Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001
20. I think you have given them an examination
there, Chris. See how many of those you can respond to and we
will probably come back to them.
(Ms Cocking) How do we actually deliver assistance
in Afghanistan and to whose agenda? I think it is important to
make the point that as humanitarian agencies we work very much
to our own mandate and to our own principles and those are clearly
expressed in the Red Cross Code of Conduct, and the SPHERE minimum
standards for humanitarian response. Clearly, however, to deal
with the donor UN point of view, we work very closely with donors
and, again as has been pointed out, we are not always in total
agreement and harmony but that is a robust debate which we are
happy to engage in. We do work to our own mandate and we do work
to those principles as expressed by ourselves as agencies. We
do see ourselves very much as part of the international community
and working very closely with the UN. I quite often think if I
had back all the time I have spent in co-ordination meetings I
would be about four years younger, but it is clearly a very important
part of what we do. We cannot duplicate. We have developed our
own particular competencies. Oxfam in humanitarian crises has
a particular competence in public health work. It makes sense
for us to do that while others do other sectors of work. How does
that actually work in terms of the location and siting of refugee
camps and the management and supplying of them? We are involved
in site surveys, site selection. We have our own specialists who
work and quite often, in fact, particularly in the public health
sector, we will second our own specialists in to UNHCR or UNICEF
because quite often we feel that technical expertise is more appropriate
than us all rushing in and rushing around with water tanks. We
do work very, very closely and that is, again, a given requirement
of what we do with our staff. In terms of how we work in Afghanistan,
we do have local partners, we do need to recognise that life is
quite often difficult for them by perhaps being associated with
us so, as CARE was saying, we need to be very sensitive to their
own position and to work in a very low key fashion with them.
We also have our own staff. As Justin said, we have about 150
people all over the country whose primary task is to understand
and manage the relationship that we have with local communities.
I could describe what that actually means on a day to day basis
if that is helpful. It does mean spending a lot of time in rural
areas, in urban slums, understanding the community and listening
to them. How we do that in the most appropriate fashion is one
of the most taxing questions any humanitarian assistance manager
(Mr Jarrah) There are a number of Afghani NGOs that
are developing partnership relationships with international NGOs
such as ourselves. During the period leading up to the military
action they were involved in food distributions alongside ourselves.
So we have a combination of direct action of our own and also
action through partners. I think most of the other questions have
been answered but I just want to raise one more point about refugee
21. Were you expecting a huge humanitarian crisis
if September 11 had not occurred because it seems to me that there
were an awful lot of Afghanis on the move prior to September 11?
(Mr Jarrah) Yes, we did expect a very huge crisis
if September 11 had not occurred. The main difference since September
11 is that our response to it is now much harder than it was before.
Chairman: I think one of the difficulties
everybody has had, clearly the media have had and commentators
have had, is just trying to establish the facts of the crisis,
just what is involved and how many people. Could we just try and
flesh out some facts. I am going to ask John Battle and Tony Colman
to ask some questions on that and just see where we get to.
22. Can I start with a premise to follow up
on what Jane said. I liked the remark you made about NGOs spending
a long time in local communities on the ground. The great strength
of NGOs is they are in touch locally, they are in for the long
haul, they are there. I think we rely rather more than you might
imagine on your information. My experience in Government is that
the NGOs quite often are ahead of Government bodies in understanding
the facts on the ground. I start from that premise. My main concern
for the purpose of this inquiry is really do we take humanitarian
crises seriously or are we all, NGOs and governments, forced to
react to a short-term crisis when all the pressure is piled on?
To go back to the point Chris McCafferty was making, the UN was
spelling out 12 million people were affected by drought, that
is half the population, three to four million seriously, a million
people at risk of immediate famine, and yet Jane has suggested
in August you were planning food for 260,000, if I jotted it down
(Ms Cocking) Yes.
23. Which seems to me to be small scale given
the crisis. Why is it then, in the light of Raja's last remark,
that things are worse now when there is supposed to be a strategy
of getting aid in there to back you up? Surely this is the moment
when the world wakes up to the crisis and backs you up, why is
it not happening?
(Mr Forsyth) Maybe in total the different Oxfams in
the Oxfam family were providing food for nearly 700,000 people.
As my colleague has said, that was through local non-governmental
organisations and directly. What Jane was referring to was the
bit that we were doing directly ourselves in an operational sense.
