Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)




  80. One might be tempted to say that if the Taliban complied with their obligations under the UN resolutions going back to 1999 and simply handed over bin Laden, all military action would come to an end and one would be able to take food aid through but it does require two things. Perhaps, whilst you are answering Mrs Clwyd's question, you might also give some thought to this as to whether it is possible for the international community to come to arrangements with the Taliban about the distribution within Afghanistan? Clearly dealing with food aid to the borders is one thing, it then has to be distributed, and whether the bombing ceases or bombing does not cease, it still needs the co-operation of the Taliban regime to enable it to be distributed throughout Afghanistan. What are your impressions about the ability for the UNHCR and other organisations, Mr Brahimi and others, to actually manage to come to arrangements and agreements with the Taliban which they will stick to?
  (Dr Mukarji) I would like to answer that. Thank you for that question. Certainly we need to try that. We have worked in Afghanistan for the last 15 years and with the Taliban for the last few years. It is not all that easy, let us be honest about that, but we have been able to work on relief and development programmes and we have been able to try to find mechanisms of communicating with them and working with them at different levels. I believe we must encourage the UN and the international community to look at not just the Taliban but also the Northern Alliance together to work with the international community and the US and UK situation to find these safe corridors or safe passages and safe spaces. I think it is something that is worth trying in the context of the urgency and importance to get supplies in. We have worked with the Taliban, as I have said, and we have found them at different times very helpful, and sometimes not so easy to work with. I think it is worth trying because all of us want to avoid, and I am sure they too would like to avoid the problems that might happen. I think this has not been tried enough. This is our pressure and a request to the international community and the UN in particular to take that lead.

  81. Mr Sakandar Ali?
  (Mr Ali) Perhaps an additional point on your question. The Iranian border still to my knowledge officially remains closed, however if you look at the thrust of the campaign, the air strikes, it is mainly on Jalalabad, Kabul and Kandahar which actually makes Pakistan the nearest border. Still the outflow of people for the most part would be towards this side or perhaps towards Tajikistan in the North. There are areas for the moment which have large scale internal displacement and towards Iran there is large scale internal displacement but that could also be perhaps because it is one of the areas that currently is still relatively safe so people are moving there. In terms of Jalalabad, Kabul and Kandahar the Pakistan border would be the nearest to them. In terms of your question, and partly yours also, it is very difficult to try and give a right and wrong answer. The fact is that there are five odd million people that need food, need medicine, need clothing. Food, as Save the Children rightly said, is not the only thing. With the approaching winter there are other hazards to these people. Now we have asked also for a humanitarian pause as one option and I think it should not stop us collectively looking at other options also. Corridors are something which can be considered but I must say that it may not be that viable because Afghanistan does not have an infrastructure of roads that you can say "Well, on this route, on this date, we will not do that". It is open, it is vast, it is desert and people come from all different directions. It is an option, perhaps a difficult one, we can consider it. Safe havens are another option which perhaps we can consider. It will certainly, however, encourage more displacement of people and that displacement over the years, we may see it becoming much more permanent. Now, to us, lots of these options exist but the fact still remains that one of the options has to come into play. We are approaching winter, there is a crisis in sight, of a much bigger and grander scale than the potential refugee crisis and something needs to be done fairly swiftly. Can I show a map of some of the crisis areas that we want to bring to your attention?[1]

  82. Of course.
  (Mr Ali) I have brought with me a map highlighting the scale of the crisis areas. You see here—this is courtesy of WFP—a map basically highlighting where the urgent food supplies at least need to go. The key here, these areas, the brown ones, do not necessarily suffer from snow, so they will be the second round of distribution which means they are not that much of a priority at the moment. What concerns us are the areas which are crossed with blue lines, these provinces. It is a huge area and it says quite clearly here "Urgent no access after 15 November". Now I can tell you for example in Dai Kundi, because this is an area that we work in, in Dai Kundi even the aid agencies are a little hesitant to put themselves forward for Dai Kundi because 5,000 tonnes of food needs to be moved potentially from either Peshawar or Kabul down to Dai Kundi and then distributed before 15 November. From my experience the terrain is so atrocious that on average on a good road a truck carries 25 tonnes, in Afghanistan a truck carries 15 tonnes and because of the bad roads it is sometimes less than 15 tonnes. On average it can cover 300 kilometres in about 15 hours, in Afghanistan it will cover 300 kilometres in three or four days. So if you imagine the logistical nightmare of just trying to meet the needs of one particular district, Dai Kundi, 5,000 tonnes of food to be brought in and then distributed to the various villages in that area. These are all immediate crisis areas because we have potentially no access to them after 15 November.

