Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2001
(Mr Forsyth) Just very briefly. On the borders, we
completely agree they should be open and we should be preparing
for those refugees and helping them. We do not think it is the
best solution that the Talibans set a refugee camp up and others
can have access in terms of supporting them. Within Afghanistan
the people should be able to freely move. What we are worried
about is it seems that Kandahar and other areas have become 80
per cent empty now, so where have all of those people gone to?
They have either gone back to their villages, which is a possibility,
which is happening a lot in parts of Afghanistan, or there are
quite a lot more people on the move in Afghanistan than we know
about, which also may be a possibility, but we do not know. Even
if people go back to their villages they also will need support
through the winter and we have not necessarily planned sufficiently
for that in terms of the initial numbers. So that will add an
increased burden. In terms of the three pronged strategy, you
would expect us to say "We want more action on the humanitarian"
and we do, but actually on the diplomatic, I think what Mr Brahimi
is going to do is really important. I know there is a Security
Council meeting this afternoon in New York at which he is presenting
his initial thoughts. We would like him and we are making
representations to him directly to be focussing on the
immediate humanitarian, as well as looking at the political transition
and reconstruction. We feel he can do a lot now in terms of talking
to the Taliban and the Northern Alliance about humanitarian access
and he should even go to Afghanistan to do that.
41. The impression I am getting from listening
to you today and all the commentary in the last few weeks is along
the lines of the link, the parallelism between the military campaign
and humanitarian action. I think there may be an impression created
by the leadership of the coalition forces that the two go together
and that the humanitarian aid consists of food dropped from aeroplanes.
None of you has mentioned that at all. It was dismissed by one
of the agencies as an irrelevance. I would be tempted to suggest
that from what I have seen, air drops are inappropriate forms
of aid, if not a complete waste of public money. Would you be
tempted to go down that road with me?
(Mr Forsyth) We actually had a discussion about this
within Oxfam the other day. We felt the original air drops were
inappropriate for two reasons. One is that they were military
and we believe it is wrong to combine the military and humanitarian,
not for ideological reasons at all, purely practical. If we are
seen as part of the military operation we cannot work on the ground
because people target us. We were concerned about that. Then we
were concerned also that it was taking away the need to focus
or, as Mr Baldry said, the need to set a focus, on getting trucks
into Afghanistan which is the main way that food needs to get
in. However, if we get to a desperate situation, and the trucks
are not moving, and a lot of people are going to die, the WFP
have had some experience of dropping food at much lower levels
with people on the ground preparing for people to receive it.
It is more of a humanitarian operation than dropping it, I think,
from several thousand feet without any preparation. We would not
be ruling that out as a possibility if everything else failed
and a lot of people were going to die.
42. That is very fair.
(Mr Forsyth) The emphasis should be on trucks and
maybe then air lifts as a separate option before air drops.
(Mr Jarrah) I am not wanting to get into the semantics
of it here. The difference between an air drop and an air lift
is whether you actually land or not, but there is a difference,
as Justin said, between low level drops
43. That are arranged.
(Mr Jarrah) that are arranged with people
on the ground to receive them.
44. Rather than falling out of the sky.
(Mr Jarrah) Yes. The danger is that if they are dropped
from a very high height, not only are they being wasted but they
could actually be putting people in danger because they will wander
into minefields or into other militarised areas in order to get
Chairman: Can we look a little more at
future needs. Tony Worthington.
45. As Oxfam are giving evidence I ought to
declare an interest in the sense that earlier this year Oxfam
asked me if I would be willing to provide a systems training support
for a member of staff and in reply they would do some research
work for me. I declare that. There is no money involved and it
is certainly not why they are here today. Can I come back to the
borders issue which has been very confusing in that large numbers
of people were expected to go there, then they did not go there,
then they started going there and then there are the stories about
the Talibans roping people back into the country and all the difficulties
about Pakistani attitudes. Could you go into some detail as to
how you see the situation at the present time and whether pressure
should be brought to bear on Pakistan to be more clear cut in
their attitudes to open borders?
