Joint memorandum submitted by Christian
Aid and Islamic Relief
1. Christian Aid and Islamic Relief welcome
the opportunity to present evidence to the Select Committee. Christian
Aid is the official development agency of 40 churches in Britain
and Ireland. It has worked in Afghanistan since 1986 with local
partner organisations and opened a field office in Herat in Western
Afghanistan in 1997.
2. Islamic Relief (IR) is a relief and development
organisation established in 1984 in Birmingham, UK. Islamic Relief
works in Afghanistan through its offices in Kabul and Kandahar
linking up with local communities and organisations.
3. It is important to note that the humanitarian
situation in Afghanistan was in imminent crisis before the destruction
of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York on 11
4. Three decades of conflict and a punishing
three year drought had already decimated the Afghan peoples' coping
mechanisms. A Special Alert in June 2001, by the United Nations'
(UN) Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the World Food
Programme (WFP), warned of emerging widespread famine, collapse
of the purchasing power of the people, soaring food grain prices,
rapidly increasing numbers of destitute people and ever swelling
ranks of refugees and internally displaced persons.
5. Some 5.2 million people were already
receiving food aid in Afghanistan. The airstrikes on Afghanistan
by the coalition of allies, which began on 7 October have created
widespread fear and displacement among the Afghan people and severely
disrupted the delivery of humanitarian assistance. UN agencies
say up to 7.5 million people will need food aid and other help.
6. Over 500,000 Afghans are said to have
abandoned their homes but only 65,000 have crossed international
frontiers. Pakistan, having hosted three million refugees in the
last 20 years, is reluctant to open its borders.
7. It is evident, from Islamic Relief and
international press sources, that many people from Afghanistan's
major towns of Kandahar, Jalalabad, Herat and Kabul, have fled
to rural areas or their home villages, in fear of the bombing.
These attacks have curtailed the delivery of humanitarian aid,
disrupting commercial trucking and, just as critically, local
level distribution and monitoring.
8. The combining of air strikes on Afghanistan
with food drops by allied forces is ineffective, misleading and
dangerous. As of 21 October, USAID had airdropped 696,540 humanitarian
daily rations at a cost of $2,945,122, some 0.5 per cent of Afghanistan's
monthly food aid requirement. Such actions have diverted attention
from the co-ordinated humanitarian strategy that is required and
have undermined the allies' stated policy that humanitarian action
is a critical component of a wider moral response.
9. The encroaching Afghan winter adds a
new urgency to these concerns. The World Food Programme estimates
52,000 metric tonnes (MT) a month of food aid are needed to feed
the hungry in Afghanistan and that a further 67,000 MT must be
pre-positioned urgently to reach those in the isolated North West
and Central Highlands before mid-November. Given the 12,725 MT
already in WFP depots, this means that 106,275 MT needs to be
delivered over the 30 days from 17 October, an average of some
3,543 MT per day.
10. Since 17 October WFP has been trying
to increase deliveries to 1,600 MT per day, but this still only
45 per cent of the amount required. Actual amounts delivered by
WFP over recent weeks are less than 25 per cent of requirements.
Moreover, WFP and others are struggling to finally distribute
all the food delivered because of bad weather, inaccessibility
and insecurity. Agencies like Christian Aid and Islamic Relief,
with strong links to local communities, are deeply concerned by
the absence of effective delivery and distribution networks as
an essential component of a comprehensive humanitarian strategy.
11. Secondly, WFP provision is still based
on the 5.2 million who needed help before the 7 October bombing
campaign. Revised UN estimates indicated 7.5 million would be
affected and a further 500,000 have recently fled Afghanistan's
cities. Put simply, while food aid may be provided for close to
five million people as many as eight million may need help and
delivery trends indicate that it may be increasingly difficult
to reach them.
12. All parties to the current conflict
in Afghanistan have an obligation under international law, namely
Article 23 of the Geneva Convention IV (Civilians) to allow the
free passage of all consignments of humanitarian assistance. Christian
Aid and Islamic Relief condemn all actions that disrupt humanitarian
assistance and believe that all such assistance must be independent,
neutral and impartial.
13. These compelling circumstances caused
Christian Aid, Islamic Relief and other British NGOs to call for
a pause in the bombing on 17 October to permit humanitarian aid
to be delivered more effectively and more safely to those who
need it most, before winter snows cut off Afghanistan's North
West and Central Highlands.
14. This appeal was dismissed by the UK
Government, most recently by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in
his speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies
on 22 October, when he argued that a pause would only increase
suffering and delay an end to the conflict.
15. The prospective length of the conflict
and the continued absence of an effective humanitarian strategy
is of very deep concern to Christian Aid and Islamic Relief. Official
estimates have ranged from the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which
begins on 17 November to summer 2002. The Chief of Defence Staff,
Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, in a statement on 23 October, suggested
that British troops would be deployed in Afghanistan throughout
16. The critical components of an effective
humanitarian strategy are independence, transport, security and
speed. Christian Aid and Islamic Relief repeat their call for
a humanitarian pause in the bombing. We urge the allies to work
urgently with Afghanistan's neighbours to open borders and guarantee
safe passage for humanitarian aid as winter encroaches. We urge
the Taliban authorities to work with the UN and the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to ensure that aid is delivered
safely and effectively in areas under its control.
17. Without an effective humanitarian strategy,
many thousands of people will needlessly die. There is already
a growing complacency over the human cost of this conflict as
evidenced by the editorial in The Observer (London) of 21 October
which suggests we may not be able to save 100,000 Afghan children
this winter. Any suggestion that Afghan lives are expendable for
the greater good or the prosecution of a war, will do untold damage
to efforts to build and maintain a united international response
to international terrorism.
18. The scale of the unfolding tragedy in
Afghanistan, exacerbated by the imminent onset of winter, requires
the international community and the authorities in Afghanistan
to place humanitarian needs at the centre of all plans and activities
to resolve the wider crisis.
Christian Aid and Islamic Relief
24 October 2001