Memorandum submitted by Catherine A. Bertini,
Executive Director of the World Food Programme
The World Food Programme is pleased to provide
to the House of Commons with a summary of the measures it has
taken to overcome hunger among Afghans both before and after the
terrorist attacks of September 11th upon the United States.
Today, for the first time, WFP surpassed its
monthly goal of delivering 52,000 metric tonnes of food into Afghanistan
and we are now confident that we will be able to maintain this
pace. But this achievement is not the same as winning the struggle
to end hunger among Afghans. Maintaining law and order on supply
routes is critical to continued success in moving food into Afghanistan.
The non-government organizations with which we work are working
hard to distribute food stocks within the country, as shifting
lines of battle have created security hazards that may well reduce
food movements over the near term. But even with sufficient food
stocks inside the country, it is always difficult to ensure that
the most vulnerable, rather than the strongest, are receiving
The Government of the United Kingdom has a strong
record of generosity to the Afghan people both on its own and
through the aid programmes of the European Union. At the same
time, it has a keen appreciation of the political and social complexities
of Afghanistan. The UK is now heavily engaged both on the humanitarian
front and in seeking long-term diplomatic solutions to the chronic
conflict that has scarred the lives of generations of Afghans.
Minister Short and the staff of DFID were the first to contact
the World Food Programme offering assistance in moving food aid
into the region. We recently received an emergency contribution
of £3 million (totalling $4.4 million) on top of two earlier
donations for drought victims and Afghan refugees of £2.7
million ($3.8 million).
The Setting for a Humanitarian Crisis
Even before September 11th, the World Food Programme
was sounding the alarm on Afghanistan. Last summer we were feeding
3.8 million Afghans in our emergency operation, but we had already
raised the target to 5.5 million people in a new emergency operation
that would have begun November 1. Chronic poverty and civil war,
the destruction of crops and farmland, and a three-year long drought
which has stripped many of their assets had already brought extreme
hunger to certain areas. Today our goal is to feed 6 million Afghans,
plus potentially up to 1.5 million refugees.
The lives of countless Afghans have been scarred
by chronic instability. Many have been repeatedly uprooted by
the civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. Farmers
have seen their fields and orchards torched. What the soldiers
missed was often lost to the relentless drought that has gripped
the country for more than three years.
Our colleagues at UNICEF tell us that Afghan
families have among the highest rates of infant mortality in the
world. Women die in pregnancy and childbirth at alarming rates.
In much of the country, women cannot work to help support their
families and girls cannot attend school. Large families are viewed
as investments and a source of pridebut there is not enough
food and one out of every four children dies before reaching the
age of five. Often the womeneven pregnant womeneat
last, damaging not only their own health but the prospects of
future generations of Afghans. The malnourished population is
especially susceptible to diarrheal diseases, particularly the
children, and to tuberculosis. Diseases like leprosy and haemorrhagic
fever that are far less common elsewhere in the region continue
to plague Afghans.
What have we at WFP done to help? We have invested
heavily in women's bakeries which provide a steady source of bread
in the larger cities and a source of employment for women. We
have also been supplying wheat to commercial bakeries. Outside
the cities we have supported, in conjunction with a number of
NGOs, a whole range of food aid activities:
at rehabilitating farmland and irrigation to lessen the impact
food for educationwe have
used food to encourage school attendance and have met with success,
especially in encouraging more girls to go to school (where girls'
education is not banned);
free relief distributions to selected
institutional feeding in hospitals
and orphanages; and
rations for the internally displaced
and, when conditions have permitted, repatriation food packages
for families returning home after being dislocated by war.
The Current Crisis: What We Have Done Thus Far
Since mid-September, the World Food Programme
has tried to put out one simple message to anyone and everyone
who will listen: What we are facing today in Afghanistan is a
food crisis for at least 6 million people. That message remains
largely valid today. The challenge is foodhow to deliver
it into Afghanistan, how to see it is distributed properly inside
the country and how to build stocks to help Afghans survive the
winter. The often-predicted surge of refugees across the border
has not materialized.
What have we done to deal with the current crisis?
With dramatic reports that Afghans in rural areas have resorted
to eating animal fodder and malnutrition is on the rise, we have
moved as quickly as security conditions have permitted.
We have taken the following initiatives:
1. In mid-September we began our drive to
replenish stocks inside Afghanistan, move food to our NGO partners
at distribution points and build reserves for winter. In recent
days we have averaged more than 2000 trucks on the road in the
effort to deliver food.
2. We have continued support to bakeries
and IDPs, food-for-work, food-for-education and supplementary
3. We have successfully pre-positioned food
stocks for any potential flow of refugees and continued feeding
hundreds of thousands of Afghans already in refugee camps in Pakistan
4. We have appealed to donors to help us
reinforce our operations in adjacent countries, such as in drought
ravaged Tajikistan, an extremely poor country emerging from a
harsh civil conflict where roughly 1 million people may run out
5. Finally, we have launched a regional logistics
operation to help move all UN humanitarian aid quickly.
A Logistical Challenge
Operating in the dangerous climate of Afghanistan
is not new to WFP. We have been there for decades and are all
too familiar with the many obstaclesgood paved roads are
few and unpaved roads are often impassable in winter. As the battle
lines have shifted back and forth between the Taliban and Northern
Alliance, and earlier between a coalition of Afghan fighters and
the Russians, the landscape has become littered with land mines
that present a constant peril. Difficult terrain has led us to
use every type of transport imaginable to deliver food, from truck
convoys to airlifts to caravans of mules.