(Mr Jarrah) I think one of the problems on the Pakistani
side is not only the erratic nature of the policy on open or closed
borders but that there are no adequate preparations for receiving
large numbers of refugees should those borders be opened. The
selection of sites for new refugee camps has not been a very good
process. The sites that have been nominated by the Pakistani Government
have been deemed unacceptable by the UN and the sites which have
been suggested by the UN have not been agreed on by the Pakistani
Government. There are problems of security, there are problems
of water supply and there are problems of relationships with the
tribal people who occupy those areas. The policy on the opening
of the borders needs to go hand in hand with a clear reception
facility, not just by absorbing them to the existing refugee camps
but by setting up new camps which are able to receive an influx
of people across the border.
46. There are also stories about only those
with identity papers are able to pay bribes and be allowed to
pass, those papers being recycled and brought across again and
so on and so forth. Are we to believe any of that?
(Mr Jarrah) We have heard stories of corruption, which
I think is the word which is being used, and financial ways of
lubricating your way across the border for people who can afford
that. We can corroborate that.
47. Can I raise something which has intrigued
me. We have been talking about Afghanistan having a three year
drought and yet no-one has been talking about water. We have been
talking about food but not about water. I wonder just what the
experience is? I obtained some material from the Red Cross and
it says UNHCR will be in charge of all bore holes. Survey and
drilling will be contracted to the Ministry of Agriculture, the
only organisation with heavy duty drilling rigs capable of drilling
400 metres in granite. That is some challenge. How on earth is
water being supplied? I hear about tankers but if we talk about
very large numbers of people getting access to bore holes, how
is this being coped with?
(Ms Cocking) At the moment, we have direct experience
of this around Quetta because of being asked by UNHCR to take
this up. Undoubtedly the sites are not in an ideal position and
it is simply a straight matter of the basic practice of international
humanitarian law. The Government of Pakistan should, as should
the Government of Iran and all the northern countries, open their
borders to allow people to pass freely and should respect good
practice in terms of UNHCR's role in the registration of arrivals,
etc.. Like CARE we have got corroborative evidence to the fact
that is not happening. In terms of direct provision of water we
have engineers around Quetta at the moment who are telling us
that there are, again, sufficient locally available drilling rigs,
that is not the problem, the problem is the length of time that
it will take, as you say, to drill 300, 400 metres on some occasions.
What is happening, for example, and we again are doing this as
part of an overall co-ordinated exercise, is we have water tanks
in Islamabad which will be put up as a temporary solution and
water tankered in while that drilling operation takes place. Again,
that is something that we have done elsewhere, particularly South
Sudan and Angola where we have had big drilling operations but,
you are absolutely right, it is a tall order.
48. Can I be slightly devil's advocate in relation
to open borders. Again, I think the Committee in the last Parliament
visited the North West Frontier Province, went to Peshawar, and
for a long time now, a decade or more, there have been huge Afghan
refugee camps in Pakistan for which the Government of Pakistan
have been asking the international community for years for further
help to feed and support those communities; to which no answer
has really come. Is it not unreasonable to suspect that the Governments
of Pakistan and Islamabad are concerned that if they open their
borders they will have a huge influx of refugees and once the
television cameras disappear the international community will
lose interest and they alone will have to bear the responsibility
of feeding and looking after these communities?
(Mr Forsyth) I think that is a very fair point. The
Pakistani Government are obviously in a very difficult situation
but when it comes to the crunch they, like all governments, have
international obligations. I think we need to be pressing our
governments in the north as well as pressing the Pakistani Government
to be supporting this in the long haul and, in terms of the Pakistani
Government, opening its borders. I do not think the Afghani refugees
should suffer because there is a chance of what you say happening.
I think we have to redouble our efforts to make sure what you
just suggested does not happen and that the international community
helps refugees go home into Afghanistan, helps with the political
transition and then helps with the reconstruction. You can understand,
as you say, why the Pakistani Government does not necessarily
feel that will happen because there were lots of precedents in
the past where people left governments in the lurch, like Tanzania
and many other places.
