Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Save the Children

"I would like things to be like they were before. I want to have more education, to learn to read and write so I can become a teacher. I want to live in peace". Fatima, Silo Camp, Mazar-e-Sharif.

"Life here is difficult and seems pointless. Sometimes we cannot even afford bread and now it is too cold to be living outside. I earn enough for wood and bread but nothing else. Usually we eat only bread but some days we do not even have that. After the last of my children died I could not get up to work, so we went hungry". Juma, Silo camp, Mazar-e-Sharif.


  Almost half of Afghanistan's population consists of children aged under-eighteen. The combination of endemic poverty, on-going drought, years of civil unrest and the recent military action now threatens a major crisis for the children of Afghanistan. Before October 2001, Afghanistan was already one of the worst places in the world to be a child. The current humanitarian situation compounded by conflict, a fourth year of continuous drought, and the effects of winter, has posed severe threats to child survival, protection and development. Malnutrition, acute respiratory infections and vaccine-preventable diseases have claimed children's' lives. As the violence has continued in parts of the country, thousands of people have been displaced by the effects of drought and of the war, affecting children's access to education and basic health services. At the height of the US bombing campaign, one million of southern Afghanistan's 4.5 million people were at severe risk, most of them Internally Displaced People (IDPs) who had been driven from homes by conflict and drought. Though many of them have now returned home, 700,000 still remain extremely vulnerable, without homes, and with no means to support themselves. They are in urgent need of food, shelter, healthcare, in order to survive.


  Save the Children believes that the UK government must prioritise the needs of children in its humanitarian assistance and reconstruction programmes and is calling on the government to:

    —  Ensure that child protection and the monitoring of children's rights is integrated into all aspects of the long-term political reconstruction efforts and that assistance for projects focusing on the food, shelter, water and sanitation, health and education needs of children and youth are prioritised.

    —  Integrate child protection into the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mandate and train ISAF peacekeepers in issues of child protection.

    —  Particular attention should be directed towards separated and orphaned children. Investment in family tracing mechanisms and systems to support public information relating to separated children and family tracing should be strengthened.

    —  Maintain a separation of humanitarian, military, and political activities. Ensure that ISAF peacekeeping forces focus on their primary role to secure the environment, and respect the primacy of humanitarian organisations to provide assistance impartially and independently. Ensure that this separation is heeded by future ISAF military leaders.

    —  Fully explore the implications of dispersing humanitarian resources to military entities.

    —  Ensure that the problems of insecurity in those areas that are not covered by ISAF's mandate, particularly in northern Afghanistan, are addressed.


  Save the Children calls on the UN to:

    —  Increase the resources allocated to the surveillance, removal and disposal of unexploded ordinances such as landmines and cluster bombs, since their victims tend to be innocent civilians, children in particular. Programmes aimed at promoting mine awareness among IDPs, refugees and children in urban areas should be increased as an urgent priority.

    —  Ensure that child protection is integrated into all aspects of UN action and at every stage of its response, from the relief effort through to post-conflict initiatives to re-establish institutions. All peacekeeping and UN staff should be trained on issues of human rights, child rights in particular. Special attention should be paid to the assistance and protection needs of female and child-headed households.

    —  Work to ensure that processes of return and repatriation involve information campaigns that are accessible to all refugees, women and children in particular, so that they are aware of what is being planned and how.

    —  Endorse refugee and IDP rights to security and minimum standards of humanitarian relief.

    —  Improve the IDP registration process and ensure assistance is equitable to all those in need, not only IDPs.

    —  Provide assistance to those areas that have as yet received none, among them Sakhi, Chemtal and Sar-I-Pol camps in the north where illness and malnutrition amongst children is a serious concern.

    —  Strengthen the co-ordination of ongoing relief and rehabilitation efforts to ensure that all current investments have more impact.

    —  Ensure an appropriate balance of humanitarian and longer-term interventions.

    —  Develop a comprehensive plan for assistance to education that builds on the achievements of agencies working in the education sector.