We are continuing to meet the logistical challenge
Afghanistan presents to us. In fact, the United Nations has asked
us to set up operations on behalf of the whole system to provide
logistical support and a UN-wide communications system. This Special
Operation will provide air service in the region for both humanitarian
cargo and passengers for UN agencies such as UNICEF, UNHCR and
UNDP and operational NGOs. The Operation has also set up a Joint
UN Logistics Cell to coordinate humanitarian shipments to avoid
competitive bidding and bottlenecks in Pakistan and other neighboring
countries. We are purchasing 150 trucks and we are bringing in
an additional 200 from other regionsto complement the local
commercial trucking capacity. We are also providing bulldozers
and snow plows for deliveries through the high mountain passes.
DFID has stepped in to assist on the difficult Osh-Faizabad corridor
by funding the movement of 9000 mt of WFP food through an agreement
with the Russian aid agency EMERCOM. Two convoys are now on their
One of our greatest worries is keeping our food
secure. This problem may become more severe in the coming weeks
until the situation stabilizes. There were reports of some UN
offices being looted in Kabul, Kandahar and Mazar. While there
has been significant looting as the Taliban forces have withdrawn
from Mazar e Sharif and Kabul the Northern Alliance has moved
in, the situation has remained orderly in Herat. The situation
is not clear in other cities. Three weeks ago we began moving
food directly to the district level rather than warehousing it
in larger urban centers which helped with this security issue
and expedited delivery to distribution points in areas where we
have a narrowing window of opportunity before the onset of winter.
Roughly 14 percent of the vulnerable population, or about 1 million
people, will be very hard to reach in winter. The pace of deliveries
has picked up markedly and since October 15 we have actually exceeded
our delivery goals. While some difficulties with fuel supplies
and some deterioration in local authority cloud the picture, we
remain confident we can maintain and even build on this pace once
the security of major roads, especially from Quetta and Peshawar
Our local staff and those of our valued partners,
such as the British NGOs Oxfam, Islamic Relief (UK) and Ockenden
International, remain courageously at work on the ground, but
they have not been able to distribute food locally at the pace
required. International staff, who have been subject to threats
and harassment, were withdrawn earlier. Distributions for October
inside Afghanistan were only on the order of about 23,000 metric
tons. But we have now signed about 50 contracts with NGOs to distribute
300,000 mt in nearly all the vulnerable regions and urban centers
in the country over the next three to six months, and the pace
of distribution by NGO partners is reported to have picked up
The principal logistical issues seem to be under
control. Mr. Kenzo Oshima, Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian
Affairs, recently negotiated with the Uzbek authorities and the
Northern Alliance on opening up a new corridor to ship food down
to Mazar-e-Sharif. We also plan airlifts of food into Faizabad
as soon as United Nations security officials agree to the return
of international staff there because winter will limit deliveries
by road. Reports now indicate that the area is relatively secure.
This would greatly enhance our capacity to stockpile for the winter.
Additional airdrops of wheat may be needed in certain locations,
depending on the unfolding law and order situation in various
remote parts of the country.
Communications, or the lack of them, present
a major challenge. As the use of HF radios has been restricted
and satellite communications prohibited by the Taliban in parts
of the country under their control, it is extremely difficult
for us and our NGO partners to make plans with our staff inside
Afghanistan. With the shift in control in the north, we have already
seen some improvements as our email and phone links to Kabul have
Finally, security for staff has been and will
be one of the biggest obstacles we face. We need international
staff back in Afghanistan to ensure effective monitoring of food
distribution and to assess the food situation on an ongoing basis.
It is especially critical to keep our vulnerability mapping capacity
up to date so we can target food distribution most efficiently.
While many of our national staff remained in Afghanistan and worked
under dangerous conditions, many more will need to return to work
for us to be fully effective.
The Need for Coordination
Our NGO partners are crucial to the success
of this operation since they handle most local distributions once
WFP has moved food into Afghanistan. But sound coordination will
be criticalwe cannot afford the inefficiency caused by
competition among aid providers for trucks or warehouse space
or duplicate rations. Our staff in Islamabad is working with DFID
representatives and other donor agencies, our UN colleagues and
NGOs to ensure that we have maximum impact and it is not diluted
by duplicate food pipelines or uncoordinated distributions.
The food crisis in Afghanistan will not go away.
There was a massive food emergency in Afghanistan before the terrorist
attacks of September 11. Ironically, we probably have more food
now to deal with the impact of decades of war and a severe drought
than we might have had otherwise. But the emergency will last
quite some time and demands will be high.
The United Nations and its member states have
already begun to envision longer term reconstruction plans for
Afghanistan. But we are confronted with some of the most depressing
social indicators in the worldone child in three is an
orphan; literacy is low and among girls it is only 3 percent;
and medical care is appalling with average life expectancy of
only 40 years and strict religious prohibitions have left many
Afghan women with no access to medical care at all.
The Role of the United Kingdom
The role of the United Kingdom in this humanitarian
crisis is important. The cooperation of all our major donors is
crucial, especially with regard to flexible cash contributions.
We are beginning a long-term struggle and more aid will be needed.
Once the military campaign is ended and political stability restored,
we will face a major rehabilitation and development challenge.
The World Food Programme hopes it can count on the continued generosity
of the United Kingdom.
Catherine A. Bertini
Executive Director of the World Food Programme
13 November 2001