Memorandum submitted by Oxfam
1. Oxfam welcomes the opportunity to feed
into this all-important inquiry into the current humanitarian
crisis in Afghanistan. Since we gave oral evidence to the Committee
on 23 October momentous changes have occurred in Afghanistan and
we feel that our written submission should reflect these changes.
2. Afghanistan's political and military
landscape has dramatically changed over the course of the past
couple of weeks and will no doubt continue to do so over the coming
weeks and months. More than a week after the fall of Kabul, security
has improved in some places. But in others, it has not. The UN
World Food Program has been more successful at getting food into
the country, but continued instability and violence is preventing
food from getting to some of the most desperately needy districts.
3. A humanitarian crisis still looms large
over much of the country. For example, normally at this time of
year Oxfam GB local staff would soon be stopping work in some
parts of Afghanistan because of snow, having given people enough
food to see them through the winter. This year, these people still
have little or no food aid and many are about to be cut off by
the winter snows. Oxfam International partner organisations working
on the ground in Afghanistan report a desperate race against time
to get food in to the worst affected areas.
4. There is an urgent need for the international
community to address the food needs in the crisis districts, including
in the central highlands, and to negotiate secure access along
all land routes. For this reason Oxfam are calling on the international
community to agree to the immediate deployment of a UN security
force. This should ensure the security of food distribution to
key districts and help maintain law and order in the transition
to a broad-based government. The UN force could take many forms
from UN blue helmets to a UN-mandated multinational force. The
key is to get substantial numbers there quickly.
5. With winter fast approaching there is
a need to accelerate the trucking of food to districts in need,
particularly areas about to be cut off by snow. In addition the
plans to air lift or air drop food must be speeded up, to be swiftly
acted on if snow or insecurity still prevent overland access.
6. War and drought in Afghanistan have generated
the second largest exodus of refugees in the world. Before the
current military campaign, there were 3.6 million refugees in
neighbouring countries and abroad; over one hundred thousand more
have fled towards Pakistan and Iran and UNHCR fears that the latest
fighting around Kandahar may lead to a further exodus. The conditions
faced by internally displaced people and refugees are far below
any acceptable standards. Oxfam is calling on the governments
of the region and the international community to take urgent action
to ensure that basic needs are met and that people's rights are
respected within international humanitarian law.
7. The recent events in Afghanistan have
changed the humanitarian picture, in some places for the better
but in other places for the worse. Like the political situation,
the situation on the ground is fluid, changing on a daily, if
not hourly basis and our hope is that gains by the Northern Alliance
will bring increased security which in turn will enable aid agencies
to carry out their work more effectively. But in some areas there
is still a lot of fighting, food truckers are fearful about driving
into an unknown situation and some aid routes continue to be disrupted.
Current reports Oxfam is getting from parts of the West and the
North West of the country suggest that increasing insecurity and
fear of lawlessness are making it very difficult to get food to
8. On 20 November, armed men stopped food
convoys travelling from Kabul to Bamyan in the central highlands,
as they tried to extort "taxes". On 21 November gunmen
attacked food convoys near Jalalabad in the East. Violence, intimidation
and obstacles to aid will only get worse unless the international
community demonstrates now that it can restore law and order and
facilitate a transition to stable government representing all
Afghans. That demands a much stronger role for the UN in Afghanistan
in the crucial next few weeks and months. It urgently requires
a UN-authorised security force. But it also requires the UN to
lead Afghanistan's immediate administration until the voice of
all Afghans can be heard.
9. Winter has arrived in parts of the country
and snow has already begun to fall. The central districts of Chagcharan
and Taywara are among the most vulnerable. In parts of Zabul,
people have been relying on crickets and grubs as their main source
of food since August. In Jawand there have been reports of people
dying because of lack of food and even wild plants which people
eat when they are desperate are becoming scarce.
10. Despite areas of insecurity there are
also signs of hope. In many areas conditions are allowing aid
workers to get on with the job. In Yakawlang (Hazarajat) for the
first time this year we are now able to distribute food off the
back of trucks to 20,000 people.
11. The humanitarian situation in camps
inside the Afghanistan border is appalling. In some places conditions
are deteriorating rapidly, with cases of malnutrition and disease
on the rise because essential, life-saving conditions such as
access to food, clean water and medicines cannot be provided.
Camps in Pakistan are inadequate; new sites do not meet standards
of safety nor allow conditions for life with dignity.
12. There are rising health concerns at
the makeshift camp in Spin Boldak (near the Chaman crossing, but
inside Afghanistan and under Taliban control). For example, there
have been increasing cases of malnutrition and dysentery among
children. According to the UNHCR, the camp's population is about
3,000 people, or some 700 families. At least 100 families are
reported to be sleeping in the open without any shelter or aid.
13. In Pakistan, up to 100,000 people are
thought to have entered the country through Baluchistan and the
North West Frontier Province since 11 September, even though the
border has remained officially closed except for 'exceptionally
vulnerable' persons. Even so, it is believed that an average of
2,500 Afghans a day cross the border. There are clearly not enough
camps in place to receive, process, and assist populations in
need. Killi Faizo staging camp in Pakistan, near the Chaman border,
currently holds some 2,400 people and, according to the UN, is
over-capacity. The site was filled and further registration closed
in just over a week after opening. Longer-term refugee camps have
still not been properly established. Conditions in those areas
designated as camp sites will almost certainly be extraordinarily
harsh and inhospitable. This is the situation even without the
further flow of refugees from Kandahar which UNHCR and others
14. Neighbouring countries, particularly
Pakistan and Iran, have been generous in hosting millions of Afghan
refugees in recent years, but these countries have now stated
that it is against their national interests to open their borders.
While their concerns may be valid, it is clearly their responsibility,
with sufficient financial and institutional backing from the international
community, to ensure that refugees are granted due protection
15. There are immediate steps that can be
taken to diminish the obstacles and fears faced by neighbouring
states. Arguments to keep the borders shut could be more easily
countered if a proper system of refugee status determination was
in place, with refugee camps located at a suitable distance from
international borders, and with an assurance of their civilian
nature guaranteed by the host countries and the UNHCR. As more
flee from Kunduz, Kandahar and other front lines, it is more vital
than ever that Afghanistan's neighbours allow refugees to cross
their borders, without the threat of involuntary return, and with
proper assistance and security in those neighbouring countries.
To meet the financial burden of this crisis, donors must provide
prompt and adequate funding and institutional support for host
governments. These pledges must be quickly fulfilled, since these
countries are already among the poorest in the world, and facing
the same devastating three-year drought as Afghanistan.
16. There is also a new challenge for aid
agencies since the fall of the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.
Many IDPs who fled their homes because of drought and fighting
have started to return. As part of new £300,000 programme
to feed people over winter Oxfam will be providing 10,000 of the
internally displaced people with fuel, warm clothing, blankets
and food to help them through the winter.
22 November 2001