Ann Clwyd

  83. What about low flying air drops?
  (Mr Ali) It is an option that I think we can consider also. The thing with food drops, as we have been witnessing, you see assistance has to be targeted, we have to make sure that the very vulnerable, the ones who need it most, get it and that includes, for the most part, children, the elderly, the sick and the infirm who are the ones not in a position to run out into the field and grab their part of the food. The ones who often do not need it, the healthy, the young and the men particularly are the ones who take the food. Food drops, fine, but it is going to be very difficult to target this food to the ones who most need it through low flying air drops.
  (Mr Walker) Just to add, I think that is absolutely right. I think from examples elsewhere in the world we have seen that food drops are at best pretty ineffective and where they have worked reasonably well is where you have got the proper infrastructure on the ground, in other words, monitors, people like that who are able to effectively make sure you target it in the most effective way. I think that is a unanimous view from the agencies.

Hugh Bayley

  84. We have been told that the military action, the bombing, has mainly focussed on Jalalabad, Kandahar and Kabul. If you look at the blue hatched areas on your map, to what extent is it the logistics of roads that are frustrating the delivery of food over the next two or three weeks and to what extent is it military action? In terms of both the refugees and the internally displaced people, what are they fleeing? Are they fleeing to try and find food, water, medicine and shelter? Are they fleeing from bombs? I suspect it is different things in different parts of the country. Could you give me your views?
  (Mr Walker) I think you are right there is a combination of issues here and it is different in different parts of the country. I think what we can all say very clearly is certainly the military action has had an impact. Certainly even before that, ever since September 11, the threat of action has seriously disrupted agencies like ourselves and local NGOs on the ground. People, since the bombings started, we know, have fled in fear of the bombing, moved into, as my colleague said, rural areas, into the provinces. It is very difficult for anybody to monitor closely and be sure what those locations are, or the numbers of people. I think also we have seen increasingly since October 7 a breakdown in law and order and security. That has certainly been our experience, as Save the Children, in a number of places where our Afghan staff who remain in the country are not able to operate to the extent that they were before. In some cases our offices have been looted and staff have been assaulted so it is a very difficult operating environment there. Communications with our offices are limited. We know that communications have been restricted by the Taliban and other authorities, although that appears to be improving in some cases. I think other issues are that, for example, the people who are able to move food, the commercial truckers, etc, also have worries about their trucks and their assets. There are problems in terms of fuel supplies, fuel prices have gone up, supplies are more difficult to get. There are a whole number of different things which have combined to limit the ability to move humanitarian assistance, it is not just logistics. I think it is a cumulative effect of the whole threat of and subsequent military action.
  (Mr Ali) I think the panel here, we work in different areas and therefore we are able to share different experiences with you which are often the same experiences that we have had in the field. For a humanitarian agency, it is difficult to answer your question in that the facts are that there is a humanitarian crisis irrespective of for what reason, whether it is lack of logistics, whether it is the air strikes or the lack of co-operation from local authorities. We are faced with the fact that there is a crisis at the moment. Now to give you some examples. In the province of Helmand, where we work, on 22 September we were due to distribute 870 tonnes of food from WFP. Because of the UN rules and the evacuations and the security risks that took place most of the international workers evacuated Afghanistan and that 870 tonnes has yet to be delivered because there is no physical release mechanism to have that food released from the warehouse and taken to the people. This tells me that there is actually a gap existing because of the evacuation and the need developing because at the moment we are still not getting enough food in. There is a need plus to fulfil the gap which adds to this crisis. In our opinion, I think we need to explore ways to meet this crisis. Certainly for Islamic Relief, I think we are not in a position to say "Well, it is because of so and so that it is happening". Our business is to make sure that we get that food in. I think we need to constructively try and find ways to ensure that the five million odd people do not suffer because the added tragedy is that because most of Afghanistan was dependent on external assistance, so because of the gap that existed what food they probably had has probably run out and they have not got anything much new. So it is that which is important for us really.
  (Dr Mukarji) I would like to support my colleagues. It is difficult for us agencies to comment on the military and political dimension. This is not really our task and we are not specialists in this. We do know that there are various factors which had contributed before 11 September and after 11 September in trying to respond to the crisis. Our role and our task and our priority here is to understand what is happening today and to be able to present to the international community and to our Government and to our public that there is a very serious humanitarian crisis and the bombing and the present situation has not helped in it but there are other factors, as you implied. I do not want to get into all that because my colleagues have said that. For us, the urgency is if as a Government and as an international community we have accepted a three pronged approach to our strategy in Afghanistan then for an agency that is primarily concerned with the humanitarian dimensions of the problem, it is for us to comment primarily on that and to be able to show to the public and to the wider community that on the ground there is a very serious crisis which needs urgent response. When you are asking why people are fleeing and what are the different dimensions, all of this is true and more but the fact is that we are not able to respond under the present circumstances as an international community to the forthcoming crisis. With winter coming in and the likelihood of the military action taking much longer from the recent reports, we are concerned about what can we do to help the Afghanistan people—the civilian population—cope and avoid this humanitarian crisis.

