Monday October 8, 2001
The launching of military attacks on Afghanistan will worsen the humanitarian crisis in the country and make the plans for air drops "virtually useless" as an aid strategy, leading British aid agencies warned yesterday.
America and Britain should assign clear land corridors and ensure safe passage along them for aid to flow in and refugees to return home without any danger of being hit by air strikes, senior aid workers said.
Most of Britain's aid agencies were unwilling to comment on the wisdom of yesterday's attacks, because of their non-political status, although they believe that fear of action against Afghanistan had greatly exacerbated the country's humanitarian crisis. They said Pakistan and other neighbouring countries should be persuaded to reopen their borders to refugees to avert a disaster.
Will Day, chief executive of Care International, said: "Air drops make great TV, but they often represent a failure to respond to a food crisis."
Barbara Stocking, director of Oxfam, said all aid should be channelled through the UN "to be seen as impartial and separate from military action".
"Trucking of food is cheaper and is tried and tested. Air drops are risky, random, expensive, and likely to meet only a fraction of the need. Aid workers would be put in a difficult position if food aid came to be viewed as part of a military effort".
Mohammed Kroessin, director of Muslim Aid, which has already raised £500,000 in aid, said the military action "will cause immense suffering to millions of starving people. Air drops will not be useful".
The director of the Catholic charity Cafod, Julian Filichowski, said: "It is a matter of fact that even the threat of military action has made the humanitarian situation worse. The start of military attacks on Afghanistan, even if limited, will exacerbate problems."
Save the Children's director-general, Mike Aaronson, said it was not the charity's job to say whether military action should have taken place. But he added his organisation had urged restraint on the grounds that military action inevitably resulted in civilian casualties and suffering, and all possible alternatives should be explored first.
The threat of military action has already had serious consequences, causing many people to leave the urban areas of Afghanistan.
All the dozen agencies contacted by the Guardian yesterday wanted Afghanistan's borders reopened immediately.
"States in the region must honour their obligations under the refugee convention and ensure that those seeking refuge from Afghanistan are allowed to enter their borders," Mr Aaronson said.
Cafod said launching air strikes while the borders were still closed would leave people who were already starving stranded without access to aid.
A statement said: "We would remind the international community that international law obliges those who take armed action to make sure that civilians have access to humanitarian aid."
Pakistan, Iran and the former Soviet republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan closed their borders in line with an American request early in the crisis. Their governments were willing to go along with Washington because they feared a huge refugee influx which they could not control.
The executive director of World Vision, Charles Clayton, said: "As a Christian humanitarian organisation we never advocate the use of military force. But we remind western forces of their obligations to civilians under the Geneva convention."
Christian Aid said military force "could only be justified as a last resort as a means of bringing guilty men to justice", but "in the short term it will inevitably make the humanitarian situation worse".
Secure conditions were essential for the transport of supplies, which meant open borders and agreement by those inside and outside the country that aid convoys would move unmolested.
"Any offensive military action or threat of military action makes it impossible to deliver these conditions," its director, Daleep Mukarjee, said.
"The most vital need is to prevent people becoming refugees by getting humanitarian aid to their home areas and remove the fear of conflict, which is combining with hunger to drive people from their homes."
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