Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan

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

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Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 4:24, 24 October 2001

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that NGOs are to be commended on their work in a very difficult situation. Many Afghan workers in NGOs are putting their lives on the line when they seek to deliver food.

I shall try to address the questions that have been raised. The noble Baroness asked about the appeal that has been launched by President Bush and whether we would support it. We should be happy to discuss that with the British Red Cross, but it has not yet been in touch with us. When it is, we shall discuss the matter with it.

The noble Baroness asked about the figures. I assure her that we are working closely with the World Food Programme in that regard. The figures that we are using have been agreed with the WFP. She mentioned that 50,000 tonnes of food was needed per month. In fact, our figures suggest that 52,000 tonnes needs to be delivered and distributed every month, along with several thousand tonnes of medical supplies, clothing, blankets and tents.

Like the noble Baroness, we are particularly concerned about the onset of winter, when the situation will become very difficult. We are keen to ensure that there are adequate stockpiles of food. As the noble Baroness said, the Taliban is being obstructive. As the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said, it is taxing food supplies that are coming into Afghanistan.

Communication remains difficult. The Taliban has prevented NGO representatives from using telephones to gauge the situation on the ground, which would assist with planning. In some cases, it has allowed NGOs to make one telephone call a day. Noble Lords will understand how difficult the situation is on the ground. It has also seized assets. For example, the WFP does not now have access to its warehouse in Kandahar. Food might be in a warehouse, but access cannot be gained to it.

The noble Baroness asked about the importance of supplying food to remoter regions. That is why the WFP is considering delivering food direct to more destinations. It is also considering air-drops to the more remote regions in Afghanistan precisely because of the problem, although we recognise that air-drops can be difficult.

The noble Baroness discussed the lack of co-ordination on the ground. Given the communications difficulties, that problem is of course understandable. However, the work of local NGOs is absolutely vital to that process. She also asked about standards in refugee camps--she has raised that matter with me previously. We work very closely with the UNHCR in that regard. Part of the UNHCR's role is to try to ensure that refugee camps meet internationally agreed standards. It will continue to monitor the situation and try to ensure that refugee camps do that.

The noble Baroness asked about the situation regarding women and girls, which we take very seriously indeed. We strongly support the common programme approach under the UN-led strategic framework for Afghanistan. One of its key themes is the protection and advancement of human rights, with particular emphasis on gender. The agencies through which we channel our funds, including the UN agencies, the Red Cross movement and other NGOs, continue to focus on the rights of Afghan women and girls, both inside Afghanistan and in neighbouring countries. Obviously, the role of women and girls will be important within any future effort to build a coalition or consensus government in Afghanistan.

I have to say to the noble Baroness that I have no evidence of the Taliban running camps in Pakistan. If she knows any more about that, perhaps she could let me have some information.

We are, as the noble Baroness said, committed to rebuilding Afghanistan after the conflict has ended. We are engaging in ongoing discussions with our coalition partners and others and the UN is playing a key role in that regard.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked what the Government are doing to replenish DfID's budget. That is under active consideration. There have been discussions between the department and other government departments. The noble Lord will know that in past situations the Treasury has been mindful of the need to ensure that DfID's work in other parts of the world will continue.