Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)




  20. I think you have given them an examination there, Chris. See how many of those you can respond to and we will probably come back to them.
  (Ms Cocking) How do we actually deliver assistance in Afghanistan and to whose agenda? I think it is important to make the point that as humanitarian agencies we work very much to our own mandate and to our own principles and those are clearly expressed in the Red Cross Code of Conduct, and the SPHERE minimum standards for humanitarian response. Clearly, however, to deal with the donor UN point of view, we work very closely with donors and, again as has been pointed out, we are not always in total agreement and harmony but that is a robust debate which we are happy to engage in. We do work to our own mandate and we do work to those principles as expressed by ourselves as agencies. We do see ourselves very much as part of the international community and working very closely with the UN. I quite often think if I had back all the time I have spent in co-ordination meetings I would be about four years younger, but it is clearly a very important part of what we do. We cannot duplicate. We have developed our own particular competencies. Oxfam in humanitarian crises has a particular competence in public health work. It makes sense for us to do that while others do other sectors of work. How does that actually work in terms of the location and siting of refugee camps and the management and supplying of them? We are involved in site surveys, site selection. We have our own specialists who work and quite often, in fact, particularly in the public health sector, we will second our own specialists in to UNHCR or UNICEF because quite often we feel that technical expertise is more appropriate than us all rushing in and rushing around with water tanks. We do work very, very closely and that is, again, a given requirement of what we do with our staff. In terms of how we work in Afghanistan, we do have local partners, we do need to recognise that life is quite often difficult for them by perhaps being associated with us so, as CARE was saying, we need to be very sensitive to their own position and to work in a very low key fashion with them. We also have our own staff. As Justin said, we have about 150 people all over the country whose primary task is to understand and manage the relationship that we have with local communities. I could describe what that actually means on a day to day basis if that is helpful. It does mean spending a lot of time in rural areas, in urban slums, understanding the community and listening to them. How we do that in the most appropriate fashion is one of the most taxing questions any humanitarian assistance manager faces.
  (Mr Jarrah) There are a number of Afghani NGOs that are developing partnership relationships with international NGOs such as ourselves. During the period leading up to the military action they were involved in food distributions alongside ourselves. So we have a combination of direct action of our own and also action through partners. I think most of the other questions have been answered but I just want to raise one more point about refugee camps.

Chris McCafferty

  21. Were you expecting a huge humanitarian crisis if September 11 had not occurred because it seems to me that there were an awful lot of Afghanis on the move prior to September 11?
  (Mr Jarrah) Yes, we did expect a very huge crisis if September 11 had not occurred. The main difference since September 11 is that our response to it is now much harder than it was before.

  Chairman: I think one of the difficulties everybody has had, clearly the media have had and commentators have had, is just trying to establish the facts of the crisis, just what is involved and how many people. Could we just try and flesh out some facts. I am going to ask John Battle and Tony Colman to ask some questions on that and just see where we get to.

Mr Battle

  22. Can I start with a premise to follow up on what Jane said. I liked the remark you made about NGOs spending a long time in local communities on the ground. The great strength of NGOs is they are in touch locally, they are in for the long haul, they are there. I think we rely rather more than you might imagine on your information. My experience in Government is that the NGOs quite often are ahead of Government bodies in understanding the facts on the ground. I start from that premise. My main concern for the purpose of this inquiry is really do we take humanitarian crises seriously or are we all, NGOs and governments, forced to react to a short-term crisis when all the pressure is piled on? To go back to the point Chris McCafferty was making, the UN was spelling out 12 million people were affected by drought, that is half the population, three to four million seriously, a million people at risk of immediate famine, and yet Jane has suggested in August you were planning food for 260,000, if I jotted it down right.
  (Ms Cocking) Yes.

  23. Which seems to me to be small scale given the crisis. Why is it then, in the light of Raja's last remark, that things are worse now when there is supposed to be a strategy of getting aid in there to back you up? Surely this is the moment when the world wakes up to the crisis and backs you up, why is it not happening?
  (Mr Forsyth) Maybe in total the different Oxfams in the Oxfam family were providing food for nearly 700,000 people. As my colleague has said, that was through local non-governmental organisations and directly. What Jane was referring to was the bit that we were doing directly ourselves in an operational sense. I think that operation is quite big. On top of that we also had quite a large what we call Livelihoods Programme, which is seeds and tools, and also a Communication Programme even managing to survive in Afghanistan. I think we were quite geared up and responding on a large scale before September 11. We are only one non-government organisation, there are many others who have been doing an equal share of the work like CARE and Save the Children and Christian Aid working through local groups. We feel that the situation was very serious before September 11 and had the potential for becoming a huge calamity but the difference was that we were able to have access to these communities. We were going to distribute food before winter set in to large amounts of people. The difference now is we do not believe we are going to distribute food for the people that we said we were because of the change in the situation and that is what we are concerned about. We have spent a lot of time doing media interviews and responding to media requests to do interviews but I do not think the fundamental objectives that we have have changed at all apart from changing to a very fast moving situation. We kept our eye very clearly on the ball of responding to the humanitarian need. The bit of the operation that we have developed further is that before September 11 we were not working in the camps. The UNHCR asked us to look particularly at camps near Quetta in a drought ridden area and we have got a particular expertise in water so we scaled up that part of our work. The bit in Afghanistan is that we are trying to respond as we would have before September 11 and we may need to respond even more if we are able, but the plan has not significantly changed.