  85. Can I ask an unrelated question. It is so often the case when the international media spotlight is on a crisis things happen and when the immediate cause of people's flight, the things that made people refugees, whether it is famine or war, go away then the spotlight is turned off and nothing further happens. You have implied that was what happened in the 1990s, there was a huge exodus to Pakistan and to Iran of Afghanis fleeing the war but no adequate post conflict reconstruction, no adequate future being provided for two or three million refugees in the camps. What lessons should we learn from that in terms of how the present refugees are treated? What are the refugees saying who arrive? Are they fleeing but hoping to go home? Do they know what their future is? What kind of support, apart from immediate food and shelter, do they need to create a future for themselves?
  (Dr Mukarji) What you have said is absolutely correct. Let us not only look at Afghanistan or Pakistan, we are dealing as an international organisation with similar internally displaced refugee situations in Sudan, in Angola, in Rwanda, in Ethiopia, in Eritrea and when the international community or the immediate starvation or the immediate drought or the immediate conflict is not in the news then we have still, as agencies, to continue to see what we can do in peace building and trying to find solutions which will contribute to long term peace and nation building. This is not only a situation in Afghanistan. We need as an international community to recognise, as the Prime Minister said some time ago, and others have said, that we have got to do something about building a more just and peaceful world community in which these problems of refugees being long term displaced in Angola or Sierra Leone or anywhere else are sorted out. This is the situation we have been talking about in the context of the Middle East. Going back to Afghanistan, we have ultimately got to find mechanisms by which people get back into Afghanistan and build their future and the promise of the international community is that after whatever happens in the present military action they will help Afghanistan to rebuild. I hope that is not just done in Afghanistan but done in many other parts of the world otherwise we will be fire fighting wherever the next problem comes up.

Mr Colman

  86. I wanted to ask about the availability of humanitarian aid both in terms of whether it is there, if you like, on the borders and, secondly, whether the finance is available for both purchasing it on behalf of UNHCR and WFP, and the delivery mechanisms. I heard last week that Pakistan had a bumper harvest and there were in fact very good food stocks in Pakistan. The concern of the Pakistan Government was that the resourcing of the humanitarian aid was in fact coming from America or Australia rather than being bought locally because there was in fact a very large food surplus and they were saying the same about tents, they were saying the same about warm clothing and about medicines. That is the first part of the question, is that correct? I have not heard anybody talk about that, you have talked about the drought in all the countries around but the fact there is a very large surplus of food available in Pakistan today which could be, if it wished to, bought by the World Food Programme, in the case of tents etc bought by UNHCR and could be there at the borders within a few hours. The second half of the question is that we note that the donor alert has gone up from 584 million to 654 million dollars in the last few days, is this adequate? We note that there is not, as yet, a Disasters Emergency Committee Appeal I think running in the UK. Is that because the world community has responded adequately in terms of the purchasing of the supplies and the provision of sufficient money, if you like, to get it delivered, assuming—which I do not assume—that the lorries do run and there is in fact freedom of being able to deliver the aid locally? First of all, are there the resources available in Pakistan? Could they be brought to the border if they wished to purchase locally? Secondly, is this new figure adequate and the fact that you have not run your own appeals, does this mean that the world community has already responded adequately?
  (Mr Walker) There are a number of parts to your question there. Okay, taking the issue about the availability of food and other supplies in Pakistan and other areas. Yes, we understand there was a surplus of food production and that WFP and other agencies clearly would much prefer to procure locally than bring supplies in from outside. Certainly from our point of view we have been doing exactly that in terms of pre-positioning supplies for a potential refugee influx, tents, blankets, health equipment, as much as possible, in fact the bulk of it locally. Additionally, in the Central Asian states where we have long term operations, it has also been looked at there to see what can be purchased locally, although it is less clear to us to what extent we would be able to find adequate resources in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and other places. Of course the issue is not so much the availability, I believe, it is actually the means of delivering it, getting food, not just into Afghanistan, to the centres, but actually into people's mouths. We have had a degree of evidence indicating the difficulty of doing that although I have to say that we are encouraged, for example in the North, that the Uzbek Government recently have signalled their willingness to open their borders to allow supplies to move in. Of course that will depend on how the war progresses and developments in the coming days around Mazar and other places. The question about the donor alert and the amount of money, this again goes back to a point made at the beginning that the United Nations and its various agencies are working very closely with the international community and with agencies like ourselves to determine both immediate and long term needs so I would be reasonably confident that that figure does represent the true amount of what is required now. What I would say, and what Save the Children says, is quite clearly that hard commitments need to be made up front now by the international community. Pledges have been made which are extremely welcome, now let us see the pledges delivered into hard commitments. I believe that is an issue that needs to be addressed. Also, I would make the point—slightly answering the earlier question—that of course we have always been saying that once the spotlight goes away from a situation like this there must be the investment over the long term in both the humanitarian assistance but also in other spheres in order to allow Afghan society to really develop. We have been heartened to hear the British Government making those commitments over the long term, and we would hope they will commit and we will certainly be trying to ensure they commit to that. I will leave it there, I cannot remember the other part of your question.
  (Mr Ali) I may well be mistaken but I think the donor alert has a time frame. If I recall properly, because I worked on that one, we are looking at a six month period, 1st October to end of April. That appeal is actually within this time frame, that is the requirement. It does not address the longer term assistance of Afghanistan, it is for the initial emergency. Now for the initial emergency, these are estimates based on flows of people from the cities to the provinces. The estimates are based on the number of refugees and the trend that we have seen. For the moment it seems that should be sufficient but I must state that it is a six month alert and not longer than that. We have to readdress it because when we worked on this document in the Emergency Task Force none of us actually knew how long the emergency would last. The best guestimate that we had was we should have an appeal at least for six months, which will most likely be revised during the six months and perhaps extended as well. That is the clarification on that. Regarding the availability of food inside Pakistan, there is food available inside Pakistan and there is some food available also on the market inside Afghanistan. The problem with inside Afghanistan is that people do not have the buying power. Those that had the buying power are probably no longer inside Afghanistan because they have been wanting to leave. From my experience, we are just today sending in a thousand tonnes of food. There was a little difficulty in signing the contract because when we agreed with the supplier that we would pay X amount per kilo of wheat flour, and the contract was signed, the very next day he came back and said "WFP has just bought 300,000 tonnes of wheat so the cost of wheat flour has gone up".

