Crisis in Afghanistan: Oxfam update humanitarian situation 30 Nov 2001
Despite recent momentous changes, a humanitarian crisis still threatens large parts of Afghanistan. Much more is being done by WFP to get large amounts of food into the country and by NGOs to distribute it. However, there are still problems getting aid into the country from Pakistan and the North. The continued strangulation of aid supplies from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan is a source of gathering frustration.
Snows have started falling across the North and Highland areas and access to these areas will soon be impossible. There are reports of large numbers of new landmines and unexploded bombs and bullets, particularly near main cities and former battle fronts.
The situation on the ground is still patchy, but the latest information from the field paints a rather more pessimistic picture than previously believed. Some places seem stable and secure, whereas the delivery of food aid in others is being hampered by instability, uncertainty and insecurity. Incidents of banditry and intimidation are occurring regularly.
Despite the tremendous bureaucracy involved, some aid supplies are crossing from Turkmenistan into northern Afghanistan, but this is a small amount compared to normal trading. There is little access to the southern city of Kandahar, where the Taliban remain amid heavy fighting. Aid routes from Pakistan in the south are problematic.It is reported that a WFP convoy of five trucks carrying 210 tonnes of food to Herat was looted on the Quetta-Kandahar road.
Immediate security and a process of peaceful political transition with broad popular support are clearly crucial to the success of the aid effort. Afghans are more aware than anybody that their country needs to be made safer and they should decide whether to accept any international offer to help provide security. The UN is well placed to play a role in supporting the development and realisation of such an urgently-needed force. The UN must also play the central role in managing the transition to a broad-based government.
Oxfam GB report that Kabul is 'eerily calm', with a police presence on the streets. UN flights to Kabul have resumed but access to Kabul by road is still insecure, particularly through Jalalabad.
Hazarajat in the Central Highlands is currently calm. The major commanders there have agreed to power sharing for the time being.
In the northeast, the situation in Badakhshan and Faizabad is normal.
Herat, in the west, seems to have resumed normal life although the overall security situation is still unclear. Ismail Khan has control of the city, but the presence of different armed groups in the city is of concern, although Heratis believe the situation is improving.
Travel to the northwest province of Badghis is unsafe.
According to a report by a UN security officer, all UN offices in Mazar-e-Sharif have been looted and there are still thousands of troops present in the city.
Situation where Oxfam works
OGB has re-opened its office in Kabul with local staff. The town, which is under the control of one particular section of the Northern Alliance, is reported to be calm. However, the security situation is believed to be still volatile outside the city, with frontline fighting both 30 kms west and an hour's drive south.
The security situation in Jalalabad in Nangahar province in eastern Afghanistan has worsened and is hampering the supply of relief supplies into the country. According to reports,UN and other aid agency offices have been looted and food convoys robbed by gunmen. Security along the road between Jalalabad and Peshawar, one of the main access routes into the country, is said to be appalling.
Novib's (Oxfam in the Netherlands) partners report continuing looting in Mazar-e-Sharif. OGB has re-opened its office in Herat town and is trying to hire more staff to distribute food and other aid. The town appears to be calm and WFP is reported to be getting some food into the region, but there are reports of insecurity in surrounding areas.
Armed bandits and local in-fighting have been reported from Badghis province. Some 300,000 people are dependent on WFP food here and need 14,000 tons to see them through winter. In Jawand and Tagab-Alam districts where security is relatively good, Oxfam GB is aiming to distribute enough food for over 100,000 people (the entire population of those two districts) from December 1. We may also assess and distribute from mid-December in a third district, Ghormach, on the Turkmenistan border, but it is still not safe to work there.
Oxfam is continuing to distribute food in Hazarajat.
Food distribution plans by Oxfam partners have so far been delayed, but 50,000 people have been targeted for food aid in Zabul province, despite difficult security conditions. The Taliban remain in control of Kandahar where bombing continues. There have been reports of bombing in Shengay district of Zabul. There are also reports of factional disputes in the main town, Qualat.
Badakshan is the most secure area of the country and Oxfam GB wants to expand its programme there. However, WFP food is being very slow to arrive. Food that does come in from Uzbekistan still has to travel on roads close to Mazar-e-Sharif, which is insecure. At present, most of it is not even getting that far.
Oxfam GB is presently working hard to provide water to over 6,000 people in Quetta. There are now reports of between 250 and 1,000 people per day crossing the border into Pakistan. The security situation is said to be quiet and calm.
However, it is thought that there are huge numbers of internally displaced people between Kandahar and the Pakistan border, owing to intensive bombing of Taliban positions around Kandahar. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Government of Pakistan have asked Oxfam and other agencies to prepare for a possible influx of up to 180,000 people. Oxfam GB staff will work on preparing water and sanitation facilities.
According to press reports only small amounts of aid are being carried into Afghanistan in UN barges, and the Uzbek government will not let aid workers go in by road.
It is proving very difficult to truck significant quantities of food into Afghanistan from Tajikistan, as most trucks have been commandeered by the Northern Alliance.
An Oxfam assessment team in Iran have described the possibility of gaining permission to carry out cross-border operations as extremely bureaucratic.
Internally displaced people
According to latest estimates, there are 763,000 internally displaced people throughout the country. Of these, 245,000 are in the western province of Herat, many living in large camps near Herat city. Some 160,000 are in the northern provinces, and 66,800 in the northeast, displaced either by conflict or the effects of the protracted drought.
There are reports of tens of thousands more people on the road to Heart from surrounding provinces.
A further 136,000 are displaced in the southern provinces, including the nomadic Kuchis people and an unknown number along the Pakistan border near the town of Spin Boldak. A further 123,000 and 31,000 are displaced in the Eastern and Central provinces respectively.
Oxfam GB is aiming to assist 2,200 internally displaced families (over 10,000 people) in three areas. They will receive food (WFP wheat plus Oxfam-purchased oil and pulses), clothing, quilts, blankets, cooking equipment, buckets, kerosene, jerry cans and fire lighters.
The 2001 harvest has been about 50 per cent that of a normal year (much lower in some regions), in the third year of a severe drought. Even before the current crisis, 5.5 million Afghans - around 20 per cent of the population - were already at risk of severe food shortages.
Afghans' vulnerability to this three-year drought (which covers much of central Asia) is increased by deep, underlying poverty, resulting in an annual life expectancy of only 44 years. Some 75 per cent of Afghans do not have safe water, 90 per cent do not have adequate sanitation, and more than 75 per cent do not have access even to the most basic health care. As a result, 25 per cent of children die before the age of five.
Even before recent events, 800,000 people had already been displaced in the past year alone, both within Afghanistan and to the world's two largest hosts of refugees, Pakistan and Iran.