  24. Can I thank you for that, it is very helpful. Can I push you to look at the wider region. When there is a great crisis on and people flee for whatever reason, they do not all end up at the Sangatte camp in Calais waiting to come to Britain, they go to the next door country.
  (Mr Forsyth) Yes.

  25. So what is going on and what are you doing in Tajikistan, Pakistan, but also Turkmenistan where many are fleeing to? Are you able to work there? Do you have the same constraints? Is aid flowing through and are support networks being expanded and increased in the wider region?
  (Mr Jarrah) Up to now CARE has been working only in the southern part of Afghanistan and we have not had any activities in Afghanistan in the north. In Tajikistan we have been dealing with drought response for Tajiks in Tajikistan and we are now looking to expand that programme in order to be able to bring aid into northern Afghanistan across the Tajik border. We do not have any work in any of the other countries which have a northern border with Afghanistan but we are fielding an assessment mission, as I speak, in order to see if there is a niche there for us. There are plenty of other agencies working in that area, including Oxfam.
  (Ms Cocking) Yes. We have been working in Pakistan for many years and even prior to this we were planning, and had just received funding, for a very large scale drought response programme around Quetta. We also do a lot of work with particularly women's groups and on education around there. We have in the past worked in Iran with the Iranian Red Crescent, we are seeking to do that again. We had also already planned drought assessment missions which we are, like CARE, scaling up and seeking to speed up in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. It has to be said one of the major constraints to that has been simply the bureaucracy which is a very tedious thing to say but simply steering one's way through the difficulties of that has undoubtedly stopped us doing things.
  (Mr Forsyth) Getting visas.
  (Ms Cocking) Basically, yes, that is code for getting visas. It has basically slowed us down so we have not been able to respond as quickly as we would like, but we will carry on pushing.

Mr Colman

  26. You are here as Oxfam and CARE International but you are also representing, I think, the Disasters Emergency Committee. Can I widen it out. We have obviously heard about what Oxfam is doing and Mr Jarrah has talked a little bit about what CARE International is doing. It comes back to this point being made by Chris McCafferty which is really trying to tease out how you are co-ordinating with the UN. Are you operating on behalf of your own programme or are you implementing the programme that the UN has put together? Is there a masterplan that the World Food Programme and UNHCR is working on in northern Pakistan for Afghanistan and all the surrounding areas or are you all fighting with each other as to who is going to deliver the food where? You have 150 just Oxfam UK workers, are there 50,000 workers all over Afghanistan? How is this all pulled together? Is there a structure? If you are not able to answer the really broad question now, beyond a very simple consensus view, it would be very helpful, I think, to have a paper from you representing the Disasters Emergency Committee, producing a plan of who is there, what are they all doing, under what basis are they pulling this humanitarian aid together, so we will be able to see how you fit within it and how DFID's money is going towards this overall masterplan.[1]

  (Ms Cocking) Yes, there is a masterplan. Perhaps if we could take the example of food and food delivery as an example because I think it shows the system working pretty well. Overall assessments of food needs are generally UN led. We will quite often take part in them. Our representatives will be part of those teams. There is, indeed, an overall UN appeal. We are very, very supportive of that and have been very pleased by the way in which donors have channelled money through that UN appeal because quite often bilateralism is one of the most difficult things which we have to deal with.

  27. You are distributing World Food Programme stocks?
  (Ms Cocking) Yes.

  28. Not your own stocks?
  (Ms Cocking) No. The World Food Programme are overall responsible for identifying their food pipeline, as it is referred to, and then building partnerships, and we have framework agreements, we have regular contracts with World Food Programme. They will be responsible for delivering food to a series of hubs within Afghanistan and then we will be responsible, because of our community based approach, for actually physically doing that final distribution. So it will be food from the World Food Programme warehouse in Pakistan, in Iran, which is trans-shipped to Afghanistan and then we will take delivery of it and do community based distribution. Does that help?