  87. That is in Pakistan?
  (Mr Ali) In Pakistan. So, yes, there is food available but we have to ensure that we do not affect local market mechanisms. The scale of food that we are looking for if we procure it from inside Pakistan is very good because the money will circulate in the community but I think certainly it will affect the local market mechanisms as well. As a policy, however, and something most of us felt—and something which we could recommend where possible and where we do not affect local market mechanisms—any assistance should be bought locally because it builds the community and circulates the money; if not, then the community further on and if not then we can look at imports. Now the problem with the pledges is that a lot of these pledges are in kind and food is one of the in kind donations that is given by the donors. The WFP often has to receive that donation so it is marked as X million dollars worth of assistance but often it is in kind assistance and also it ranges to tents and other non food items. Tents, gerry cans, blankets, quilts, they are produced in Pakistan and they are available to buy also. Now for the longer term, a key thing which I think this time around, if we are looking at reconstruction of Afghanistan and rehabilitation in a potential scenario, the ownership of Afghans themselves, it has to be a programme conceived with the people, representing the needs of the people so that they have a sense of ownership and it ensures continuity and it ensures success. I think it would be difficult to conceive a programme as the international community alone and then try to implement it inside Afghanistan because the ownership certainly would not exist. Here I would like to stress also that there are very good local Afghan NGOs as well, they have a vast number of years of experience and NGOs that we can rely on. So in this distribution of international assistance I think we need to have an inclusive approach to the local NGOs as well, particularly the credible ones, so that we do continue this ownership and building local structures.
  (Dr Mukarji) I would like my colleague to answer the first part but I would like to answer the question of the DEC.
  (Ms Kelly) Yes. I would agree, again, with my colleague. Just to note that according to World Food Programme, for example in Iran, they are buying directly food in Iran for trucking into Afghanistan but just as I think the longer term political perspective has to be earned by the Afghans, I think it is important also, with this emergency, to place that within a long term development perspective. In that area, we have been particularly concerned about the provision of seeds for spring planting, perhaps too late now for autumn planting and, again, those we are able and are procuring in Iran locally where, of course, they are appropriate. I would like to stress and agree with colleagues from Save the Children Fund that perhaps what is most crucial is also to keep an eye on the longer term. What is going to be needed is a long term sustained commitment to the resources for rehabilitation and reconstruction because this emergency is not going to be over very quickly.
  (Dr Mukarji) The other part of the question was about the Disasters Emergency Committee and its appeal. In Christian Aid, we have been trying to get the public and the DEC to take an appeal seriously from about July. We began to see from our information on the ground and our staff and our own local NGOs that there was a need and there was going to be a crisis. We sent staff there to collect the information. About the end of August we were ready to go for an appeal, in fact we had agreed to launch our appeal because the DEC at that time had not accepted the joint appeal for Afghanistan. So in early September we made a decision in Christian Aid to go for an appeal on the 17 September. We had already bought advertising space and, sadly, the tragedy of 11th September came along. We recognised this was not the right time to go for an appeal on the wider context. We began then to work with other colleagues in the DEC to find mechanisms by which we could make a joint appeal and to find the right time and the right way to do it. We were very grateful for DFID and others providing some money for us but as agencies we want also to have some independence and to give the public a chance to give us some money for our work. By the time we made a decision in the DEC it was 6 October and we were to agree with the broadcasters to go for an appeal on the next Tuesday but Sunday was the day of the bombing and we just did not think it was right to go for an appeal at that time. Sadly, as agencies, we are all making our separate appeals, you have seen the newspapers.