49. I want to come back to the international
co-ordination issue because I am not clear about that and I am
not sure that having a diagram will help us all that much. Does
Mr Brahimi, who is obviously a key figure, have a role which is
humanitarian as well as political? Where does he come into this
field at all?
(Ms Cocking) I think we would say that we require
some clarification on that as well and it is a discussion which
we had within Oxfam the other day, where does Mr Brahimi sit in
relation to the United Nations' Development Programme and so on?
(Mr Forsyth) And OCHA, the Office of the Co-ordinator
for Humanitarian Assistance.
50. We seem to be getting quite complicated:
what is the role of UNHCR; what is the role of OCHA; what is the
role of Mr Brahimi; what is the role of the Red Cross; what is
the role of the Red Crescent? Who is doing what?
(Ms Cocking) Our current understanding is that Mr
Brahimi will have overall leadership of the political and representational
aspects. Where individual operational UN agencies sit is generally
more straight forward. It is quite clear what UNHCR's responsibilities
are under the 1951 Refugee Conventions, and they are very clear
about their mandate. The role of OCHA, the Office of the Co-ordinator
for Humanitarian Assistance, is to facilitate and to oil the wheels
to make sure everybody does talk to each other. They chair co-ordination
meetings, they will make sure that information flow is happening
properly amongst the NGOs and also the UN agencies. That is our
understanding but we feel there is need for greater clarity and
we are hoping that the Security Council meeting this afternoon
will point in that direction.
51. One of the other issues that seems to me
important is I mentioned the Red Crescent there and it would seem
to be very, very important indeed that Islamic organisations are
seen in the front line and seen as key players in this. Is that
your perception of what is happening in Afghanistan?
(Mr Forsyth) Yes. The Red Crescent as the national
society have a very clear role in leadership and, again, the very
specific role of the International Committee of the Red Cross
is crucial and we will be very supportive of that. It is a very
complex picture. I would not wish to say it always works wonderfully
because everybody knows what their role is, but I think it is
important to stress that it is perhaps a little clearer than it
looks from the outside because the ICRC will always be very clear
about where their roles and responsibilities rest. They will always
respect the role of the national Red Cross or Red Crescent society
and there are very clear mandates for individual UN agencies.
What is incumbent upon all players in the field is that everybody
understands what everybody has responsibility for.
(Mr Forsyth) In Islamabad there are a number of UN
agencies UNHCR, WFP and others and then there
are a number of non-government organisations and there is a humanitarian
co-ordinator that we fit under which is usually someone from OCHA,
the Office for Humanitarian Affairs, or the resident UNDP representative
who then becomes that humanitarian co-ordinator. At a global level
there is also a head of OCHA, Mr Oshima, and he is meant to be
pulling all of that together in New York and linking to that.
Our experience of this in the past working has been very mixed
and I was asking Jane before we came in here do we think it is
working any better this time or not. Some of the co-ordination
in Islamabad and the information seems to be working relatively
well but at a global level we are not 100 per cent clear who is
responsible for looking at the political, humanitarian and diplomatic
efforts together. We are not sure if that is Mr Brahimi's role,
to look at the whole. We hope it would be and for him to be the
person that the rest pivots around because we think it would be
good to look at this in an integrated way.
52. In terms of, say, food, a basic issue, the
World Food Programme says there is enough food if only it could
be got to the people and there was an appeal for $584 million
by the United Nations for assistance. Is the money there and the
food there, if it could be delivered?
(Mr Jarrah) We think it is. There has been a substantial
response to that WFP appeal and the part of it that has not yet
been met we think will be met in the fullness of time if WFP and
the NGOs can demonstrate that they can use what is available now.
