Select Committee on International Development First Report


1. Overview

5. Afghanistan has a population of 25.8 million (including refugees and nomads not in the country)[6]. Its borders, particularly in the south[7], cut through traditional tribal areas and most of the ethnic groups in Afghanistan have strong links with the neighbouring countries. Despite these strong cross-border ties, people have a deeply-rooted sense of Afghan identity.

6. It is a landlocked and mountainous country whose location in the heart of Central Asia has given it a strategic importance[8]. It has suffered chronic instability during much of its history. Ever since Genghis Khan raged across the Shamoli Plain in the 13th century, foreign powers have sought to control or influence its territory and people. More recently, Afghanistan has been a battleground of foreign powers. Jaya Graves of Southern Voices said that it was possible to see how the current crisis had been created by a number of external countries playing out cold war politics in the 1960s and 1970s[9].

7. However, the needs of the Afghan people have been overlooked by the international community whose interventions have typically been characterised by a dogged pursuit of self-interest and a willingness to walk away just when Afghanistan needed help the most. Much of the excellent work being done by international aid agencies and NGOs was ignored and under-funded. Clare Short told us "¼there was deafening silence before September 11. We had a potential humanitarian catastrophe of very large proportions before September 11 and the media, and most other people, were not in the least bit interested"[10]. Within the 2000 Consolidated Appeal the provision for basic services like health, education and water received only 45 per cent of the funding required; without funding for water provision, the limited availability of drinking water has become a critical health issue[11].

8. Afghanistan still faces a humanitarian crisis. There is a food crisis for at least six million people[12]. Food will have to be brought into the country and distributed to the vulnerable. WFP indicated that fourteen per cent of the vulnerable population (about one million people) will be hard to reach in the winter[13]. Sufficient stocks to last the winter will have to be stockpiled in some areas. As those areas initially less affected by the drought run out of food, the number of people in need of food aid will continue to rise. In its memorandum, UNICEF said there will be more child deaths this winter and the race is still on to deliver as many supplies and as much assistance as possible before the winter[14].

9. The situation on the ground in Afghanistan changes constantly. Despite the collapse of the Taliban, there is still little information coming out about the humanitarian crisis and what Sakandar Ali told us in November still holds "¼where there is no information coming out it does not mean that there is no crisis inside the country. I think the crisis inside Afghanistan should be at the top of our agenda"[15].

6   It is ethnically diverse comprising 38% Pustuns, 25% Tajiks, 19% Hazaras, 6% Uzbeks, 6% Chahar Aimaks and 2.5% Turkmen. Most are Sunni Muslims although Hazaras are Shia Muslims. Back

7   In 1893, the Durand line fixed the southern border of Afghanistan with British India, splitting Afghan tribal areas, leaving half of these Afghans in what is now Pakistan.  Back

8  Figure 1 shows a map of Afghanistan. DFID included a detailed relief map of Afghanistan in its memorandum. This is reproduced in Vol II, Ev 118 Back

9  Ev 149, [Appendix 2] Back

10  Q194 Back

11  UN Consolidated Appeal, Back

12  Ev 86 Back

13  Ev 86 Back

14  Ev 80, [Para 23] Back

15  Q130 Back

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Prepared 20 December 2001