  88. Yes.
  (Dr Mukarji) We are still looking at the possibility of a joint appeal when it is right. We are wanting additional funds for our work and operations on the ground.

  89. If I may come back. One of the things which we heard last week was that in a sense the aid agencies are sub-contractors of the World Food Programme and working through them. The World Food Programme is buying the aid and then getting it to the main distribution points and then the aid agencies are then distributing. If in fact this nearly 700 million dollars is sufficient, and if the world community has already said "We will pay that money", why do you need the extra money for your individual NGOs? I am asking for information.
  (Ms Kelly) For Christian Aid, as we work through our local partners rather than being directly operational ourselves, our partners have noted that they fear that there will be gaps in the provisions. First of all, wheat alone is not sufficient and they have asked Christian Aid for funding for additional food as well as the non food supplies which are not always available, that is both in their mapping and what is supplied.

  90. Could I ask the same question of Islamic Relief and Save the Children?
  (Mr Ali) On the first part of your question, just to clarify. I think there are various agencies having various appeals. What is important to note perhaps is that to make co-ordination easy and to make sure that we are going in the same direction, there is this larger donor alert which has specified the centres of assistance which we have all worked on. So we need to ensure that we channel our resources for that larger programme that we can see as opposed to doing the isolated work which often can happen. Documents should be made public, people should be aware, particularly the aid agencies, as to what is required, where it is required, how many people are affected and how much does it cost. Now in terms of individual appeals, Islamic Relief is another agency, we have launched an appeal for 10 million dollars. The reason for that is, one, the World Food Programme, yes looks at food and food in this context means wheat but when I sit in the Emergency Task Force meetings we raise questions like "What about complementary food? What about food for children? What about babies? What about food that is specialised for the elderly and the infirm and the hospitals?" This is not part of the World Food Programme food item at the moment. So the World Food Programme is providing a basic staple item which is generally wheat but like in our convoy that we are sending today we have wheat flour, we have beans, we have oil and we have sugar. Now beans, oil and sugar are also equally important to a family's complete diet. The idea is to have the basic food from the World Food Programme but there are complementary items which are equally as essential which the agencies have to put forward themselves. Secondly, within the World Food Programme, within the general needs of Afghanistan, I must reiterate that winterisation, clothing, clothing for children, water supplies—because in the cities I can vouch for Kabul and Kandahar when I speak with my staff there is no water—there is no electricity and when there are IDPs in the country we need to get water supplies to them, we need to give them gerry cans to be able to carry water, it is the complementary work to the overall appeal which is what the agencies are asking for.
  (Mr Walker) All I would say in addition to that, which I would fully endorse, is the fact as we know in the past UN appeals have never actually achieved their target. It is absolutely right that agencies—Save the Children, like the others—are planning to do complementary work. For us particularly it is in the particular area around the broad protection of children, prevention of separation of families and all the preparation needed in camps, particularly work around health care. The emphasis we have on mother and child health care is not adequately covered within the broad donor alert.

  91. We were told last week that food was a general umbrella term for in fact providing a whole range of other things, so clearly we need to perhaps, Chair, have details on what is within this donor alert and what is not. It sounds very strange. If you are part of the co-ordination which provides input into it, clearly what you are covering, which are these essential extras, I will put it like that, should be within the core provision. I think you need to address that again. Can I ask, is there a gap between the money which has been pledged and the money received and if so why do you think the donors are holding back?
  (Mr Walker) Very difficult to say from our perspective. What I understand is that actually compared with many of the consolidated UN appeals there has been a significant positive response from the international community, probably better than has happened in the past, and that is to be welcomed. Also I understand that mechanisms need to take place before pledges can be backed up because transfers of resources takes time. All we would say is that that needs to be accelerated as quickly as possible.