    —  Increase assistance to programmes focusing on disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation that include specific planning aimed at children.


Summary of Humanitarian Conditions

  (As stated in the UNOCHA Joint Appeal Prior to the Tokyo Conference)

    —  Half of all Afghan children suffer from chronic malnutrition and one out of every four children dies before reaching the age of five.

    —  There are some 4 million Afghan refugees of whom 80 per cent are women and children.

    —  The maternal mortality rate is the second highest in the world with an estimated 16,000 women dying each year from pregnancy-related causes.

    —  Afghanistan's grain production has fallen by more than 50 per cent in the past two years, its livestock herds are severely depleted and its irrigation systems extensively damaged.

    —  Only 23 per cent of the population has access to safe water and only 12 per cent to adequate sanitation.

    —  Afghans have suffered an abysmal human rights situation for decades. There are particular concerns for children, women and minorities, as well as specific protection concerns faced by civilians as a direct result of military or other action.

    —  Egregious acts of violence have been perpetrated against women. Women and girls have been excluded from educational opportunities and access to employment.

    —  The primary road network is seriously deteriorated—1,700 km of 3,000 km needs re-building.

    —  Widespread environmental degradation disproportionately affects the rural poor and women.

    —  Four years of drought and the onset of winter have further eroded already stretched coping mechanisms.

1.  Internally Displaced

  As of 30 January 2002, just under one million people were recorded as being displaced in Afghanistan. Of these, 270,000 are centred around Herat, 171,828 in Mazar, 106,826 in the province of Laghman, and 84,576 in Nangarhar, both of these last two in east Afghanistan. The concentrations in Herat and Mazar are largely drought and poverty-related while those in the east are more directly attributable to the US military action in the area and high levels of local instability.[1]

2.  IDP Registration

  In areas of extreme drought and poverty, local people's coping mechanisms have reached their limit, leading to instances of locals attempting to register as IDPs in order to be eligible to receive food distributions. This practice continues to be the main factor behind limited UN food distributions being carried out. In Mazar, according to Save the Children the registration process is going ahead very gradually, with as few as 200 families being questioned each day. We urge the UN to develop a more efficient registration process so that urgently needed humanitarian assistance reaches those in need, rather than sitting in warehouses.

3.  Refugees

  Refugees continue to cross the border into Pakistan, particularly from northern and western Afghanistan—UNOCHA estimated the number at 16,500 in the month of January. They are ostensibly fleeing crime, continued insecurity and military activity, as well as the effects of drought. However, the numbers of refugees returning to Afghanistan have been much higher: between November and mid-January, 100-143,000 Afghans have reportedly returned home from Pakistan and Iran fleeing attacks by bandits, lack of supplies, and deportation, among other reasons[2]. Of these, according to UNHCR, 61 per cent were headed for Kabul and the surrounding region while 18 per cent returned to the north of Afghanistan. Several thousand people remain outside Killi Faizo site in a makeshift waiting area, many of them sleeping without shelter.

4.  Camps in North West Frontier Province

  At the height of the recent conflict, thousands of Afghans fled to Pakistan-controlled makeshift camps in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), among them Jalozai camp. According to Eva Demant, UNHCR Deputy Representative in Pakistan, conditions in these camps were a "humanitarian nightmare".[3] Since November 45,000 Afghans have been driven out of these makeshift camps by UNHCR and the Pakistan authorities to new UNHCR-run camps near the Afghan border. However, recent reports from the Refugee Council state that children have been dying in some of these new camps. In Barkili camp, refugees have been protesting at the scarcity of foodstuffs, drinking water and other basic facilities.[4]

5.  Security

  In some areas, increasing rather than diminishing insecurity and fear of lawlessness are making it difficult to deliver food and other essential assistance to people. According to reports, this insecurity predominantly involves banditry and battles between rival warlords. International staff travel is still restricted and local staff are moving with increased caution in many areas. While roads in Mazar and its immediate environs continue to be relatively safe to travel, routes from Mazar to other locations, such as Hairaton, Jalalabad, south of Qandahar, and south of Herat remain at high risk. Thousands of ethnic Pashtuns are fleeing attacks and looting in northern Afghanistan. Attacks on UN officials, aid workers and aid deliveries have been on the increase in recent days, with reports of five separate incidents thus far. The continuation of such insecurity could have serious implications for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the return of IDPs and refugees to their communities.

