Select Committee on International Development First Special Report






The Government welcomes the report of the International Development Select Committee on 'The Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan and the Surrounding Region' (HC 300) published on 17 December 2001 and notes with appreciation the Committee's comments on DFID's response to the crisis.

The report made a wide ranging series of recommendations and comments. This response addresses the key issues raised by the Committee.

(a) 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 (paragraph 14).

The Government agrees with the Committee's comments. In the early stages of the crisis, reliable information was very difficult to obtain. International humanitarian staff were evacuated and communications were extremely limited due to Taliban restrictions. The concerns of agencies were understandable, but with hindsight, not always based on sufficient information to be representative of the full picture.

(b) The UK is one of a small number of donors with a good record of turning promises quickly into cash. We encourage DFID to work with those donor countries which also responded rapidly to encourage other donors to ensure that their pledges are converted into real commitments and actual money (paragraph 18).

(c) There is a desperate need to ensure that the Donor Alert is properly funded and that pledges are converted into resources: pledges alone cannot be spent (paragraph 20).

(d) The UN is faced with an ever-increasing number of commitments around the world and is repeatedly having to seek funds from donors. It is inevitable that an element of donor fatigue will creep in as will the temptation for UN agencies to inflate their requests knowing they are likely only to receive a fraction of what they ask for. We believe it is time for the UN to review the way humanitarian operations are funded. We suggest assessed contributions providing the core funding topped up by voluntary appeals through donor alerts (paragraph 22).

(f) We recommend a similar streamlining of donor procedures in multilateral donations to reduce the burden on UN agencies particularly with regard to the large numbers of requests for additional information (paragraph 25).

These recommendations are inter-connected. They are symptomatic of a number of problems with the way humanitarian assistance is planned, funded and co-ordinated. DFID - along with a number of other key bilateral donors and UN Agencies - agrees that there is a need to review the way humanitarian operations are funded (para 22). DFID is contributing to international discussions over a more systematic approach to humanitarian financing. Themes emerging from the debate to date include the need to focus humanitarian assistance on basic needs (which will require agreement on a common definition of such needs), on humanitarian agencies moving towards results-based management and to encourage donors to make decisions on a rational basis. The objective of moving towards more flexible humanitarian assistance would be to overcome the type of problems the Committee has highlighted in Afghanistan.

(e) We recommend that the Government announces a timetable against which the UK intends to reach the 0.7 per cent target (paragraph 23).

The UK has increased Official Development Assistance (ODA) by 45% in real terms since 1997. In 2000 total net ODA from the UK to developing countries was £2974 million which represented 0.32 per cent of gross national income (GNI) making us the fourth largest bilateral donor in volume terms. We have pledged to raise ODA as a percentage of gross national income (GNI) to 0.33% by 2003/4. The position for the years 2003/4 - 2005/6 will be determined in June 2002 as part of the current public spending round. We are committed to making substantial further progress towards the UN 0.7% target.

(g) If the EC is to play an important part in the longer-term post-conflict reconstruction of Afghanistan it should re-evaluate its Asia aid programmes. At the very least, the Commission should ensure that the money it has pledged to the Afghan crisis is turned into firm commitments forthwith (paragraph 26).

The European Commission has, with strong UK encouragement, played a constructive role in response to the Afghan crisis. For 2002, the Commission has increased its commitments to _187m for Afghanistan. The Commission has proposed an EC commitment of _1bn of assistance in total for 2002-2006 inclusive. We will work closely with Commission officials and through the appropriate Councils to try to ensure that these funds are disbursed in a timely and effective manner, as part of the collective international effort.

The Committee is correct to point out that both Asia and increasing the poverty focus of EC external programmes have traditionally been low priorities for the Commission. DFID will continue to work with the Commission to build on the Development Policy Statement of November 2000, which was a useful step forward in increasing poverty focus. The UK will also continue to argue with the Commission, other Member States and the European Parliament, for a significant increase for Asia in the EC budget over the longer-term. One opportunity for a major shift in resources towards Asia will be the negotiation of the next EC Financial Perspectives to be agreed in 2006.