53. I do sympathise with you, you have been
flooded with lots of very difficult questions. I know you are
not used to answering political questions because you are mostly
used to issues of a humanitarian nature, however I am going to
ask you a few questions on the current and future needs of the
situation. Initially it was thought that the threat of military
action by the United States could lead to a further 1.5 million
refugees fleeing Afghanistan. However, there have been few reports
of mass crossings of refugees. There are some reports that people
have fled urban areas to surrounding villages within Afghanistan.
The few refugees that have crossed the border have headed for
well established camps. Only passport holders with valid visas
were allowed to leave the country although Pakistan and Iran both
agreed that no refugees would be returned. UNHCR reported that
many of the people in Afghanistan are already too weak or lack
the resources to flee they are too weak even to become
displaced. The major movements of people do not seem to have materialised,
at least that is what has been reported. Why have there been fewer
refugees fleeing the country than expected? To what extent is
this due to the closure of borders? Are we now beginning to see
a major exodus or will the numbers remain limited? Should aid
agencies continue to stockpile items in and around refugee camps
or should the focus shift to moving food into Afghanistan? That
is a big question for you to answer.
(Mr Forsyth) I think the point that we have always
emphasised throughout this crisis is that we need to help people
in Afghanistan. That is where both our agencies mainly work rather
than with refugees in Pakistan. However, I think it is fair to
say, and it was fair for the United Nations to say, that we need
to prepare for the possible outflow of refugees. Even if it is
small numbers of refugees, which it is at the moment, we should
treat them well and allow them into Pakistan and prepare for them.
What we know, though, is that within Afghanistan there is a silent
humanitarian crisis going on which will not be on our television
screens. People will die slowly and in lonely ways in small villages
and mountains and it will not grab the headlines of the news.
The people will slowly become ill, they will die of diseases,
they will get a cold and it will lead to something else. One of
my emergency colleagues said the other day, " Imagine someone
living for several months on one piece of toast per day and now
it is down to half a piece of toast and it will be down to nothing
very soon." That is the level of food intake that they are
taking in on top of years of drought and conflict. It will be
the very old and the young and the ill who will die first and
it will not be very public. That is why we have tried to emphasise
that we need to get into them. We need to have accessand
this is where Clare Short is right. What we had before was a distribution
network to reach many of those people and now that distribution
network is either beginning to collapse because of the insecurity
or because the food is not flowing through to allow it to work
effectively, and that is what we have become particularly worried
about. We should address the refugee issue but what we are emphasising
is we need to address the needs in Afghanistan.
(Mr Jarrah) To answer directly one of your questions
I do not know why there has not been a massive flow up to now.
One of the perceptions is that there has been a low flow of population
because they have not crossed borders which is where they get
counted. Within Afghanistan all indications are that there have
been colossal flows of population away from their homes but they
are invisible, as Justin has just said. We believe that if there
is no increased humanitarian access to Afghanistan in the lead-up
to winter we will see massively increased cross-border flows and
it will generally be not the most vulnerable who do make it.
54. Can I ask you another question because we
have been talking about food and water but we have not talked
about medicine. People who are refugees and running away from
the situation are likely to become victims of disease. It has
already been reported in the press. What is being done to help
people with regard to medicine?
(Mr Jarrah) The word "food" is often used
in shorthand to mean food and non-food items, relief supplies.
Very little humanitarian aid is given simply in the form of pure
food. It comes with a package of complementary inputs, sometimes
including medicine. The greatest threat to health for the refugee
population comes from poor sanitation rather than directly from
drug-treatable diseases. A lot of the health control in refugee
populations is to do with mitigation measures around the conditions
they live in rather than the area of pure medical support in hospital
(Ms Cocking) That is absolutely right, I totally agree.
55. Can I bore you with some of the figures
which I have got with me. On 22 September DFID reported that ICRC,
WFP and NGOs had food stocks in a number of cities across Afghanistan
totalling 30,000 tonnes and had an active programme feeding vulnerable
populations in a number of areas. They were also engaged in feeding
refugees in camps and villages in Pakistan and Iran. The original
World Food Programme estimate put the total regional requirement
at 493,801 tonnes of food. It estimated that about 160,887 tonnes
was available in the region leaving a net requirement for 306,826
tonnes of food. The WFP has an agreement with the Government of
Pakistan to borrow up to 300,000 tonnes of wheat for urgent operations.