6.  Military-Humanitarian Activities

  Save the Children's observation is that in the attempt to bring political, military and humanitarian objectives within the same framework, humanitarian objectives and principles have become compromised. Both ISAF and US Coalition forces are involved in humanitarian aid interventions, compromising the impartiality of humanitarian aid delivery; confusing local communities; putting civilians and communities associated with humanitarian work at serious risk; increasing the dangers of the operating environment for humanitarian aid workers; and in some cases, obstructing civilians' opportunity to receive much-needed assistance.

7.  Landmines and Cluster Bombs

  Landmines, cluster bombs, and other unexploded ordinance (UXO) are more of a danger after the recent bombing campaigns. According to the UN Mine Action Program for Afghanistan (MAPA), the estimated mined area in Afghanistan increased by 100 sq km due to newly surveyed land along Northern alliance front lines, newly mined regions by the Taliban in Herat and Qandahar, and new unexploded ordinance threats from the Coalition bombing. According to the UN Mine Action Program for Afghanistan (MAPA), the US-led Coalition forces bombed 103 sites in Afghanistan with a total of 1,014 cluster bombs, translating into 250,000 bomblets. Estimates indicate that at least 25,000 of these remain as UXOs and need to be destroyed. In total, 10-30 per cent of the cluster bombs and other UXO and cluster sub-munitions recently dropped on Afghanistan failed to explode.

8.  Civilian Deaths

  Estimates of the numbers of civilians killed in the recent conflict vary widely. According to an MSF assessment based on reports from hospital and field workers across the country, 2,000-3,000 have died, while de-mining experts estimate that up to 8,000 civilians have been killed. Carl Conetta at the Commonwealth Institute estimates that the rate of civilian deaths per bomb dropped may have been four times higher than in the Balkans.[5]

9.  Winter Conditions

  During the first two weeks of February Afghanistan experienced its heaviest snowfall in years, rendering remote parts of the country accessible only by donkey or helicopter. While winter has come later this year and is less harsh than was expected, the snow has continued to hamper food deliveries into Afghanistan's mountainous regions.

10.  Drought

  Despite recent heavy fails, overall snowfall this winter has been light. This is an indication that drought will continue to plague Afghanistan for its fourth continuous year. Little rain has fallen over the Mazar area in the last two weeks. Drought has caused agricultural production in some areas to stop altogether, seriously affecting livelihoods and food security.

11.  Health

  Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI), diarrhoeal disease, neonatal tetanus and measles are the leading causes of child mortality in Afghanistan, and remain a concern for medical practitioners in the country. Prior to 11 September, 42 per cent of death cases among children were due to vaccine-preventable diseases, diahhroeal diseases and ARI.[6] According to the UN, 35,000 children in Afghanistan will die of measles this year. There are only 200 doctors in Afghanistan to service a population of 4.5 million, just 30 of them women.[7] According to the United Nations Population Fund, Afghan women both inside Afghanistan and those who have migrated to neighbouring countries, are at high risk from childbearing due to lack of medical care. Districts in Badakshan Province, which have been cut off by snow have still not received any medical attention, meaning thousands of people have no access to doctors, health care, or medicines. In Sar-I-Pol, one in six children is suffering from severe malnutrition, according to MSF. WHO is in negotiation with WFP to send emergency medicines and supplies by road, but it is still unclear whether access will be possible.