I think that operation is quite big. On top of that we also had
quite a large what we call Livelihoods Programme, which is seeds
and tools, and also a Communication Programme even managing to
survive in Afghanistan. I think we were quite geared up and responding
on a large scale before September 11. We are only one non-government
organisation, there are many others who have been doing an equal
share of the work like CARE and Save the Children and Christian
Aid working through local groups. We feel that the situation was
very serious before September 11 and had the potential for becoming
a huge calamity but the difference was that we were able to have
access to these communities. We were going to distribute food
before winter set in to large amounts of people. The difference
now is we do not believe we are going to distribute food for the
people that we said we were because of the change in the situation
and that is what we are concerned about. We have spent a lot of
time doing media interviews and responding to media requests to
do interviews but I do not think the fundamental objectives that
we have have changed at all apart from changing to a very fast
moving situation. We kept our eye very clearly on the ball of
responding to the humanitarian need. The bit of the operation
that we have developed further is that before September 11 we
were not working in the camps. The UNHCR asked us to look particularly
at camps near Quetta in a drought ridden area and we have got
a particular expertise in water so we scaled up that part of our
work. The bit in Afghanistan is that we are trying to respond
as we would have before September 11 and we may need to respond
even more if we are able, but the plan has not significantly changed.
24. Can I thank you for that, it is very helpful.
Can I push you to look at the wider region. When there is a great
crisis on and people flee for whatever reason, they do not all
end up at the Sangatte camp in Calais waiting to come to Britain,
they go to the next door country.
(Mr Forsyth) Yes.
25. So what is going on and what are you doing
in Tajikistan, Pakistan, but also Turkmenistan where many are
fleeing to? Are you able to work there? Do you have the same constraints?
Is aid flowing through and are support networks being expanded
and increased in the wider region?
(Mr Jarrah) Up to now CARE has been working only in
the southern part of Afghanistan and we have not had any activities
in Afghanistan in the north. In Tajikistan we have been dealing
with drought response for Tajiks in Tajikistan and we are now
looking to expand that programme in order to be able to bring
aid into northern Afghanistan across the Tajik border. We do not
have any work in any of the other countries which have a northern
border with Afghanistan but we are fielding an assessment mission,
as I speak, in order to see if there is a niche there for us.
There are plenty of other agencies working in that area, including
(Ms Cocking) Yes. We have been working in Pakistan
for many years and even prior to this we were planning, and had
just received funding, for a very large scale drought response
programme around Quetta. We also do a lot of work with particularly
women's groups and on education around there. We have in the past
worked in Iran with the Iranian Red Crescent, we are seeking to
do that again. We had also already planned drought assessment
missions which we are, like CARE, scaling up and seeking to speed
up in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. It has to be said
one of the major constraints to that has been simply the bureaucracy
which is a very tedious thing to say but simply steering one's
way through the difficulties of that has undoubtedly stopped us
(Mr Forsyth) Getting visas.
(Ms Cocking) Basically, yes, that is code for getting
visas. It has basically slowed us down so we have not been able
to respond as quickly as we would like, but we will carry on pushing.
26. You are here as Oxfam and CARE International
but you are also representing, I think, the Disasters Emergency
Committee. Can I widen it out. We have obviously heard about what
Oxfam is doing and Mr Jarrah has talked a little bit about what
CARE International is doing. It comes back to this point being
made by Chris McCafferty which is really trying to tease out how
you are co-ordinating with the UN. Are you operating on behalf
of your own programme or are you implementing the programme that
the UN has put together? Is there a masterplan that the World
Food Programme and UNHCR is working on in northern Pakistan for
Afghanistan and all the surrounding areas or are you all fighting
with each other as to who is going to deliver the food where?
You have 150 just Oxfam UK workers, are there 50,000 workers all
over Afghanistan? How is this all pulled together? Is there a
structure? If you are not able to answer the really broad question
now, beyond a very simple consensus view, it would be very helpful,
I think, to have a paper from you representing the Disasters Emergency
Committee, producing a plan of who is there, what are they all
doing, under what basis are they pulling this humanitarian aid
together, so we will be able to see how you fit within it and
how DFID's money is going towards this overall masterplan.
(Ms Cocking) Yes, there is a masterplan.
Perhaps if we could take the example of food and food delivery
as an example because I think it shows the system working pretty
well. Overall assessments of food needs are generally UN led.
We will quite often take part in them. Our representatives will
be part of those teams. There is, indeed, an overall UN appeal.
We are very, very supportive of that and have been very pleased
by the way in which donors have channelled money through that
UN appeal because quite often bilateralism is one of the most
difficult things which we have to deal with.
27. You are distributing World Food Programme
(Ms Cocking) Yes.
28. Not your own stocks?
(Ms Cocking) No. The World Food Programme are overall
responsible for identifying their food pipeline, as it is referred
to, and then building partnerships, and we have framework agreements,
we have regular contracts with World Food Programme. They will
be responsible for delivering food to a series of hubs within
Afghanistan and then we will be responsible, because of our community
based approach, for actually physically doing that final distribution.
So it will be food from the World Food Programme warehouse in
Pakistan, in Iran, which is trans-shipped to Afghanistan and then
we will take delivery of it and do community based distribution.
