Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 67)



  60. If you could quantify that.
  (Ms Cocking) That is based on a ration of 2,100 kilo calories.

Tony Worthington

  61. We have not asked any questions about the areas controlled by the Northern Alliance as to whether your resources are going in there and whether there are any obstacles to that. Are there any problems there?
  (Ms Cocking) We are continuing to work in Faisalabad and it is probably reasonable to say that it is a bit easier in those areas but it is still very difficult. There are limited numbers of flights, limited means of access from the north — from Tajikistan — so most support has to be done from the south, but relatively speaking our contacts with our office in Faisalabad are that things are okay and workable.

Ann Clwyd

  62. I wanted to mention a newspaper cutting which says Oxfam has confirmed the first cases of old people and young children starving to death. Do you have numbers on that?
  (Mr Forsyth) What we have is numbers of people beginning to die but I do not know the total number. What we had were reports from some of our workers.
  (Ms Cocking) It was up in the North West.
  (Mr Forsyth) In a few districts there were reports of people beginning to die of hunger. But it is very small numbers at this stage, less than 100.

Mr Khabra

  63. It has also been reported in the press that a young boy had crossed over the border into Pakistan and his parents were not there. Is there anything being done to help people who have lost their relatives or parents?
  (Ms Cocking) My understanding is that both the ICRC and the Save the Children Fund are taking the lead on family tracing. They will also usually seek to find durable solutions, particularly for children who have been left without families. That is one of their distinctive global competencies and something that I understand they are beginning to do.

Chris McCafferty

  64. Given the low status of women in Afghanistan and given that when people are short of food often the strongest will fight for their share or a greater share, are there any mechanisms in place when you are distributing food to ensure that women and children are fed equally?
  (Mr Jarrah) Yes there are. One of our big concerns at the moment is that because we do not have proper access to Afghanistan, our field staff at the distribution points for food cannot ensure that those mechanisms are in place. At the moment we are having to do fairly crude distributions, for example delivery of consignments to village elders and trust them to distribute it in the way they see fit, and that in no way guarantees that the most vulnerable such as women and children will get a fair share. That is why humanitarian access is the drum we have been beating all along to make sure that the most vulnerable do get the food.
  (Ms Cocking) If we were to have that access and our staff on the ground were to be able to distribute as they would like, then there are all sorts of tricks of the trade for making sure that food does go to the most vulnerable. For example, we do not distribute using large sacks because they are easily lootable and carried away. In oil distribution all the tins are pierced so you cannot try and ship it and loot it. Again the crucial issue is the level of access to be able to manage distributions in the way that we would like.

  65. By that criteria air drops being received would still not prevent possible irregular or unfair distribution?
  (Mr Jarrah) In the spectrum of humanitarian interventions air drops are one of the blunter ones.


  66. Thank you very much. Is there anything that you would have liked to have said to the Committee that our questions have not provided you with the opportunity to say? Mr Jarrah on behalf of CARE, is there anything we have omitted this afternoon that you would like to leave us with?
  (Mr Jarrah) I would just like to reiterate that the long-term solution is one that I think everybody in this room would agree with. The differences that we have with current practice are that not enough priority is being given in the short term to the humanitarian crisis that is facing us now.

  67. Oxfam?
  (Mr Forsyth) Very briefly three things. Firstly, thank you for allowing us to come here. I think it is very timely. Secondly, I think this is a very difficult situation and it will be very fluid in the coming weeks and the questions you have asked us are real dilemmas that we do not have all the answers to but we are also battling with. We are committed to finding whatever way possible to meet the humanitarian need but it will be different things than we are currently talking about as the situation unfolds. I wanted to emphasise that we do hope that Mr Brahimi will play that humanitarian diplomatic role. The last point, which we have not talked about very much but you touched on in your questions, is if we look at the reconstruction, one of the most important things that we think will be part of that is helping women participate in the political process and supporting them to do it but also being involved in the reconstruction efforts. One of the things we would like to explore doing, and we were talking about with DFID yesterday, is if we could bring together some of those women's groups to think about what the political transition could be and what their role could be in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for that. Thank you very much for the help that you have given us. Can I make a couple of very quick procedural points. Firstly, in this inquiry we envisaged it being a fairly speedy inquiry responding to immediate needs, and I hope you will not feel that simply because you have given evidence today that we do not want to hear from you further. If things change, situations change, matters change, I hope that through our Clerk you will keep the Committee updated and briefed on the situation as you see it. Secondly, as I think we made clear in our press release, we are envisaging returning to this issue next year, or whenever the time is appropriate to have a rather longer look at some of the underlying problems and issues. Again I think we would very much welcome your assistance with those in terms of policies and longer term issues about how we turn the situation around in Pakistan and Afghanistan and surrounding areas. So we are going to return to these issues in due course. Thank you very much.

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