The WFP says that it needs to ship 52,000 tonnes per month into
Afghanistan. Currently convoys are getting into Afghanistan but
current capacity can only deliver 15,000 to 20,000 tonnes per
month. On 19 October a WFP spokesman said that while they would
welcome a pause in the bombing campaign they have been able to
continue working in one way or another. Responding to this yourself
you were quoted as saying, "We do not believe them. What
we have on the ground is no food and we know from figures the
WFP have given us in Pakistan that they are delivering less than
half the food that is needed." That is what you said. Therefore
I am going to ask you a few questions. What is the trade-off between
getting aid in place quickly and effectively and getting it where
it is needed most? Is the aid getting to the areas where it is
needed and to the people that need it the most? How do the NGO
networks on the ground prevent aid leaking out of the system away
from those who need it the most?
(Mr Forsyth) Just on the figureswhich is the
crux, it seems, of this debate about foodwe think, and
we have given you figures to say the World Food Programme needs
to get 52,000 tonnes in in the next month, over 100,000 in the
next two months. We calculated in September they were moving 653
metric tonnes a day. To get up to the figures that they are talking
about we need to get between 1,500 and 1,700. In September we
calculated in the last month it was about 65 tonnes. We have been
told by the World Food Programme they are now shipping 1,300 to
1,500 tonnes a day. What we have seen from figures on the ground
in Islamabad is that they are only distributing in the last few
weeks 406 tonnes a day. So there is a massive inconsistency between
what they are aspiring to do and what we understand from their
figures. Either we have got our numbers wrong or they keep saying
what they want to do rather than what they are doing. That is
what I was saying. We work really closely with the WFP and we
respect them. Maybe my words are a little unfortunate in saying
we do not believe them. We would like to believe them but the
figures we have show that they are not shipping what they are
saying they need to ship to get the 52,000 tonnes in in time.
Chairman: I think we have probably covered
8(a), 8(b), 9(a) and 9(b). I wonder if we could go to question
10. I will then have a tour de table to see if anyone else
has got any final questions they want to ask and then I am going
to ask Justin and Raja if there are any final points they want
56. Before I ask you the last question because
of time restrictions, could you tell me what has happened since
you raised this question with them? Has there been any progress
so far as the supply of food is concerned, any movement?
(Mr Forsyth) We have been told there is an upward
trend but our figures do not indicate it. We are willing to be
convinced and if there was an upward trend we would be the first
to applaud it. We think there is a lot less than half of what
is needed based on the figures that we have. If we were wrong
it would be great. It would be really good to be wrong.
57. If we have enough money and enough food,
what else is missing? Are all the resources where they need to
be? If not, what is preventing the positioning of resources in
the right place?
(Ms Cocking) The crucial thing is humanitarian access.
The way we have described it throughout this afternoon, clearly
without consent we cannot be as efficient as we would like. And
to come back to perhaps your efficiency question, undoubtedly
distributing free food is not as effective in the longer term
as the work we were able to do on asset creation using food for
work before the current crisis really bit in, and I think that
is a point we have to make and make very strongly.
58. When you prepare the note which Tony Colman
was asking you to do could you quantify the situation. Some of
us on this Committee are relatively new members. Can I ask you
to address absolutely basic questions of how much food you need
to get per day for somebody to survive.
(Mr Forsyth) We have done a little note.
Chairman: Maybe you could share that
with the Clerk and distribute it to the Committee.
59. I mean in terms of nutritional requirement.
I have seen your note. If 400 metric tonnes are getting in a day,
that is 400,000 kilos which would feed half a million people,
or would it?
(Ms Cocking) We estimate that an average family requires
about 18 kilos of mixed rations food per month.