THE HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN AFGHANISTAN
AND THE SURROUNDING REGION
As early as June 2001, a severe drought and a lack
of food were causing a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and
large numbers of people were displaced. Many more were stranded
in their homes, too weak to seek food and water elsewhere. The
attacks of September 11 set in train a series of events that hampered
the delivery of humanitarian assistance. International aid agencies
withdrew their staff. The bombing of Taliban positions from 7
October brought a further displacement of people. The ground offensive
by the Northern Alliance and the rapid collapse of the Taliban
forces allowed greater access to much of the country, but created
further fear and insecurity. Rising levels of factional tension
and fighting, looting by armed gangs and general banditry hampered
relief efforts. Such insecurity remains the most significant obstacle
to the humanitarian relief effort.
The UN agencies and NGOs issued a collective call
for funds as a Donor Alert. Donors have pledged funding, but have
been slow to turn pledges into cash payments. The humanitarian
operation remains underfunded. DFID has responded well, being
the first donor to make contributions against the Donor Alert
and in providing important technical assistance.
The predicted exodus of refugees never occurred as
closed borders resulted in fewer refugees fleeing. A lack of food
and water for the internally displaced and internally stranded
populations in Afghanistan remains the principal concern. Although
food could not be shipped into Afghanistan for ten days after
the September 11 attacks, primary distribution, the delivery of
food into warehouses inside the country, has been a success. While
UN agencies have been flexible in their approach, problems with
onward distribution to the vulnerable continues to give rise to
Security, stability and the protection of humanitarian
aid workers are vital for the continued delivery of assistance.
The relief effort is relatively well coordinated and the
Joint Logistics Operation should prove a useful model for the
future. The successful coordination may be in part due to
the existence of established mechanisms to build on.
Further ahead, the focus will need to be on involving
the Afghan people, particularly women, in rebuilding their country.
Reconstruction will require stability and security. The repatriation
of the large Afghan refugee populations in neighbouring countries
must be addressed. Difficult times lie ahead - in rebuilding basic
services, ensuring food security, developing agriculture, and
demobilising tribal factions. The donor governments will have
to make, and hold to, a longterm commitment to help Afghanistan.
Three key findings emerge from this enquiry:
- there is an ongoing humanitarian concern stemming
from problems in secondary distribution largely as a consequence
of insecurity over large parts of Afghanistan;
- a lack of funding in certain areas and a tardiness
in turning pledges into cash is resulting in gaps in the provision
of humanitarian assistance;
- the courage and dedication of local Afghans (NGO
staff), particularly Afghan women, played a crucial part in maintaining
humanitarian and other development assistance during the crisis.
The Afghan people have demonstrated that they should be central
to the future development of Afghanistan.
1. This is a crisis about a lack of food. The conflict
and events of September 11 have made the humanitarian crisis in
Afghanistan more complex but the root cause of the problem remains
starvation. The situation in Afghanistan after three years of
drought and twenty years of evolving conflict is extremely fragile.
The Afghans have lived with poverty for a long time and many are
barely able to survive. They face a grave humanitarian situation
for the foreseeable future.
2. The Afghanistan UN 2001 Consolidated Appeal indicated
that about twelve million people had been affected by a three-year
drought, three to four million of them seriously, with one million
thought to be at risk of immediate famine.
Christian Aid and Islamic Relief told us that as early as June
2001 the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World
Food Programme (WFP) had warned of widespread famine, a collapse
of purchasing power, soaring grain prices and increasing population
Ali of Islamic Relief told us "¼the
UN Secretary-General in June declared Afghanistan as the worst
humanitarian crisis in the world. So if we are basing it on that,
then at the moment, according to the UN's own Secretary-General,
it is the worst crisis".
The difficulties of delivering large quantities of aid in a country
with poor infrastructure and limitations on access to the most
vulnerable communities imposed by the Taliban
meant Afghanistan was a country in crisis long before the events
of September 11. The insecurity caused by the conflict has, at
times, prevented the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
3. This report begins with an overview of the humanitarian
crisis in chapter 1 before going on to look at the direct impact
of September 11 on the humanitarian relief effort in chapter 2.
Chapter 3 considers the different elements of humanitarian crisis
before examining the context in which the humanitarian assistance
is being delivered in chapter 4. The report also looks, in chapter
5, at some of the issues that will have to be considered in the
longer-term reconstruction of Afghanistan. In chapter 6 we draw
our final conclusions.
4. The Committee intends to return to the subject
of Afghanistan and the surrounding area. A shift from immediate
food aid assistance to practical strategies for long-term sustainable
development will be necessary to ensure Afghanistan is lifted
from its position as the poorest country in the world. That shift
in policy will need to be monitored closely.
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