Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
TUESDAY 30 OCTOBER 2001
120. We talked earlier about the importance
of targeting aid on particularly vulnerable groups. Women were
vulnerable in Afghanistan before military action. Can you give
us some assessment of the position of women as you see it now
in this situation, particularly as there are a lot of war widows
and there were even before this military action?
(Mr Ali) I think in any crisis women tend to be the
most vulnerable. Afghanistan is no different, even before these
current events. Access to women is very difficult, it is part
of the local laws, part of the local structure, it is something
we have to accept and work with. A lot of the agencies try and
develop mechanisms to ensure that women do get assistance and
we do try and verify. In our programmes, one of the things we
do is we employ health couples. These are husband and wife doctors
who along with our assistants will go and do educational water
and sanitation, they will talk about the safe use of water because
we are doing drought related programmes, and through that we get
the women involved and make sure they get the assistance which
is due to them. Women, I think, at the moment are still vulnerable
and will continue to be so. Access will remain difficult to women
but these are realties that we have to accept and develop mechanisms
to make sure that although they are vulnerable they are not necessarily
made more vulnerable by being left out.
Ann Clwyd: Could we have the other reply.
Chairman: Okay, but I am conscious that
we are running against time.
121. We have not mentioned women and women are
very important in this situation, Chairman. I would just like
to hear from the one woman giving evidence.
(Ms Kelly) I would agree and I would say in all honesty
as Christian Aid at least half of our work has been women programmes,
despite the difficulties with the restrictions imposed by the
Taliban and so on. I think that with the priority now on emergency
relief distribution it is also fair to say that many of the kinds
of programmes, long term developmental programmes, we had in the
villages, are not functioning very well, if at all, at the moment,
particularly in the remote areas. To the best of my knowledge,
perhaps a perennial weakness is also to say that I have not seen
a lot of very particular attention being paid to the needs of
women, and particularly vulnerable women, in this crisis.
122. Once the conflict is over in Afghanistan,
are there any plans for the refugees to go back and re-settle
or as they going to end up like a camp we visited about two years
ago in Jalozzi, very close to Islamabad?
(Mr Walker) Yes. I think it is very difficult to say
at this juncture. Clearly all refugees, including host country
governments, would like to see people returning to their homes.
I am sure all Afghans who are not in Afghanistan would dearly
love to return at some point. The question is when are the conditions
going to be suitable to allow them to do that. Certainly we have
seen over the last 10 to 20 years long term refugee settlements
in Pakistan, for example. The reason why people have not gone
back is because the conditions have not been right for them. As
we were saying earlier, I think there is this onus on us all,
the international community, to ensure that we are putting in
long term support to enable conditions in the long term to allow
people to return. I hope that our Government will certainly sign
up to that commitment.
123. Given that you have told us that most of
the movements of people are within Afghanistan rather than crossing
the border, I am curious as to whether there are any particular
ethnic groups which are choosing to cross the border? Are there
more women and children or is there nothing significant? Can you
tell us that? The point that Ann made about the status of women,
I am interested to know whether any of the agencies have been
working with women on sexual and reproductive health programmes
and if any of those are available in the camps and in the villages?
(Ms Kelly) We have but not in the camps.
(Ms Kelly) I cannot answer for the camps themselves.
125. You are working with women on these issues
in the villages?
(Ms Kelly) In the villages, yes.
(Dr Mukarji) We have a programme in Afghanistan where
we have been training traditional birth attendants and working
with women in looking at health and other problems and trying
to do that as part of our long term development programmes in
western parts of Afghanistan. Going back to your earlier question
that was related to what kind of groups. As Sakandar said, the
people who are likely to cross the border are more close to the
Pakistan area we are talking about because of the fact that ethnically
some of the communities, the Potanza, are the same kinds of people
across the border and have some connections with it. It is probably
ethnically more likely to be that community that is crossing the
border. The reality in terms of internal displacement is covering
all kinds of communities inside Afghanistan.
126. It is not particularly more women?
(Dr Mukarji) For women and children in certain areas
it is much more difficult to walk a long journey and find the
necessary mechanisms to go elsewhere. You must also recognise
in present day Afghanistan that many families are women led families
or child led families because they have already lost husbands
or men in that family. We are dealing with a very difficult situation
because of the 20 year civil war.
127. Earlier in the month there seemed to be
considerable disagreement between Clare Short and the NGOs in
terms of what was going on on humanitarian relief in Afghanistan.
Do you believe now there is a coming together of views or is there
still this gulf, if you like, between you? Is there a mechanism
there on a daily basis to agree with DFID with your own views
as to what is actually happening on the ground?