(h) The cutbacks in refugee programmes by UN agencies provoked a reaction from the Government of Pakistan which closed its borders and began deporting refugees. Thus, a lack of interest by the donor community at a crucial juncture destroyed almost twenty years of goodwill, and created the lasting legacy of today's closed border policy (paragraph 33).

The Government disagrees with the Committee's assessment. The history of the refugee situation in Pakistan is complex, with many factors beyond funding assistance from donors influencing the policies of the Government of Pakistan. During the 1990s, the reduced external funding for refugees was partly a reflection of the increased ability of Afghan refugees in Pakistan to sustain themselves through economic activity, which also benefited the host nation and reduced the aid dependence of refugees.

(i) We can understand Iran and Pakistan's reluctance to accept large numbers of refugees; donors must ensure that the long-term refugee problem that faces both countries is resolved as part of the reconstruction and rebuilding of Afghanistan (paragraph 37).

(ee) The issues of repatriation and returnees must be included in any discussion on the reconstruction of Afghanistan (paragraph 100).

The Government agrees with the Committee's comments. We are closely engaged in the international effort for recovery and reconstruction in Afghanistan, and the voluntary return of refugees is an integral part of planning for the country's future. This was discussed at the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction in Afghanistan, when the international community pledged $4.5 billion for Afghanistan's assistance needs over the next five years.

While refugees remain in neighbouring countries, we will continue to support these countries to shoulder this burden through programmes which also benefit host populations, for example in health care, food, water and sanitation provision.

(j) Once the WFP had adapted its procedures the insecurity in the country and not the bombing by coalition forces seemed to be the major barrier to primary and secondary food distribution (paragraph 54).

The Government agrees with the Committee's assessment.

(k) We remain to be convinced that the food delivered into Afghanistan can be distributed to all those in need, primarily because of poor security (paragraph 58).

(l) If the security problems cannot be resolved and food distributed, there may be a need to resort to less successful methods such as airdrops or risk further displacements of population, which in the winter could be catastrophic (paragraph 58).

(n) Secondary distribution has been the weakness in the current crisis. The security situation and absence of international staff have hampered secondary distribution more than primary distribution. However, we have not seen any evidence to suggest that secondary distribution is being ignored; the WFP has demonstrated a flexible approach by allowing urban logistic hubs to be bypassed and securing additional trucking capacity (paragraph 59).

(r) Everyone we spoke to, whether in London or Pakistan, stressed to us that the most serious barrier to humanitarian assistance has been and remains poor security (paragraph 65).

(s) Security needs to extend to the secondary distribution network as well as to the supply route into Afghanistan. Delivering food into the country is not enough - it must be distributed as well (paragraph 65).

The Government agrees with the Committee's comments. However despite these problems, a record volume of humanitarian assistance (food and non-food) has been provided since October 2001, thanks to the efforts of the UN-led international humanitarian system, including in particular, the courage of national staff.

With our assistance, the World Food Programme has maximised food delivery through all available routes and has prioritised deliveries to areas likely to be more difficult to access over the winter, including the Central Highlands, the Panjshir valley and the north-east of the country. It has deployed specialist equipment and personnel to keep routes to these areas open as long as possible. Contingency plans for airdrops were made - but have not proved necessary to activate.

However, due to severe weather conditions and continuing security concerns in some isolated areas of the country, there may still be pockets of unmet needs where vulnerable people cannot be reached. WFP and other humanitarian agencies will continue to do what they can over coming months to overcome these obstacles and deliver life-saving assistance to those in need. This includes the deployment of helicopters by WFP to access very remote areas and distribute emergency food supplies if needed.

(m) We believe that food should not be counted as distributed until NGOs and local partners contracted to carry out the distribution have confirmed that the food has been distributed (paragraph 58).

The Government agrees with the Committee's comments. However, there is a significant time lag in WFP being able to report actual distribution, due to the time taken for its implementing partner NGOs to collect information from the field, feed it back to their headquarters and then to WFP for analysis - all in the context of the difficulties of communication in Afghanistan. Therefore it was important for planning and monitoring purposes to use the delivery of food into Afghanistan as an indicator of food aid support to vulnerable people, even if this is less accurate than actual distribution figures.