  29. Certainly from the point of view of Oxfam UK. How many NGOs are working out there, hundreds?
  (Mr Forsyth) Most of the groups that are involved in that final distribution are doing it in a co-ordinated way on food within that plan. We do not have CARE in the same area of Hazarajat as Oxfam trying to distribute food. We are distributing food in that particular area within our overall plan.

  30. The range of NGOs, are there hundreds?
  (Mr Jarrah) There are certainly tens. The World Food Programme has co-ordination mechanisms between itself and the NGOs that work with it and they are divided in various regions within Afghanistan. CARE International works only in the central region of Afghanistan, we are part of that network. I have in front of me here the minutes of their last meeting which lists about 15 NGOs which are working actively with WFP on food distributions. CARE does distribute World Food Programme food in the same way as Oxfam has just described. Also, we import our own food and distribute it through different channels as a supplement, not as a competition. In fact, recently, after the outbreak of military activities we were in the process of negotiating with the World Food Programme an exchange whereby food that CARE happened to have in a warehouse in Kabul was going to be released for World Food Programme uses in exchange for them releasing food in Pakistan to CARE. That level of collaboration does continue.

  31. And the UNHCR for the camps?
  (Mr Jarrah) Yes.

  32. You mentioned Quetta, are there other camps that UK NGOs and DFID are working within with UNHCR to deliver relief in camps?
  (Mr Jarrah) At the moment for CARE, not on a very big scale. We are trying to hold back from getting involved in refugee camps in Pakistan because we want to concentrate our efforts on re-establishing full scale activities in Afghanistan. We do not want to get drawn into creating dependent populations in Pakistan who then have to be re-settled and moved back next year.

  33. Are there patterns elsewhere? You mentioned Sudan and Somalia where, frankly, this masterplan on humanitarian aid has been better than what is going on currently.
  (Mr Forsyth) I did not say that they were better in Sudan or Somalia, I said we negotiated access in those situations. The situations were appalling in those countries as well.

  34. Are there examples that you think should be taken into account in terms of how aid should be delivered to northern Pakistan or to Afghanistan which are better than what is currently going on?
  (Ms Cocking) To answer the first question, in terms of working in camps, I agree entirely with my CARE colleague. We were very concerned to try and ensure adequate assistance to people within Afghanistan rather than drawing people out, not least because just the physical process of people moving destroys their livelihoods, puts them under physical stress. However, we have said in recent weeks, as it became apparent that camps would be requested, we were requested by UNHCR as we already had an office in Quetta, we already had good local links, if we would take on doing the water and sanitation in that area and we have said yes, we are prepared to do that. In Peshawar, where we have not worked and where there were established camps which have been there for a long time, we are seconding people into UNHCR. We are saying we cannot spread ourselves as thinly as having a large scale presence in Peshawar would involve, so we are working directly with UNHCR on that. I can give two examples from my experience of where co-ordination has worked very well. In the Tanzanian camps in 1994-96 there was a very strong relationship between the Tanzanian Red Cross, the Government and UNHCR. That made some NGOs not very happy because perhaps they were not able to do exactly as they wished but there was a very, very strong co-ordination mechanism. More recently in the Balkans in 1999 there was a multiplicity of NGOs in Kosovo and very few in Serbia, where arguably the need was greater. I have to say, I think, the Serbian co-ordination mechanisms worked very well. Again, they worked under a very strict UNHCR umbrella and we had some very positive experiences of being able to complement each other's work, not least with CARE.

  Mr Colman: I think the Committee would like to have a paper, perhaps from the Disasters Emergency Committee, to outline, if you like, the overall plan-o-gram of how this is going on.


  35. I think that would be helpful. If in that paper you could also flesh out the logistical problems you have with visas and those sorts of things that would be helpful.[2] I know one would hope that DFID or someone in the Foreign Office could help or assist. Can I just ask three logistical questions before we move on to the future. I think that many of the Committee have visited the region, certainly Peshawar, certainly to the Landi Kotal border, and know what it is like. Frankly, the only way you are going to shift huge amounts of stuff is by lorry. Have the donor communities got sufficient lorries to shift the amount of grain and food that you need to shift if you are able to move those lorries?
  (Ms Cocking) Our assessment is that the local market does have adequate transport capacity to move what food is required. The difficulty comes, as Justin was referring to earlier, when truckers are reluctant to move into Afghanistan or to spend extended periods of time there because of security fears. We started to see this begin to happen about two weeks ago before the air strikes began when various trucking operations said "we will still go to Afghanistan but we will not overnight there". That means you cannot get very far, as you know. In turn, that means one has to trans-ship onto Afghan trucks and the whole thing becomes much more complex and much more—