(Dr Mukarji) There have certainly been some differences
with Clare Short but I would like to emphasise that we fully support
her commitment to humanitarian issues and we are also concerned
about this. We are working behind the scenes with DFID and her
staff to try to find mechanisms to avoid misunderstanding and
recently her statement of 24 October recognised the role and potential
of the NGOs. A few of us agencies are having a meeting with her
on Thursday morning to discuss some of these issues and Afghanistan
is on the agenda. We recognise that Government has a certain role
and NGOs have a certain role and that is the beauty of our democratic
space and our democratic system. We need to maintain that so we
have the ability to articulate our concerns and to be able to
put on the agenda certain dimensions which have not been heard
or not seen. That sometimes appears to be difference of opinion
but we are both committed to the humanitarian agenda in Afghanistan
and see it sometimes from different points of view.
128. Mr Ali, is there anything you would like
to add to that?
(Mr Ali) I support what has been said.
(Mr Walker) Absolutely. I think behind the scenes
for practical purposes there is good collaboration. We are meeting
on a very regular basis, to answer your question. In fact, there
is a meeting this afternoon between the British agencies and DFID.
Even between meetings there is regular sharing of information
and discussion, so I believe it has been fruitful both here and
on the ground in Pakistan and elsewhere.
129. I am going to ask in the last few minutes
if there is anything you would like to say by way of wrapping
up anything that has not been covered. Is there anything that
Christian Aid feels we have not covered? Is there any policy point
that you feel we have not given sufficient emphasis to?
(Dr Mukarji) First of all, I want to thank you for
the opportunity of speaking to this Committee meeting because
we are privileged to be able to share with you our concerns. It
is for us and our network and our support base a very serious
crisis and we are deeply worried about the long-term implications
not only to the region but the international community in what
is happening over there. We are urging our government, which has
taken a lead in this, to continue to take a lead in not just the
other dimensions of strategy but on the humanitarian one because
we think the humanitarian crisis if not met adequately will have
its implications on other dimensions of the situation. We are
urging our Government, working with the international community
and working with the local people, to find a solution and we are
here to help, we are here to be partners in that process.
(Mr Ali) Firstly, I would like to make a clarification.
I think earlier on I may have said that Islamic Relief is the
only British Islamic NGO in Afghanistan but
130. We all understood that.
(Mr Ali) My colleague gave me a note so I thought
I should clarify it. My message to the Committee would be that
we understand it is difficult to get information from inside Afghanistan
at the moment and we also understand that it is difficult to see
on television the reality inside Afghanistan at the moment, and
therefore often the focus of the media and the focus of the world's
attention is to talk about "refugees". An example of
that is often when we talk about internally displaced people we
often refer to them as "refugees". Islamic Relief and
the agencies here are on the ground, they have seen the reality,
they continue to monitor and I think what we are putting forward
to the Committee today is the reality. The reality is there are
over five million people in Afghanistan in crisis, a huge majority
have been displaced, comparatively what has crossed the border
is very small and those who have crossed the border, good or bad,
do have a host government, have an infrastructure, have access
to food and water and we can get food and water delivered to them.
That is not the case inside Afghanistan, there is no water or
electricity in many of the cities we have had reported to us.
Local coping mechanisms will soon break down with the huge number
of people that families are hosting. Under these difficult scenarios
and under this difficult situation where there is no information
coming out it does not mean that there is no crisis inside the
country. I think the crisis inside Afghanistan should be at the
top of our agenda.
(Mr Walker) A couple of points really for the Committee.
First of all, from Save the Children's perspective, let me just
point out and be clear to you all that, yes, Afghanistan at the
current time is one of the worst countries in the world to be
a child. We have a war currently being waged. We know from our
past experience of all wars, certainly modern warfare, that it
will impact disproportionately on the civilian population and
on children, who make up nearly 50 per cent of the population
in Afghanistan. If I can just quote from our founder, Eglantyne
Jebb, back when our organisation started in 1919, she said "All
wars, just or unjust, disastrous or victorious, are actually wars
against the child". I wanted to make that point. Finally,
I would like to say for consideration by the Committee that obviously
we are concerned as agencies that there appears to be very little
evidence that military objectives are being met as quickly as
we thought and the humanitarian situation is reaching crisis proportions.
Indications are from some of our leaders, Geoff Hoon notably and
others, that this is not going to be a quick war, it is going
to take time. We have heard as much as four years, possibly longer.
From Save the Children's perspective it is hugely difficult to
conceive of an effective humanitarian aid effort actually taking
place over a period of time which compensates for what is very
damaged infrastructure in Afghanistan, a lack of services and
hugely disrupted agricultural production over potentially such
a long period. Thank you.
Chairman: Thank you all very much for
coming and giving evidence today.