Does that help?
29. Certainly from the point of view of Oxfam
UK. How many NGOs are working out there, hundreds?
(Mr Forsyth) Most of the groups that are involved
in that final distribution are doing it in a co-ordinated way
on food within that plan. We do not have CARE in the same area
of Hazarajat as Oxfam trying to distribute food. We are distributing
food in that particular area within our overall plan.
30. The range of NGOs, are there hundreds?
(Mr Jarrah) There are certainly tens. The World Food
Programme has co-ordination mechanisms between itself and the
NGOs that work with it and they are divided in various regions
within Afghanistan. CARE International works only in the central
region of Afghanistan, we are part of that network. I have in
front of me here the minutes of their last meeting which lists
about 15 NGOs which are working actively with WFP on food distributions.
CARE does distribute World Food Programme food in the same way
as Oxfam has just described. Also, we import our own food and
distribute it through different channels as a supplement, not
as a competition. In fact, recently, after the outbreak of military
activities we were in the process of negotiating with the World
Food Programme an exchange whereby food that CARE happened to
have in a warehouse in Kabul was going to be released for World
Food Programme uses in exchange for them releasing food in Pakistan
to CARE. That level of collaboration does continue.
31. And the UNHCR for the camps?
(Mr Jarrah) Yes.
32. You mentioned Quetta, are there other camps
that UK NGOs and DFID are working within with UNHCR to deliver
relief in camps?
(Mr Jarrah) At the moment for CARE, not on a very
big scale. We are trying to hold back from getting involved in
refugee camps in Pakistan because we want to concentrate our efforts
on re-establishing full scale activities in Afghanistan. We do
not want to get drawn into creating dependent populations in Pakistan
who then have to be re-settled and moved back next year.
33. Are there patterns elsewhere? You mentioned
Sudan and Somalia where, frankly, this masterplan on humanitarian
aid has been better than what is going on currently.
(Mr Forsyth) I did not say that they were better in
Sudan or Somalia, I said we negotiated access in those situations.
The situations were appalling in those countries as well.
34. Are there examples that you think should
be taken into account in terms of how aid should be delivered
to northern Pakistan or to Afghanistan which are better than what
is currently going on?
(Ms Cocking) To answer the first question, in terms
of working in camps, I agree entirely with my CARE colleague.
We were very concerned to try and ensure adequate assistance to
people within Afghanistan rather than drawing people out, not
least because just the physical process of people moving destroys
their livelihoods, puts them under physical stress. However, we
have said in recent weeks, as it became apparent that camps would
be requested, we were requested by UNHCR as we already had an
office in Quetta, we already had good local links, if we would
take on doing the water and sanitation in that area and we have
said yes, we are prepared to do that. In Peshawar, where we have
not worked and where there were established camps which have been
there for a long time, we are seconding people into UNHCR. We
are saying we cannot spread ourselves as thinly as having a large
scale presence in Peshawar would involve, so we are working directly
with UNHCR on that. I can give two examples from my experience
of where co-ordination has worked very well. In the Tanzanian
camps in 1994-96 there was a very strong relationship between
the Tanzanian Red Cross, the Government and UNHCR. That made some
NGOs not very happy because perhaps they were not able to do exactly
as they wished but there was a very, very strong co-ordination
mechanism. More recently in the Balkans in 1999 there was a multiplicity
of NGOs in Kosovo and very few in Serbia, where arguably the need
was greater. I have to say, I think, the Serbian co-ordination
mechanisms worked very well. Again, they worked under a very strict
UNHCR umbrella and we had some very positive experiences of being
able to complement each other's work, not least with CARE.
Mr Colman: I think the Committee would
like to have a paper, perhaps from the Disasters Emergency Committee,
to outline, if you like, the overall plan-o-gram of how this is
35. I think that would be helpful. If in that
paper you could also flesh out the logistical problems you have
with visas and those sorts of things that would be helpful.
I know one would hope that DFID or someone in the Foreign Office
could help or assist. Can I just ask three logistical questions
before we move on to the future. I think that many of the Committee
have visited the region, certainly Peshawar, certainly to the
Landi Kotal border, and know what it is like. Frankly, the only
way you are going to shift huge amounts of stuff is by lorry.
Have the donor communities got sufficient lorries to shift the
amount of grain and food that you need to shift if you are able
to move those lorries?
(Ms Cocking) Our assessment is that the local market
does have adequate transport capacity to move what food is required.
The difficulty comes, as Justin was referring to earlier, when
truckers are reluctant to move into Afghanistan or to spend extended
periods of time there because of security fears. We started to
see this begin to happen about two weeks ago before the air strikes
began when various trucking operations said "we will still
go to Afghanistan but we will not overnight there". That
means you cannot get very far, as you know. In turn, that means
one has to trans-ship onto Afghan trucks and the whole thing becomes
much more complex and much more
36. Do you think the market place might change?
I do not think there is going to be a total meeting of minds on
this but if the truckers appreciate that there is not going to
be a pause in bombing, do you think that might cause a number
of them to come back into the marketplace and still go into Afghanistan?