  36. Do you think the market place might change? I do not think there is going to be a total meeting of minds on this but if the truckers appreciate that there is not going to be a pause in bombing, do you think that might cause a number of them to come back into the marketplace and still go into Afghanistan?
  (Ms Cocking) I would say at the moment it is probably unlikely. I think one has to accept too that there is also an issue of perception here. As you say, there will be no meeting of minds on this point, I do not think, but even if one were to say hypothetically there would be no more air strikes from tonight, it is still going to be some time before that message gets through to the level of confidence that is required.
  (Mr Forsyth) It is not only because of the bombing, it is also because of the level of insecurity in Afghanistan for whatever reason. I know we have heard different theories about why it is happening but the level of insecurity is dramatically increasing in a number of places, particularly in areas where the Northern Alliance/Taliban fighting is intensifying. I think that adds to it, it is not just the bombings, it is a number of factors together.
  (Mr Jarrah) Can I just add something to that. The breakdown in law and order in Afghanistan is actually palpable now. We are getting reports from staff who are coming across the border that it is noticeably different, the climate of lawlessness, and that does affect the willingness of truck drivers to go across the border. In terms of logistical supply of lorries we have not had any problems either.

  37. I know a couple of other colleagues want to ask questions before we move on but I have one question. I witnessed first hand the problems in Ethiopia in the mid-1980s and one was very conscious of the length of time it took to turn the situation around so that people could feed themselves again. Earlier, Justin, you gave evidence that people are not coming forward to collect seeds, tools and so forth. What is your estimate of the length of time that people in Afghanistan are going to be dependent on food aid? I am not just talking about this winter. How long is this situation going to continue?
  (Ms Cocking) I think without question that it will certainly go on for at least another year. Particularly if people miss the harvest next year then they will remain in difficult circumstances. I know everybody is aware of the length of time that the drought has been going on but to illustrate the conditions that people survive under, during the hungry season, which occurs in March/April, there is a steady deterioration and a minor improvement but nobody ever gets back up to where they were at the beginning. We are witnessing an overall down trend which has probably been going on for many years and we have all sorts of indicators as to how that has happened. To actually, as with Ethiopia, turn that around is going to be a very long-term process which is going to be much more than just pure livelihood rehabilitation, it is going to be the whole political, civil society reconstruction. I do not think we should be too complacent.

Hugh Bayley

  38. And we should be planning that now?
  (Ms Cocking) Yes.
  (Mr Jarrah) Can I just add a little observation to that which is because the aid delivery environment is so difficult we are tending to use fairly blunt tools for doing it. We cannot target it to the most vulnerable sections of the population, as we would do in better times, which means that some of the trends that Jane has been mentioning are probably very acute in certain sectors of the population that we cannot reach.

Ann Clwyd

  39. I want to ask you two questions. Unfortunately television is not in Afghanistan in the way that we would wish it to be but some of the most distressing scenes we have seen are, of course, of people trying to cross borders. I wonder if you could just talk about that for a moment, the importance of getting the countries bordering Afghanistan to keep their borders open. I have seen many refugee situations in the past where people have died unnecessarily trying to get across the borders and being prevented from crossing those borders. Secondly, before any action started in Afghanistan both George Bush and Tony Blair stressed a three pronged approach to this situation and it was military, humanitarian and diplomatic. I think most people got the impression that these strands were going to run in parallel but I certainly get the impression that they are not running in parallel and I would like to know what your view is and how we can get the humanitarian to run in parallel with the military?
  (Mr Jarrah) From the outset we were very conscious of the constraints that closed borders were going to impose on humanitarian action and from the very beginning CARE did call for the borders, particularly with Pakistan but also with other countries, to be as open as possible. There is an unknown humanitarian situation in that no-man's-land between the two countries that we cannot get to and it seems that the UN cannot get to. We do not have any reliable information about the numbers involved. All we can tell from stories that are coming across the borders is that the conditions in those areas are horrendous in terms of shortage of food, sanitation, violence, frustration. We understand also that the Pakistani authorities are periodically opening the borders as a kind of safety valve but there is no systematic policy about whether those borders are shut or whether they are open. The signals that are going further in land into Afghanistan about whether or not to head for the border are mixed. I think that is one of the reasons why we have not seen the massive population movements that humanitarian agencies predicted early on in the crisis. I do not have any comment on whether the behind the scenes diplomatic activities are in sync with the military ones but I think it is no secret that we feel that the humanitarian action has lagged behind the others. We would like to see the few weeks that we have before winter and before Ramadan to put that on the top of the agenda and try to redress some of that balance.

1   Ev 57-75. Back

2   Ev 75-6. Back

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