  92. The sense you give is that you have not got any concerns in the short term about funding, your concern really is how long this can go on for. It is the longer term concerns about whether there will be sufficient funds to take this forward to the long term, is that right?
  (Mr Ali) Not quite.

  93. All right. Where is it wrong?
  (Mr Ali) Even with the six month programmes that most of us have, the requested funds has not been forthcoming. I was listening to an interview with a representative from the WFP yesterday where the question was asked "Did you get the money that you asked for?" and they said "No, we have got perhaps half but there is not that much more". UNHCR is in the same position, they have asked for a certain amount of money but it has not come forward. The NGOs have launched various appeals and the money has not been forthcoming. There is not the money for at least the six months' appeal that has been made recently in part of the donor alert. So the longer term issue, I think what will happen is eventually we will have to go back to the appeal and say "Well, it has been a number of months and this is all we have got. Do we extend the emergency appeal and make sure that we have the money that we need or what do we do about the money that is not forthcoming". Why is it not forthcoming? The UN system is a big organ which I am not that familiar with. Why it is not forthcoming from the donors? I do not know. What I do know is that the money is not enough, even for the six months that we have asked for.

Mr Khabra

  94. With the continuous bombing of Afghanistan, the political situation and security situation is greatly deteriorating in Pakistan. How do the NGOs feel about their security to do their job effectively because I consider it is becoming more and more difficult for them to deliver the aid refugees need? That is one question. The other question is what is the attitude of the citizens of Pakistan to the refugees which are coming into Pakistan from Afghanistan because there has been an education in Pakistan against the bombing and the political situation is all the time changing?
  (Dr Mukarji) It is very difficult to answer that because it is a very complicated situation in Pakistan just now and I do not want to get into all the politics of it. There is a concern for agencies like ours who have at present temporary staff in Pakistan trying to help to try to see what we can do. We had to evacuate staff from Afghanistan. Our reading is that we are just watching and waiting. We have not been hampered in our work immediately because of the actual ground realities in terms of the political situation in Pakistan but it could get worse. The news we got on Sunday was very troubling for some of us who have a certain background in certain situations working over there. Having said that, as my colleagues have said, the Pakistan people and the Government have been extremely generous and hospitable in the past and we need to recognise that. We need to recognise what they have done for over 20 years with two, almost three million refugees with their own resources and their own capacity and their own willingness to cope with that. I think we need to come to terms with the fact that if we are encouraging them to open their borders then we need to find mechanisms of supporting the present government and the stability to be able to cope with this otherwise we are going to contribute to a very real situation where the destabilisation of the government and the changing in the local situation will cause more problems for us and elsewhere. All I can say is we are privileged to be able to continue our work in Pakistan but we would like to get back into Afghanistan as early as possible, and that is our urgency.
  (Mr Ali) I agree completely, the Government of Pakistan with what it has available has done a wonderful job, even for the old case load. The reality that it faces with a potential new influx, it is a reality that it is considering carefully. Now in terms of security for international aid workers inside Pakistan, in response to your question, the evacuation happened from Afghanistan into Pakistan because in Pakistan it was felt to be relatively safe. That position so far has not changed for almost all the agencies, what particularly was a concern was Peshawar, Peshawar being very close to the Pashtun Belt and the borders, but we have seen the aid agencies from the West, from Europe, from the broader international community are working in Peshawar and there have not been any reported incidents at all. Those agencies that are based in Islamabad, I think they still enjoy the hospitality of the local structures and the local authorities. On the contrary, SAFM—the State Affairs and Frontier Ministry—which is responsible for the refugees has actually become more efficient because one of the problems that we highlighted initially was the problem with where the camps were being proposed. The camps were proposed in the Pashtun Belt. These are known as the tribal areas and to get to the tribal areas—those of you who have travelled will probably know—there are all sorts of bureaucratic procedures you have to go through. We feel that it is going to be very difficult as international aid workers to go through the bureaucracy to monitor what we are doing. SAFM has become effective and efficient and it is giving the right of work certificates to those NGOs that can prove to SAFM that we have a programme and we will be working and this is a realistic programme. That right to work certificate allows people to get to the camp sites and allows people to go to the tribal areas. I think the Pakistan Government under the circumstances has done very well, particularly with security and access.
  (Mr Walker) I will just add very briefly to that. Certainly I would concur that I think we have been very, very grateful for the assistance we have received from the Pakistan authorities. Certainly Save the Children places the upmost importance on all its staff, international and national. We do have very, very robust security plans and guidelines in place. Up until now we have been very cautious about re-engaging in Northwest Frontier Province and I think we are very satisfied with the effects of agencies collectively as well as with the local authorities. We will proceed with extreme caution, particularly in terms of our engagement with establishing refugee camps in Northwest Frontier Province and the tribal areas.

