Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence



Memorandum submitted by the Department for International Development


  1.  The international community now has the best opportunity in a generation to bring about lasting stability in Afghanistan. Nevertheless it is crucial to maintain and enhance the existing humanitarian effort whilst putting in place arrangements for long-term reconstruction in partnership with the new Afghan Interim Administration (AIA).


  2.  DFID's current assessment is that the provision of immediate humanitarian relief to Afghanistan is adequate. Despite three years of drought and conflict, and the recent insecurity and population displacement, widespread famine has been averted by the early and effective actions of the humanitarian community. Over 6.6 million people have been supported with food aid over the past five months, as well as other essential relief supplies such as tents, clothing and cooking equipment.

  3.  However, the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan remains fragile and significant needs will remain for at least the coming year in challenging and volatile operating conditions. Half of all Afghan children suffer from malnutrition, under a quarter of the population has access to safe water, and the maternal mortality rate is the second highest in the world. Afghanistan's grain production has fallen by 50 per cent in the last two years, its livestock herds are severely depleted and its irrigation systems extensively damaged. Over 800 sq kilometres of land cannot be put to productive use due to contamination from landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO), while 150 to 300 new casualties occur each month as a result of mine/UXO accidents.

  4.  The UN estimates that approximately 9 million Afghans, including 1 million internally displaced people, will be in need of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan in 2002.


  5.  The key issue that now needs to be addressed is the need to provide security across Afghanistan, and begin the process of demobilisation and disarmament and the building and training of an Afghan army and police force. The greatest danger to the future of Afghanistan is the risk of mounting disorder, criminality and faction fighting. The AIA's initiative of demilitarisation in the cities has been successful so far, with reports that the number of weapons carried openly has now reduced significantly.

  6.  The ISAF deployment, currently led by the UK, has been successful in enhancing the security of Kabul and surrounding areas. The UK has also offered to work with the AIA on a scoping study of the security sector.

  7.  Improved security means that international staff numbers have returned to levels exceeding those before 11 September, and more areas outside the cities are being security cleared for visits. The humanitarian community is now able to move freely on most major roads throughout the country, and local leaders and the interim administration are working to improve the security of other routes.

  8.  Nevertheless, significant areas of the east and south remain insecure due to military action or banditry, and the continued dangers of mines and unexploded ordnance remain.


  9.  Despite some heavy winter weather (snows, landslides and some early flooding) in the central highlands, west, north and northeast, access has improved throughout the country. Weather has restricted access by humanitarian agencies but has not prevented aid distribution, particularly in the mountainous regions. The most vulnerable areas are the northern/central highlands such as Balkh, Kunduz, Faryab and Sar-I-Pul; and in the west in Ghor and Badghis. While international relief has been slower to reach these areas due to insecurity or access problems, most areas are now receiving assistance.

  10.  Where poor weather conditions have restricted movement, the international community has been able to cope through the use of specialised clearance teams and/or using alternative transport. When isolated pockets of severe malnutrition are identified, response mechanisms are in place through WFP and lead NGOs. To support the identification and response mechanisms and to better enable the targeting of urgent relief and supplementary feeding, WFP has now deployed helicopter-borne Rapid Assessment Teams (initially based in Mazar-I-Sharif, subsequently moving to Kabul and Ghor) to locate and provide essential food aid to isolated groups of people in remote areas and to evaluate the impacts of feeding programmes.

  11.  The opening of the Salang tunnel has improved the flow of supplies between the north and south of the country. However a recent landslide at the tunnel due to heavy snowfall illustrates the fragile state of the transport network. Overall, transport infrastructure across the country is in a very poor state, with a number of critical roads and bridges in need of extensive, large-scale, capital investment.


  12.  Across most of the country, the severe winter conditions are unlikely to translate into improvements to the ongoing drought conditions. In the north and west, however, higher levels of precipitation than in recent years suggest some alleviation of the drought.


  13.  WFP has continued to perform well in delivering food to Afghanistan. Approximately 250,000 tonnes of food aid have been distributed to 6.6 million people since October 2001. Around 4,000 tonnes of food aid has been dispatched to the worst-affected provinces of Herat, Faryab, Badghis and Ghor since the beginning of February.

  14.  A city-wide food distribution has now begun in Mazar-i-Sharif, following on from similar distributions in Kabul and Herat. Approximately 53,000 families will receive WFP food rations totalling around 2,500 tonnes of wheat.

  15.  Supplies of other relief items, such as tents, blankets, and cooking equipment, continue to be provided to those who need them in sufficient quantities.


  16.  UNICEF and the Ministry of Education are making progress towards the beginning of the school year. UNICEF's Back-to-School campaign is continuing and procurement of back-to-school kits is underway. The project seeks to assist 1.5 million Afghan girls and boys in to school when the school year resumes on 23 March 2002.


  17.  Health also remains a major priority with the main concerns being measles, acute respiratory infections, pregnancy-related complications, diarrhoea, and tuberculosis. World Health Organisation emergency kits are being distributed to hospitals and clinics, and a national drug supply programme and sector planning is underway by the Ministry of Public Health and WHO. The national immunisation programme is also continuing. Meanwhile, health sector NGOs and the Red Cross movement continue to provide the bulk of the capacity for curative and preventative care throughout the country.


  18.  UNHCR estimates that in January 2002, 107,000 Afghans returned home from Pakistan and 26,000 Afghans have repatriated from Iran. UNHCR's tentative 2002 plans are to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of 400,000 refugees from Pakistan and 400,000 from Iran and the return to their homes of 700,000 displaced persons. At this stage it is not possible to predict likely movements accurately.


  19.  We have committed the majority of the £60 million set aside for this financial year to support the Interim Administration and the United Nations-led transitional recovery and rehabilitation process, while continuing to respond to humanitarian needs. This assistance is being provided through United Nations agencies, the Red Cross movement and non-governmental organisations for projects covering a wide range of sectors. In addition, at the Tokyo Conference on the Reconstruction of Afghanistan, we pledged £200 million over the next five years for both reconstruction and humanitarian assistance. As part of our wider programme, DFID's portfolio of quick impact projects is designed, as a contribution to the wider international effort, to quickly demonstrate the substantial peace dividend in seeing the Interim Authority as a positive development for the future peace and stability of the country. The portfolio is therefore designed to support rapidly implemented activities through locally active agencies acting under UN leadership and co-ordination.


  20.  The international community has contributed over $670 million since September 2001, against the requirements of $1,757 million appealed for up to the end of 2002, for both humanitarian and recovery activities. See Annex A for further details of donor contributions.

Department for International Development

20 February 2002

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