THE HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN AFGHANISTAN
AND THE SURROUNDING REGION
2. Impact of September 11
10. The worst drought in thirty years had already
caused a food emergency in Afghanistan. The attacks of September
11 put in train a series of events that turned the crisis caused
by drought into a complex emergency involving military action
by coalition forces and an intensification of the existing civil
war. Raja Jarrah of CARE International said "The main difference
since September 11 is that our response [to the food crisis] is
now much harder than it was before".
The conflict has led to loss of life, prevention of humanitarian
assistance and risks to the safety of humanitarian relief workers.
Afghanistan has always been a difficult country for aid agencies
to operate in but now the situation is compounded by poor security,
the dangers of land mines and unexploded ordnance, the absence
of international humanitarian workers from much of the country,
reduced numbers of Afghan staff and interference by armed groups.
11. The events of September 11 led directly to the
withdrawal of international and expatriate staff by the UN agencies
and international NGOs operating in Afghanistan. But not all work
ceased; food was still distributed, UNICEF was able to continue
with a nation-wide immunisation programme
and the British Red Cross told us that local staff managed to
run most of the health work, some relief work and water sanitation
the absence of international staff has had a detrimental impact
on programmes in Afghanistan.
12. It is a testament to the quality and dedication
of local staff that operations within Afghanistan were able to
continue. Their efforts were, and are, heroic and their bravery
and resourcefulness in the face of great personal danger needs
to be acknowledged. Great risks were also taken by WFP's drivers
and the Afghan commercial lorry drivers, who successfully brought
food into the country despite the intensive bombing of a number
of cities by the coalition forces, the instability resulting from
the ground war between the various factions, and the general insecurity
in the area.
13. The period following September 11 led to heightened
tension and a climate of insecurity in Afghanistan.
This was particularly noticeable in urban areas where reprisals
by the United States were feared - it was after all only three
years since the United States had launched bombing raids on Afghanistan
in the wake of the embassy bombings in East Africa. Lorry drivers
were less willing to take convoys into Afghanistan. The start
of the coalition bombing campaign on October 7 further heightened
tension and insecurity. Neighbouring countries closed their borders.
Although this prevented refugees materialising in the numbers
originally anticipated, there were still many people who became
internally displaced or, when they were too weak or too poor to
leave their homes, were stranded with no food and little water.
The people who earlier had fled from rural areas to towns and
cities as a result of the drought found themselves fleeing back
to the countryside to escape the bombing.
14. To complicate matters further, the Taliban issued
an edict banning almost all communications with bodies outside
Afghanistan, particularly via satellite phones. The lack of communications
presented a major challenge
and Raja Jarrah of CARE International noted "The main problem
is that we do not have efficient lines of communication with staff
Only patchy and incomplete information was coming out either from
national staff fleeing the country or through the commercial lorry
drivers; information was often out of date or distorted through
a series of Chinese whispers.
The communications ban, enforced by the threat of death, must
have made it difficult for the international staff outside Afghanistan
to be assured of the safety of the national staff left behind
and to manage ongoing work programmes. Sakandar Ali of Islamic
Relief told us "¼there
was a lack of clarity and lack of quality information coming out
of Afghanistan, particularly pertaining to the displacement of
people inside the country and also to the refugee figures¼".
It is unsurprising that some of the international staff evacuated
to Pakistan seemed to lose touch with what was happening within
the country. We believe that, in the absence of a complete
picture, there was a tendency for international agencies and NGOs
to generalise from the specific, which may account for some of
the differences of opinion as to the scale of the problem that
arose early in the crisis.
15. September 11 focused attention on the crisis
in Afghanistan with the result that the response to the crisis
is probably better funded than it would otherwise have been.
Similarly, media attention was focused in a way that it had not
been earlier in the summer.
16 Q21 Back
115, [Para 16 Back
79, [Paras 16-17] Back
150, [Appendix 3] Back
Winter, BAAG, Speech to COASI, 5 October 2001 [not printed] Back
23 Q1 Back
24 Q1 Back
25 Q69 Back
27 Q11 Back