(o) We believe that donors should be working to allow the WFP to make greater use of local purchases by giving cash rather than in-kind contributions (paragraph 62).

(p) DFID should continue making cash contributions wherever possible. Such a policy will maximise the value for money of the UK's contribution by providing the greatest utility to the aid agencies (paragraph 62).

The Government agrees with the Committee's comments, which represent established DFID practice. As noted in the Report of the Committee (paragraph 62), the untying of international food aid is also standard DFID policy. We are urging other donors to take the same approach.

(q) We believe that the money spent on dropping humanitarian daily rations would have been better spent through the co-ordinated donor response (paragraph 64).

The Government agrees with the Committee's comments.

(t) We invite the Government to set out the measures in place for the protection of humanitarian aid workers in international law and to outline its policies for ensuring greater protection of aid workers and non-combatants in complex emergencies (paragraph 69).

The UK has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel, which obliges States to accord protection to aid workers. Customary international humanitarian law, based on the Geneva Conventions, obliges all States to protect civilians, with specific protection for the Red Cross. The International Criminal Court (ICC), which may be established in 2002, specifically makes attacks on humanitarian personnel a war crime in its statute (ratified by the UK in October 2001).

We agree that the security of aid workers and non-combatants is of central importance in humanitarian operations. As the Committee notes, we provided full funding (£800,000) to the Office of the UN Security Coordinator (UNSECOORD) to support its vital operations. An assessment of security arrangements is a standard component of our review of project proposals. DFID is also supporting a number of agencies, including UNHCR, WFP and RedR, to strengthen security training and planning for complex emergencies within the international assistance community.

(u) We urge coalition forces to put more effort into co-ordinating and sharing information to assist the humanitarian effort (paragraph 71).

The Government agrees with the Committee's comments. Since the Committee heard evidence from the Secretary of State for International Development, progress has been made in improving civil-military liaison through visits of DFID civil-military specialists to CENTCOM in Tampa, Kabul and Islamabad. For example in December 2001, the coalition forces informed the United Nations Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan of the locations where ordnance had been dropped, in order to facilitate their clearance. The International Security Assistance Force in Kabul is also liaising with DFID on humanitarian and reconstruction issues.

(v) Communication was notoriously difficult even before the Taliban banned its use and more attention could have been given to communications in the preparation for the crisis as far back as June 2001 (paragraph 75).

The Government notes the Committee's comments. DFID identified the need for supporting communications in 1997, and from 1998 to 2001, provided support to the Office of the UN Coordinator for Afghanistan to upgrade the UN telecommunications network inside the country and link it to agency headquarters in Pakistan. However, the issue of communications is a general structural problem in humanitarian operations, which DFID is considering addressing as a longer term initiative through its partnerships with global humanitarian organisations.

(w) We welcome the funding given by DFID for co-ordination and the formation of the Joint Logistics Centre. We see this as an important means of gathering, collating, verifying and then sharing what sparse information is coming out of Afghanistan (paragraph 76).

The Government notes the Committee's comments. Our experience in a number of humanitarian crises has shown the importance of information provision to an effective and coordinated response. We will be looking at what lessons can be learnt from information management during the international response in Afghanistan to apply to future humanitarian crises.

(x) We encourage DFID to work closely with the UN agencies on their reform and restructuring. The UN has a vital role to play - bilateral donors cannot be everywhere but the UN can. But governments must help the UN fulfil this universal role; donors must stop asking the UN to do its job with one hand tied behind its back and should properly resource its activities (paragraph 81).

The Government has been active in supporting the UN agencies, particularly the humanitarian agencies, in their recent reform and restructuring efforts. DFID's co-operation is linked with the reform objectives agreed by the agencies' governing bodies, through multi-year partnerships which are outlined in published DFID Institutional Strategy Papers. There is a real need to improve the effectiveness of the UN system. Reforms are in hand but further improvement is possible. Apart from financial voluntary contributions, we also support the agencies' capacity for fast response through logistical and other in-kind support, including personnel.

(y) More could be done to track what is happening in failing states. UNICEF told us that it currently classifies 31 states as being in a state of emergency or crisis with an additional 35 on a watch list. While it has no definition of a failing state it assesses levels of conflict, violence, political tension, the occurrence of natural phenomena (such as floods or earthquakes), environmental hazards (such as pollution or water scarcity) and health conditions (paragraph 82).

