM is also planned to identify Afghan professionals with skills relevant to reconstruction who can return to undertake specific roles in their country.

  32.  The key UN agencies are making arrangements to enable the rapid redeployment of international staff and equipment inside Afghanistan as soon as security conditions allow. To backup the UN, my Department is sending out a Field Support Team to Termez, for onward deployment into Afghanistan as soon as possible. This team will consist of six humanitarian specialists, communications and logistics equipment. They will conduct emergency assessments, expand the reach of emergency relief distribution and begin to direct quick impact, local-level recovery activities. An outline of the approach on promoting speedy recovery in Afghanistan is at Annex G.


UN Donor Alert

  33.  Donors have offered over $720 million towards the Afghanistan Crisis since September 11. See Annex H for further details.

European Commission

  34.  The European Commission has provided

18.5 million for the Afghanistan crisis since 11 September 2001. A further

15 million is expected to be agreed through ECHO shortly. The UK contributes 19 per cent of EC funds, so that the UK-attributed share of this total

33.5 million EC funding is

6.4 million (

3.9 million). Annex I contains specific information on the EC contribution, including contributions through the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO).

The Rt Hon Clare Short MP, Secretary of State for International Development

Department for International Development

15 November 2001

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 20 December 2001