Examination of Witnesses (Questions 131
THURSDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2001
Can I on behalf of the Committee say how very
grateful we are to the representatives of the UN family of organisations
for coming and helping us with our understanding of what is happening
in the humanitarian relief situation in Afghanistan and the surrounding
region. As I said to Catherine Bertini of the World Food Programme
and Carol Bellamy of UNICEF, and other colleagues, we are very
appreciative. We recognise that at this time you must have enormous
pressures on you and requests from every parliament and government
around the globe, so we are grateful. We are conscious that time
is at a premium and it is a privilege to have you with us. We
will do, I hope, what is a very self-disciplined tour de table
that way and maybe another one back this way, where the first
person will introduce the first topic, and other colleagues may
have supplementary questions on that topic and catch my eye. Having
exhausted that topic we will then move on to the next colleague
and in that way hopefully we will cover all the issues we wish
to cover. It requires a bit of self-denying ordinance on our part
to be short with the questions because we want to hear information
from you. Chris, would you like to ask the first question?
131. Given the fragility of the economy in Afghanistan
before 11 September, could you tell the Committee what in your
view has been the impact of the air strikes and the fighting in
Afghanistan and has that made a difference? Secondly, given the
amazing changes that have taken place in the last week, in particular
the last couple of days, what do you think is the likely impact
of the Northern Alliance now being in control of huge parts of
Afghanistan? Is that going to make a difference to the delivery
of food and aid in all of Afghanistan or in particular parts?
Clearly the north is an area where there would have been lots
of problems anyway in the high mountains. Can you give us your
impressions of both those things.
(Ms Bertini) I am Catherine Bertini from the World
Food Programme and I think my colleague Carol Bellamy from UNICEF
has a couple of comments on this topic and then we will go presumably
in other directions as you go further round the table in the interest
of brevity. You are right that pre 11 September Afghanistan was
a very bad place to live. People had lived in poverty for a long
time, they had lived amidst civil war, they had lived under the
Taliban and then they lived in a drought for three years. Because
of that the UN was already very involved before 11 September.
Since 11 September there was initially a slow down of the delivery
because all the international staff first were pulled out by the
UN and the NGOs and then were asked to leave by the Taliban authorities.
It is only now that we are even in the process of going back into
the country. In fact, the first international staff are back in
formally today. The impact of what has been going on during the
month of October and now in November as far as the aid distribution
is concerned has been not as dramatic as some people might think.
Unfortunately, our aid workers have had a lot of experience in
Kosovo and Angola and Bosnia and elsewhere in getting other goods
through very difficult times. Nonetheless, I think we can see
even by the television images of the people in the streets that
there is at this point a fair amount of happiness, at least by
many people, and this will put more pressure in a positive sense
on the aid distribution because up until now the aid distribution
has had to be with very brave people who are operating trying
to avoid not only bombs but also most importantly the dissatisfaction
on the part of the Taliban. But we had gotten aid through and
we had reached even in this last month the target that we had
for food, and that I think has gone extremely well under the circumstances.
132. Could I be really boring and ask if you
could speak up because there are people sitting behind as well.
(Ms Bellamy) We are not usually asked to speak louder
than we always speak! Building on that, just a reminder again
that this is a country that had been in 20-plus years of war,
a country of three years of drought, and bad winters. Of the 20
countries in the worldI am speaking a bit on the UNICEF
mandatewith the worst under-5 child mortality, 19 are in
sub-Saharan Africa and the other one is Afghanistan, and it probably
has the worst maternal mortality record in the world. You are
asking about the economy in part. I do not think we know at this
point. Clearly it has been disrupted. The potential might be that
women will be able to participate again. They have not been able
to participate except in a very modest degree in some health clinics
and what we were starting to see (because women were not able
to participate and because it is a country of many widows) was
an increase in child labour. I am talking about maybe a couple
of good things that can come from this. I also wanted to say not
all the activity stopped. The UN had not left Afghanistan. Our
local staffWorld Food, WHO, OCHA, UNICEFwere still
there and in fact last week there was a polio immunisation campaign
that went on that reached quite broadly. Clearly the economy will
be affected. The jobs that women used to hold are now held by
men and now they will potentially be available. But I want to
emphasise that not everything stopped. There are now opportunities
to get some things that had stopped started again with international
staff in there but security is still going to be an issue.
133. Can I just take you back to the point about
aid. You have said quite clearly that you are reaching your targets,
in fact exceeding them now I understand, but at what date did
you finally achieve your target, because back at the beginning
of October clearly the targets were not achieved, in fact, not
enough aid was going in, I think that was very clear. So at what
point did you manage to achieve your target?