(z) We hope the Government's response to this report will address the issue of failing states, how they are monitored and what level of preparedness the international system can maintain to respond to problems in these failing states (paragraph 82).

The Government acknowledges the importance both of working on conflict in failed states and on staying engaged in the longer term with countries that are poorly governed. DFID is working in the OECD Development Assistance Committee study to identify best practice in how to promote change and reduce poverty in failed states and how to ensure that the international community remains sufficiently engaged with such states. The World Bank is undertaking a similar study.

(aa) We would be interested to know what plans DFID and the Government have for using, in Afghanistan, the pooled resource on conflict prevention and the lessons learned in rebuilding Sierra Leone (paragraph 90).

The relevant Government Departments are currently discussing the possible use of funding from the Global Conflict Prevention Pool in Afghanistan.

The post-conflict rebuilding of Sierra Leone has provided a number of lessons which are being used in planning for support to Afghanistan. The historical and cultural background to the crisis in Afghanistan is very different from that in Sierra Leone, and the international community's response will need to be adapted accordingly. In a country like Afghanistan where it has long been traditional for individuals to bear arms, different approaches to disarmament will need to be tried, compared to Sierra Leone. More broadly, peacebuilding in Afghanistan can benefit from lessons learnt elsewhere. These include:

1.  Political commitment: The first priority must be to ensure the strongest possible political commitment to peace among the various parties;

2.  Demonstrable security: In Sierra Leone this was provided for by a large and effective international UN-led peacekeeping force working closely with the national security force to give confidence to both refugees and international aid workers to return. In Afghanistan the International Security Assistance Force is fulfilling this role in Kabul. In addition, donor support is envisaged for security sector reform, including strengthening for a new police force with a view to their assuming primacy for ensuring internal security, as was done in Sierra Leone;

3.  Effective donor support: It is important to build a wide base of donor support for an international assistance response. Funds clearly need to be sufficient for identified needs, but their usage must be effectively coordinated;

4.  Rapid disbursement of funds: it is important to finance priority rehabilitation work - shelter, access roads, water supplies, schools, clinics - to give early visibility of the "peace dividend". Multi-donor trust funds (administered by the World Bank or UN) can work well, provided disbursement is not delayed - which is too frequently the case - by unnecessarily complex approval procedures. Sufficient funding is also needed for medical supplies, school materials, and for remunerating public workers who are delivering essential services;

5.  Effective determination of priorities: Government should be in the lead, but unnecessarily bureaucratic structures should be avoided - having every ministry represented on a planning committee is a recipe for inertia. Local communities need to be involved in determining priorities wherever possible, widening ownership, and encouraging a stake in building peace and stability;

6.  Disarmament programmes: It is vital to ensure that any disarmament programme does not acquire a "cash-for-weapons" image, as this could have perverse outcomes. This means providing community-level, non-cash incentives to encourage disarmament, including access to training programmes, work programmes, seeds and tools;

7.  Addressing the regional dimension: In Sierra Leone, the conflict was perpetuated by interests in neighbouring countries and funded by the profits from illegal diamond mining. There are parallels in the Afghanistan context, including the trafficking in narcotics.

(bb) In order to ensure that women's needs are properly reflected in the long-term reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, it will be necessary to ensure that women, as well as men, control budgets for development programmes (paragraph 93).

The Government agrees with the Committee's comments. The Committee will be aware that the Interim Authority in Afghanistan includes two positions held by women, including that of the Vice-Chair. DFID is supporting the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to undertake women's capacity building in Afghanistan.

(cc) DFID should address the lack of secondary education for Afghan girls in order to create a larger cadre of women who are equipped to play a leading role in the local, regional and national government and in the reconstruction of Afghanistan (paragraph 95).

The Government agrees that secondary education for Afghan girls is very important. DFID will play its part in supporting the education strategy that is being designed by the Afghan Interim Authority with the support of the UN and World Bank.

(dd) Longer-term reconstruction will have to deliver both security and economic prosperity while safeguarding human rights and ensuring access to health and education (paragraph 99).

