Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:20 pm on 24 October 2001.

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Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat 4:20, 24 October 2001

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, particularly because I believe that doing so meant the postponement of her travel plans for this evening. We are grateful that she is here to answer our questions.

I am sure that all noble Lords recognise that the Statement contained a classic under-statement; namely, that the humanitarian situation remains fragile. The possibility of a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan is brewing. That is one reason why many in my party feel cautious about the continuation of the present campaign. However, we must face the real situation. Although much food is available and can be shipped in, the Taliban has done little during the past few months, and it continues to do little; it merely exacerbates a difficult situation. Indeed, there are reports that the Taliban is charging vast amounts for the transportation of food across its borders to feed its own population.

I take this opportunity to commend NGOs on the work that they have undertaken in a dangerous and difficult situation. There have been unfortunate incidents in which they were hit by bombs that were aimed elsewhere--Afghanistan is becoming a very lawless area. It takes much courage for those working for the World Food Programme, Feed the Children and Oxfam to man the trucks that are taking vast quantities of food--thousands of tonnes--into an area, and they risk their lives by doing so.

I, too, recognise the role that Pakistan has played in this context. It has opened its borders to not just thousands or tens of thousands of refugees but to millions of them. That has been done by a country that is suffering its own economic problems. As someone who monitored the previous elections in Pakistan, I also look forward to the elections in 2002.

Other noble Lords wish to discuss this matter so I shall put only one question to the Minister. What are the Government doing to replenish DfID's budget? The aid that has already been pledged will have drained the emergency relief budget. What action are the Government taking to ensure that the needs of Afghanistan are met and that other programmes, such as those relating to Sierra Leone and other African projects, will not be stripped bare to pay for this immediate crisis?