Chris McCafferty

  95. I am very concerned that it is a week now since this Committee heard evidence from Oxfam and CARE. They told us exactly what you are telling us today, that there is a massive humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and that food is not getting in however the best intentions that people have. The only difference between today and last Tuesday is that last Tuesday we were told that there are three weeks before the snow comes and today you are saying there are 15 days left. I am very concerned that we do not seem to have moved on at all. I hope you are going to say that is not the case but from where I am sitting it appears we have not moved on at all. The map that you showed us was very graphic and I think it brought it home to me, I am not very good at logistics. The suggestion that one truck can only carry 15 metric tonnes because of the road conditions and can take three or four days to get to the places you showed us on the map, which are presumably the areas of greatest need, the places which will be closed up in 15 days, it seems to me that may be the best way to ensure that people who need the food, the most vulnerable, are going to get it and the air drops cannot do that. You will get survival of the fitness, I appreciate that. From what you have told us it seems to me that the trucks are not the answer, not in the areas you are talking about and not with 15 days left. Is there an estimate of how many trucks are needed to deliver all the food to the places that you have shown us on that map? If so I would like to know just how many trucks we are talking about? Are they there? Are they available to go and do what you are telling us needs to be done? If not, I suspect the answer is not, can I paint a picture and you tell me why this will not work. Instead of those trucks taking in food, and they can only take 15 tonnes in, why are those trucks not taking people in, people who can be on the ground to orchestrate the air drops, people who can receive the food or perhaps find a responsible person in a village or in an area on the ground? Maybe even that person could be paid to be responsible. Have those things been considered? It seems to me with 15 days left there is not a lot of choice but to make big air drops but I recognise there is a problem unless they are properly orchestrated. Can you answer that, please?
  (Mr Ali) Firstly, the point about moving on. I think no aid agency is going to wait for a solution and therefore resume its activities. Activities are taking place. What little food there is is being distributed through the very difficult mechanisms and it is that which I want to highlight. The issue is not just getting the food to the area but the distribution mechanisms which, under the circumstances, are weak. Work is happening. People are being assisted, certainly not to the amount of need that is required, that is the point. Secondly, in terms of the capacity to move food quickly in the next few weeks, I can tell you that from the last Emergency Task Force meeting there was a discussion with a new idea being put forward by WFP, Joint Logistics South. This is basically a logistic operation which the international community wants to launch which will consist of trucks, it will consist of specially made bigger trucks which can carry much more food than the local commercial trucks, a mixture of both, and even perhaps some air drops if it comes to it. It was mentioned in that meeting that some states are willing to donate some aircraft for this particular thing. Now I have with me here a document which was circulated by the World Food Programme basically highlighting the existing supply and also talking about the means of transportation. The World Food Programme has put forward a fleet of trucks which it has which are much bigger than the local trucks which can carry much bigger food, much larger amounts, commercial trucks and there are other means. There are also local means. If we could get food to a particular point, even if it is not in the highlands, let us say near a distribution point, the local communities have carts and they have tractors and they have donkeys. The idea is to get as much food in as quickly as possible to at least a secondary distribution point. After that, even if the snow is setting in, the local communities do have mechanisms of carts and donkeys and trucks and secondary distribution would be an ongoing process. The point we are making is that in the next few weeks large amounts of food with much more trucks, and perhaps bigger trucks especially, which WFP has, need to operate and get that food to vulnerable areas.
  (Mr Walker) I totally agree with that. What I would add possibly in terms of the suggestion about sending people in rather than food is agencies, the UN, have people on the ground. The fact is that they are not able to work as effectively and openly as they were before. Certainly sending more people in, I do not think, is initially going to help. I think there is a point here actually to be made about the absolute crucial importance of making sure those working on humanitarian assistance are seen to be and are actually impartial. The big danger I think that we have always said from the beginning is trying to believe there is any clear way of aligning the humanitarian with political and military objectives, that has damaged us. I think we need to accept the fact that while we say there is a huge humanitarian imperative to stop the bombing, it conflicts with military objectives here. Let us just be realistic about that. What we need to do is make sure that we are completely separated, that we are seen to be impartial so that our staff on the ground are not seen to be part of the military action that is going on to enable them to work better than they are at the moment.