The Government agrees with the Committee's comments.

(ff) There is an urgent need to increase the resources available for the removal and disposal of mines and unexploded ordnance (paragraph 111).

The Government agrees with the Committee's comments. DFID has already provided £3 million to support emergency mines action in Afghanistan through the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS). The Preliminary Needs Assessment by the UNDP/World Bank/Asian Development Bank highlights the importance of expanding the well regarded existing mine action programme.

(gg) DFID should comment on its plans for supporting education in Pakistan in its response to this report (paragraph 114).

DFID has supported education in Pakistan over the last decade through projects designed, in partnership with government and other donors, to improve access, quality and management in primary education. These efforts have been less successful than they might have been due to problems of corruption and poor management of public finances.

In conjunction with other donors we are now engaged in discussing with government the implementation of the Federal Ministry of Education's Sector Reform Plans. These include reform of madrassahs (religious schools) based on policies already established during 2001 and in the National Education Policy of 1998. DFID support for education in Pakistan will continue to focus on improvements in state primary schools to achieve universal primary education, as the key strategy to reduce poverty. However, DFID also supports the Government of Pakistan's commitment to developing public-private partnership in education, which involves development and regulation of private sector, religious, NGO and community-based schools.

The Government of Pakistan has recognised rightly that the key issue in most madrassah reform is the need to broaden and modernise curricula by offering access to teacher training and mainstream teaching resources. DFID is considering support for such madrassah reform in one of its focus provinces, North West Frontier Province.

Education provision for Afghan refugees, particularly those likely to remain in Pakistan, is also a major government concern, especially in NWFP. DFID currently funds a number of projects in NWFP and Balochistan, and will consider how assistance to develop such provision might be increased in any further support for host populations.  

(hh) The five key conclusions are that:

  • the primary distribution of food has, despite all obstacles, been delivered in adequate quantities but the failure of the secondary distribution systems has prevented its delivery to all those in need;

The Government agrees with the Committee's assessment of the primary distribution system and also believes that the secondary distribution held up remarkably well, but agrees that there were some areas which were not reached.

  • secondary distribution been inadequate because of the lack of security over large parts of Afghanistan. The collapse of the Taliban did not bring the safe humanitarian space which had been hoped for, it often substituted one security concern for another. Banditry and lawlessness replaced military conflict;

The Government agrees that security was the major problem for food distribution inside Afghanistan, but believes that distribution systems held up remarkably well given these difficulties.

  • local Afghan people, particularly women, kept humanitarian and other development assistance going during the crisis and demonstrated they should be central to the future development of Afghanistan;

The Government agrees with the Committee's comments. Afghan staff played a crucial role in maintaining the provision of assistance, often at great personal risk, when international staff were evacuated from Afghanistan. Current planning for reconstruction emphasises a 'light footprint' for the planned UN Mission, with Afghans taking leading roles.

  • the unwillingness of donors to match their pledges with hard cash has resulted in gaps in provision;

The Government's assessment is that although pledges from some donors were slow to be converted into contributions, this did not impair the assistance effort. Agencies with credible programmes were able to start up, or continue activities with funding from donors which contributed quickly, such as the UK.

  • the ability to prepare adequately has been limited by the general under-funding of the UN agencies.

The Government agrees that the UN system could be better supported by donors to strengthen its capacity for disaster preparedness. This is a priority for DFID's multi-year partnership with the international humanitarian agencies. The relative success of key agencies such as UNICEF and WFP in Afghanistan is due to the capacity-building inputs that had been provided by DFID over previous years. But the UN system must maintain its effort to encourage reform and improved effectiveness.

Ultimately, the success of the continuing humanitarian relief operation depends on adequate levels of funding and crucially, either stability returning to Afghanistan, or the provision of security for humanitarian relief operations by the international community. We will return to the subject of Afghanistan's reconstruction and monitor the shift from food aid assistance to strategies for long-term sustainable development that must ultimately ensure Afghanistan ceases to be the poorest country in the world (paragraph 115).

The Government welcomes the Committee's continued interest in Afghanistan's recovery and transition to peace and reconstruction.

Secretary of State for International Development

12 February 2002

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