(Ms Cocking) I would say at the moment it is probably
unlikely. I think one has to accept too that there is also an
issue of perception here. As you say, there will be no meeting
of minds on this point, I do not think, but even if one were to
say hypothetically there would be no more air strikes from tonight,
it is still going to be some time before that message gets through
to the level of confidence that is required.
(Mr Forsyth) It is not only because of the bombing,
it is also because of the level of insecurity in Afghanistan for
whatever reason. I know we have heard different theories about
why it is happening but the level of insecurity is dramatically
increasing in a number of places, particularly in areas where
the Northern Alliance/Taliban fighting is intensifying. I think
that adds to it, it is not just the bombings, it is a number of
(Mr Jarrah) Can I just add something to that. The
breakdown in law and order in Afghanistan is actually palpable
now. We are getting reports from staff who are coming across the
border that it is noticeably different, the climate of lawlessness,
and that does affect the willingness of truck drivers to go across
the border. In terms of logistical supply of lorries we have not
had any problems either.
37. I know a couple of other colleagues want
to ask questions before we move on but I have one question. I
witnessed first hand the problems in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s
and one was very conscious of the length of time it took to turn
the situation around so that people could feed themselves again.
Earlier, Justin, you gave evidence that people are not coming
forward to collect seeds, tools and so forth. What is your estimate
of the length of time that people in Afghanistan are going to
be dependent on food aid? I am not just talking about this winter.
How long is this situation going to continue?
(Ms Cocking) I think without question that it will
certainly go on for at least another year. Particularly if people
miss the harvest next year then they will remain in difficult
circumstances. I know everybody is aware of the length of time
that the drought has been going on but to illustrate the conditions
that people survive under, during the hungry season, which occurs
in March/April, there is a steady deterioration and a minor improvement
but nobody ever gets back up to where they were at the beginning.
We are witnessing an overall down trend which has probably been
going on for many years and we have all sorts of indicators as
to how that has happened. To actually, as with Ethiopia, turn
that around is going to be a very long-term process which is going
to be much more than just pure livelihood rehabilitation, it is
going to be the whole political, civil society reconstruction.
I do not think we should be too complacent.
38. And we should be planning that now?
(Ms Cocking) Yes.
(Mr Jarrah) Can I just add a little observation to
that which is because the aid delivery environment is so difficult
we are tending to use fairly blunt tools for doing it. We cannot
target it to the most vulnerable sections of the population, as
we would do in better times, which means that some of the trends
that Jane has been mentioning are probably very acute in certain
sectors of the population that we cannot reach.
39. I want to ask you two questions. Unfortunately
television is not in Afghanistan in the way that we would wish
it to be but some of the most distressing scenes we have seen
are, of course, of people trying to cross borders. I wonder if
you could just talk about that for a moment, the importance of
getting the countries bordering Afghanistan to keep their borders
open. I have seen many refugee situations in the past where people
have died unnecessarily trying to get across the borders and being
prevented from crossing those borders. Secondly, before any action
started in Afghanistan both George Bush and Tony Blair stressed
a three pronged approach to this situation and it was military,
humanitarian and diplomatic. I think most people got the impression
that these strands were going to run in parallel but I certainly
get the impression that they are not running in parallel and I
would like to know what your view is and how we can get the humanitarian
to run in parallel with the military?
(Mr Jarrah) From the outset we were very conscious
of the constraints that closed borders were going to impose on
humanitarian action and from the very beginning CARE did call
for the borders, particularly with Pakistan but also with other
countries, to be as open as possible. There is an unknown humanitarian
situation in that no-man's-land between the two countries that
we cannot get to and it seems that the UN cannot get to. We do
not have any reliable information about the numbers involved.
All we can tell from stories that are coming across the borders
is that the conditions in those areas are horrendous in terms
of shortage of food, sanitation, violence, frustration. We understand
also that the Pakistani authorities are periodically opening the
borders as a kind of safety valve but there is no systematic policy
about whether those borders are shut or whether they are open.
The signals that are going further in land into Afghanistan about
whether or not to head for the border are mixed. I think that
is one of the reasons why we have not seen the massive population
movements that humanitarian agencies predicted early on in the
crisis. I do not have any comment on whether the behind the scenes
diplomatic activities are in sync with the military ones but I
think it is no secret that we feel that the humanitarian action
has lagged behind the others. We would like to see the few weeks
that we have before winter and before Ramadan to put that on the
top of the agenda and try to redress some of that balance.
1 Ev 57-75. Back
Ev 75-6. Back