Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Joint memorandum submitted by Christian Aid and Islamic Relief

  1.  Christian Aid and Islamic Relief welcome the opportunity to present evidence to the Select Committee. Christian Aid is the official development agency of 40 churches in Britain and Ireland. It has worked in Afghanistan since 1986 with local partner organisations and opened a field office in Herat in Western Afghanistan in 1997.

  2.  Islamic Relief (IR) is a relief and development organisation established in 1984 in Birmingham, UK. Islamic Relief works in Afghanistan through its offices in Kabul and Kandahar linking up with local communities and organisations.

  3.  It is important to note that the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan was in imminent crisis before the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York on 11 September 2001.

  4.  Three decades of conflict and a punishing three year drought had already decimated the Afghan peoples' coping mechanisms. A Special Alert in June 2001, by the United Nations' (UN) Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), warned of emerging widespread famine, collapse of the purchasing power of the people, soaring food grain prices, rapidly increasing numbers of destitute people and ever swelling ranks of refugees and internally displaced persons.

  5.  Some 5.2 million people were already receiving food aid in Afghanistan. The airstrikes on Afghanistan by the coalition of allies, which began on 7 October have created widespread fear and displacement among the Afghan people and severely disrupted the delivery of humanitarian assistance. UN agencies say up to 7.5 million people will need food aid and other help.

  6.  Over 500,000 Afghans are said to have abandoned their homes but only 65,000 have crossed international frontiers. Pakistan, having hosted three million refugees in the last 20 years, is reluctant to open its borders.

  7.  It is evident, from Islamic Relief and international press sources, that many people from Afghanistan's major towns of Kandahar, Jalalabad, Herat and Kabul, have fled to rural areas or their home villages, in fear of the bombing. These attacks have curtailed the delivery of humanitarian aid, disrupting commercial trucking and, just as critically, local level distribution and monitoring.

  8.  The combining of air strikes on Afghanistan with food drops by allied forces is ineffective, misleading and dangerous. As of 21 October, USAID had airdropped 696,540 humanitarian daily rations at a cost of $2,945,122, some 0.5 per cent of Afghanistan's monthly food aid requirement. Such actions have diverted attention from the co-ordinated humanitarian strategy that is required and have undermined the allies' stated policy that humanitarian action is a critical component of a wider moral response.

  9.  The encroaching Afghan winter adds a new urgency to these concerns. The World Food Programme estimates 52,000 metric tonnes (MT) a month of food aid are needed to feed the hungry in Afghanistan and that a further 67,000 MT must be pre-positioned urgently to reach those in the isolated North West and Central Highlands before mid-November. Given the 12,725 MT already in WFP depots, this means that 106,275 MT needs to be delivered over the 30 days from 17 October, an average of some 3,543 MT per day.

  10.  Since 17 October WFP has been trying to increase deliveries to 1,600 MT per day, but this still only 45 per cent of the amount required. Actual amounts delivered by WFP over recent weeks are less than 25 per cent of requirements. Moreover, WFP and others are struggling to finally distribute all the food delivered because of bad weather, inaccessibility and insecurity. Agencies like Christian Aid and Islamic Relief, with strong links to local communities, are deeply concerned by the absence of effective delivery and distribution networks as an essential component of a comprehensive humanitarian strategy.

  11.  Secondly, WFP provision is still based on the 5.2 million who needed help before the 7 October bombing campaign. Revised UN estimates indicated 7.5 million would be affected and a further 500,000 have recently fled Afghanistan's cities. Put simply, while food aid may be provided for close to five million people as many as eight million may need help and delivery trends indicate that it may be increasingly difficult to reach them.

  12.  All parties to the current conflict in Afghanistan have an obligation under international law, namely Article 23 of the Geneva Convention IV (Civilians) to allow the free passage of all consignments of humanitarian assistance. Christian Aid and Islamic Relief condemn all actions that disrupt humanitarian assistance and believe that all such assistance must be independent, neutral and impartial.

  13.  These compelling circumstances caused Christian Aid, Islamic Relief and other British NGOs to call for a pause in the bombing on 17 October to permit humanitarian aid to be delivered more effectively and more safely to those who need it most, before winter snows cut off Afghanistan's North West and Central Highlands.

  14.  This appeal was dismissed by the UK Government, most recently by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in his speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies on 22 October, when he argued that a pause would only increase suffering and delay an end to the conflict.

  15.  The prospective length of the conflict and the continued absence of an effective humanitarian strategy is of very deep concern to Christian Aid and Islamic Relief. Official estimates have ranged from the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which begins on 17 November to summer 2002. The Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, in a statement on 23 October, suggested that British troops would be deployed in Afghanistan throughout the winter.

  16.  The critical components of an effective humanitarian strategy are independence, transport, security and speed. Christian Aid and Islamic Relief repeat their call for a humanitarian pause in the bombing. We urge the allies to work urgently with Afghanistan's neighbours to open borders and guarantee safe passage for humanitarian aid as winter encroaches. We urge the Taliban authorities to work with the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to ensure that aid is delivered safely and effectively in areas under its control.

  17.  Without an effective humanitarian strategy, many thousands of people will needlessly die. There is already a growing complacency over the human cost of this conflict as evidenced by the editorial in The Observer (London) of 21 October which suggests we may not be able to save 100,000 Afghan children this winter. Any suggestion that Afghan lives are expendable for the greater good or the prosecution of a war, will do untold damage to efforts to build and maintain a united international response to international terrorism.

  18.  The scale of the unfolding tragedy in Afghanistan, exacerbated by the imminent onset of winter, requires the international community and the authorities in Afghanistan to place humanitarian needs at the centre of all plans and activities to resolve the wider crisis.

Christian Aid and Islamic Relief

24 October 2001

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