12.  Food Security

  More aid is reaching those in need as borders open up and transport routes are made usable. However, NGOs are still reporting serious shortages in rural areas, particularly in the mountainous zones where the delivery of food is still proving to be difficult. In Samangan Province, according to a WFP assessment, people are surviving on wild grasses, seeds, leaves and roots, and the nutritional status of children is particularly poor. In Badghis Province in Jawand district, an Oxfam assessment found the humanitarian situation to be very poor and coping mechanisms to be at rock bottom. For instance, much of the wheat that was delivered to these people was used to repay debts that were incurred during the suspension of aid deliveries from September to December at the height of the military conflict. In West Afghanistan, a Red Cross/Red Crescent team discovered that girls as young as ten were being offered for marriage in exchange for bags of flour in parts of Herat and Farah Provinces, and families were surviving on leaves and roots. In an assessment of 12 villages in the remote valley of Rood Gaz, they found that all agricultural activity had stopped because of the drought, there were no seeds available for re-planting, and all the livestock had been sold or had died. Because of delays relating to registration in several parts of Afghanistan, large amounts of UN agency food still remain in warehouses in neighbouring countries.

13.  Education

  Securing children's education is a principal concern for refugees who wish to return to Afghanistan. In order to ensure that refugees schooling is worthwhile, systems must be put in place whereby qualifications obtained abroad are accepted. Children must be given more support to reintegrate back into their school system if they have been following a different curricula in a different language whilst living as refugees.

14.  Child Protection

  Children are vulnerable to exploitation in the current climate of insecurity in Afghanistan. Particularly vulnerable children include the handicapped, and children who have been separated from their parents or orphaned. Boys are at risk of being recruited into combat—though numbers have not been substantiated, there have been reports of children as young as twelve fighting for the Northern Alliance.[8] The Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict reports for instance, that 100 Taliban child soldiers were purportedly killed by Northern Alliance troops in Mazar-I-Sharif. There have also been reports of young boys being exploited as smugglers of small arms and drugs in the North West Frontier Province following the collapse of the Taliban. Young girls meanwhile, risk being lured into prostitution and early marriage because of poverty and instability.

15.  Save the Children Response

  The International Save the Children Alliance (SC) is responding to the deepening humanitarian crisis to ensure that the survival and protection needs of Afghan children are given utmost attention over the coming months.

    —  Health

  Save the Children (SC) is running a mobile health clinic programme in Mazar for the local community and internally displaced people. Since September SC has established four additional mobile health facilities. In December SC conducted a health survey in IDP camps and more recently completed health assessments in the Shiram area and Sayad district of Sar-I-Pol Province, Mingajik and Mardyan in Jawzjan Province.

    —  Food Distribution

  SC is carrying out complementary food distribution to support WFP wheat distributions in North Afghanistan. SC aims to distribute this food to communities to promote stabilisation within them and to prevent further migration to IDP camps. In the future, SC plans to contribute in a nutritional survey for the seven northern provinces.

    —  Non-Food Distribution

  SC is distributing shelter items, quilts, children's and women's clothing, and kitchen kits through partner organisations to displaced people and local communities in North and South Afghanistan. An assessment mission is going out to Zari District in Balkh Province with a view to carry out a large NFI distribution.

    —  Child Protection and Education

  SC is running a child protection and education programme for displaced people on Pianj island on the border of Afghanistan and Tajilkistan. UNICEF has accepted a SC proposal to work with a local youth group as part of UNICEF's "back to school" campaign. SC will cover children's education needs in most of the districts of Sar-I-Pol Province. SC is also carrying out assessments of child protection issues and needs in Afghanistan and is working with children in refugee communities in NWFP to provide immediate support, and to support their return to Afghanistan.

Save the Children

22 February 2002

1   BAAG Monthly Review, January 2002. Back

2   UNHCR Monthly Report February 2002. Back

3   Speech by Eva Dumant, UNHCR Deputy Representative in Pakistan. Back

4   The Refugee Council is the largest organisation in the UK working with asylum seekers and refugees. Back

5   The Guardian 12.02.02. Back

6   UNICEF Report 2000. Back

7   Leslie Oqvist, UNDP Regional Co-ordinator for Southern Afghanistan. Back

8   Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict. Back

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