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Select Committee on International Development First Report


2. Impact of September 11

10. The worst drought in thirty years had already caused a food emergency in Afghanistan. The attacks of September 11 put in train a series of events that turned the crisis caused by drought into a complex emergency involving military action by coalition forces and an intensification of the existing civil war. Raja Jarrah of CARE International said "The main difference since September 11 is that our response [to the food crisis] is now much harder than it was before"[16]. The conflict has led to loss of life, prevention of humanitarian assistance and risks to the safety of humanitarian relief workers. Afghanistan has always been a difficult country for aid agencies to operate in but now the situation is compounded by poor security, the dangers of land mines and unexploded ordnance, the absence of international humanitarian workers from much of the country, reduced numbers of Afghan staff and interference by armed groups[17].

11. The events of September 11 led directly to the withdrawal of international and expatriate staff by the UN agencies and international NGOs operating in Afghanistan. But not all work ceased; food was still distributed, UNICEF was able to continue with a nation-wide immunisation programme[18] and the British Red Cross told us that local staff managed to run most of the health work, some relief work and water sanitation projects[19]. Nevertheless, the absence of international staff has had a detrimental impact on programmes in Afghanistan.

12. It is a testament to the quality and dedication of local staff that operations within Afghanistan were able to continue. Their efforts were, and are, heroic and their bravery and resourcefulness in the face of great personal danger needs to be acknowledged. Great risks were also taken by WFP's drivers and the Afghan commercial lorry drivers, who successfully brought food into the country despite the intensive bombing of a number of cities by the coalition forces, the instability resulting from the ground war between the various factions, and the general insecurity in the area.

13. The period following September 11 led to heightened tension and a climate of insecurity in Afghanistan[20]. This was particularly noticeable in urban areas where reprisals by the United States were feared - it was after all only three years since the United States had launched bombing raids on Afghanistan in the wake of the embassy bombings in East Africa. Lorry drivers were less willing to take convoys into Afghanistan. The start of the coalition bombing campaign on October 7 further heightened tension and insecurity. Neighbouring countries closed their borders. Although this prevented refugees materialising in the numbers originally anticipated, there were still many people who became internally displaced or, when they were too weak or too poor to leave their homes, were stranded with no food and little water. The people who earlier had fled from rural areas to towns and cities as a result of the drought found themselves fleeing back to the countryside to escape the bombing[21].

14. To complicate matters further, the Taliban issued an edict banning almost all communications with bodies outside Afghanistan, particularly via satellite phones. The lack of communications presented a major challenge[22] and Raja Jarrah of CARE International noted "The main problem is that we do not have efficient lines of communication with staff within Afghanistan"[23]. Only patchy and incomplete information was coming out either from national staff fleeing the country or through the commercial lorry drivers; information was often out of date or distorted through a series of Chinese whispers[24]. The communications ban, enforced by the threat of death, must have made it difficult for the international staff outside Afghanistan to be assured of the safety of the national staff left behind and to manage ongoing work programmes. Sakandar Ali of Islamic Relief told us "¼there was a lack of clarity and lack of quality information coming out of Afghanistan, particularly pertaining to the displacement of people inside the country and also to the refugee figures¼"[25]. It is unsurprising that some of the international staff evacuated to Pakistan seemed to lose touch with what was happening within the country. We believe that, in the absence of a complete picture, there was a tendency for international agencies and NGOs to generalise from the specific, which may account for some of the differences of opinion as to the scale of the problem that arose early in the crisis.

15. September 11 focused attention on the crisis in Afghanistan with the result that the response to the crisis is probably better funded than it would otherwise have been[26]. Similarly, media attention was focused in a way that it had not been earlier in the summer[27].

16  Q21 Back

17  Ev 115, [Para 16 Back

18  Ev 79, [Paras 16-17] Back

19  Ev 150, [Appendix 3] Back

20  Ev 50 Back

21  Elizabeth Winter, BAAG, Speech to COASI, 5 October 2001 [not printed] Back

22  Ev 87 Back

23  Q1 Back

24  Q1 Back

25  Q69 Back

26  Ev 87 Back

27  Q11 Back

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Prepared 20 December 2001