(Ms Bertini) Last week essentially. We stopped on
12 September and on 21 September we started again. We have been
using only commercial truckers obviously since the 11 September
and we expanded the routes not only from Pakistan but other countries
in the region. There is a map in the distribution we gave you
to show you this. Then we were able to open additional routes
and also DFID has an arrangement with EMERCOM, which is the Russian
emergency agency, and they are providing trucks to come in. We
have been able through a variety of mostly commercial trucks,
plus the Russian trucks, plus additional trucks we have bought
into the region, to increase. As of last week in the month before
we had reached over the target of 52,000 tonnes.
134. Just to press you on this point, do you
feel then that in that interim Afghani families were at risk any
more than they had been previously? That is the question I am
trying to get at because we have heard a lot of evidence and we
are trying to weigh up very carefully whether it did make a difference
(Ms Bertini) I believe that only one of our warehouses
was ever empty. In other words, when the international staff left
on the 12 September and left some brave national staff, there
was still food in all but one of the warehouses (one of the warehouses
was looted actually after the fact) so we were able to continue
distribution. The NGOs are the real champions in this country.
It is their national staff who took the food from the WFP warehouses
and distributed it. There was food there. That does not mean that
the systems were all perfect because a lot of stafflocal
staff and NGOs and WFPwere not able to work, but to the
extent there were people working there was food there to distribute.
(Ms Bellamy) There was at least some risk, though,
with people moving out of the cities. Clearly there are issues
of exposure and some of the diseases. It had an impact but I think
if everybody thinks that nothing was going on and nothing was
reaching that is incorrectclearly aid was reachingbut
there was risk.
135. Just finally to go back to the second point,
how do you see the Northern Alliance now being in control of a
huge swathe of Afghanistan? Do you think that that will help you
to get more aid into Afghanistan or is that in itself going to
be a problem? Is that going to bring problems with it?
(Ms Bertini) Carol's point about insecurity, because
of the changing situation, who is leaving and who is coming, is
the major issue right now. I am not aware, I do not know about
my colleagues, of any particular concern we have about the Northern
Alliance but it is just
(Ms Bellamy) There is still some question about what
has happened to part of one of our convoys in Mazar. It was either
the coming or going but it was again a problem with one of the
136. Do you see a role for a peace-keeping force?
(Ms Bertini) I am going to defer to Mr Mountain.
(Mr Mountain) Indeed, if I may take up your previous
question which related to difficulties in terms of security. We
are concerned that the component parts of the Northern Alliance
are not always in accord and so the security that Carol mentioned
remains a very major concern for us. For example, Mazar is still
a difficult area for us to access at the present time. Jalalabad
has changed hands but those that have taken it over, for example,
are not linked to the Northern Alliance and we are concerned about
the possible breakdown into tribal warlordism that existed and
has existed before and the impact that will have on the security
137. Nigel wanted to make a comment and Ann
would like to ask a supplementary question.
(Mr Fisher) Can I just say in our informal contacts
with CENTCOM we do understand that they are planning a multi-national
military mission which will help stabilise the situation, safeguard
the routes, safeguard the airport, and intercede with the various
factions within the Northern Alliance to stop them squabbling.
That is what we understand. Overall, just showing some proof of
how many international staff are now going back in to review the
situation, in Herat and Mazar, for example, it is becoming easier
for us to go back in to monitor and oversee the situation. The
one concern we might have about the Northern Alliance, besides
their past human rights' record, is that they are no more sympathetic
to the role of women in the future governance in Afghanistan than
the Taliban were. It is very useful to have international pressure
on them to ensure that women are included in the discussion of
governance, the future constitution and institutional structures.
138. In all past conflicts in Afghanistan, of
course, women have come off very badly indeed and I do not think
the international community has so far, it appears to us (and
we have been following it quite closely) paid sufficient attention
to the vulnerability of women and children and the protection
of them in a conflict which is not going to be as easily resolved
as we might have hopedwhat happened today in Mazar-e-Sharif
sounds particularly bloodyand the fact that women are going
to caught up in all of this does concern me. How can we push this
to the front of the agenda to make sure they get that kind of
protection which is so necessary in this situation?
(Ms Bellamy) It has been for us in country already
before a high priority. The World Food Programme uses a good number
of women in their bakeries. We have been supporting the informal
schools so that girls can go to school. One of the things we would
hope to get working on as quickly as possible is to try and get
some schooling going again and hopefully girls as well as boys
will get to school. But women have to be seen not just a victims,
women have to be part of the peace-making process. We have all
talked to Mr Brahimi about the fact of involving women in the
peace-making process. As the Council is put together and then
the government is put together, women really have to be part of
Mr Robathan: Can I just ask
139. Can we just finish this point because somebody
else was going to answer.
(Ms Bertini) He was going to ask me a question so
I will answer both of them.
Ann Clwyd: Were you asking a question
Mr Robathan: Nothing to do with women.
Ann Clwyd: I would like to pursue this.
At the moment they are going to be the victims, are they not?
Chairman: I thought it was a fairly comprehensive
answer you got there, Ann, and if we are not careful and everyone
answers every questionif we have got more time, it is an
important issue, we will come back to it. Andrew?