  96. You would see a complete separation from any possible air drops, should there be any? It would be unwise to have what happened in the first place, where you had bombing and air drops of food at the same time. That would confuse anyone. There needs to be a complete separation.
  (Mr Walker) There certainly needs to be a complete separation there. Again, I will just make the point on air drops that it does not matter how many planes you have, you are not going to meet the huge needs at the moment. Is that the most effective use of funding resources that are limited but which may be available? I would certainly agree with Islamic Relief's point there that we do need to start moving in significantly greater commodities of aid. Even if we cannot guarantee the distribution to some of the most vulnerable areas at the moment, at least getting in to some of the centres there is a possibility—at least—that it will be able to move on through various means with the assistance of agencies and communities' own ingenuity.

  97. Has the work been done though to establish how many trucks are needed to move in the kind of food you are talking about? Has that work been done?
  (Mr Ali) I think WFP has done its calculations. Agencies like us, we will be doing 6,000 odd tonnes of food in Parwan and Kabul districts in the next six months, a similar amount in the Southern areas. So when we write up our proposal, we do the calculations and say "For this we need this number of trucks on the road all the time". The point here is that for the biggest food agency, which is WFP, the primary responsibility of getting the food to a distribution centre proposed by a NGO lies with WFP. What we want to ensure is that at least the food reaches those distribution centres. Thereafter the NGOs, even during the winter, will continue to work for secondary distribution with the communities and with the partners to make sure that food gets to people during the winter.
  (Dr Mukarji) I would like to support what my colleagues have said over here. The point that you first made is very important. There is, since last week, a certain urgency for all of us and while we are concerned with the winter there are other parts of Afghanistan where we can continue after that. We need to stock pile into these secondary centres so that there can be local community and NGO distribution mechanisms. All the data we are getting from the World Food Programme and others is that only 19 per cent of daily requirements of food in October has been reached and only 15 per cent of the food that is daily required is being distributed. We are actually in a very serious crisis situation. The options are, and you have given them, unless we have better, safe, secure transport mechanisms, whether they are trucks or air, which are independent and not related to the military and not related to the security situation, we are not going to be able to tackle that. What we are urging the international community and appealing to the UN and our own Government and others is to take the humanitarian crisis seriously. We as an agency will continue, not just for the next two weeks but we have been there for 15 years and we will get through winter and all the rest of it. But, sadly, this will be an enormous price for certain people in Afghanistan. We believe the crisis, when we can get the facts and the figures and the stories and the pictures, will be a very sad story of what we did not do when we knew the facts.

Mr Battle

  98. Was that not true last year before this crisis hit the televisions? How many people died of hunger last year when they also had droughts? What is the difference between last year and previous years because you could put the point now probably the country under the greatest stress is Mongolia with the hard winter where great numbers of people are dying but there is no reference to it in the Western press. I just wonder how you feel comparing and contrasting this year with last year?
  (Dr Mukarji) Within Afghanistan, as I said, there was a three year drought and there were problems last year. This has been something we have been trying to get into the news and last year, fortunately, there was a reasonably good harvest with stocks still available and there were mechanisms by which the World Food Programme was still working in Afghanistan at that time and NGOs were working there. I am told about 80 per cent of the harvest of this last year has collapsed and this is a much more serious year, before the war, before 11 September, than we have had before. Yes, there were problems last year but before the present bombing and military situation we were expecting a very serious crisis in Afghanistan for this year and in the regions around because the drought is not just in Afghanistan there is some of that drought in some of the neighbouring countries over there too.

Tony Worthington

  99. Can I just be clear about what you have been saying. Are you being critical of the World Food Programme and its performance? I am trying to get it so that we get this accurately. I want to know whether there is an under performance by the World Food Programme in terms of getting food to the surroundings of Afghanistan so it can be distributed. That is not the picture we have had. The picture we have had is that the food is there, it is internal distribution that is the problem. I would just like to be clear about that.
  (Dr Mukarji) Under the circumstances, and my colleagues can say about on the ground, we believe the World Food Programme is doing the best it can. It has very serious difficulties, we have heard, beyond the fact there are difficult roads, difficult situations in terms of the local realities in trucks and all the rest of it, and the bombing has not made it easier. While the World Food Programme is improving on its delivery and distribution, it is still not reaching the numbers it needs to reach to be able to cope with its own estimate of the number of people who need the food. Therefore, while things are improving, we are asking for additional help which may contribute in terms of a pause in the bombing which will allow, hopefully, the World Food Programme to be able to use the trucks and other mechanisms under safe mechanisms to get the food in. They are working as best they can under very difficult circumstances.

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