PHR update on humanitarian aid in Afghanistan

In its last Urgent Action on Afghanistan (14 December 1999), Physicians for Human Rights described the humanitarian situation facing Afghans displaced -- many forcibly --from the Shamali plains by Taliban attacks and counterattacks on their opposition, the United Front (previously the Northern Alliance). PHR asked our Afghanistan Network individuals 1) to press the U.S. government to increase aid for humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan and 2) to urge the Taliban, Pakistan, and U.S. government to work for an environment in which Afghans who needed humanitarian aid could access it. The following update describes recent developments.
Situation of Displaced Afghans: In mid-December, after negotiating with the warring parties, the United Nations crossed the frontlines and successfully delivered aid to some 50,000 displaced people residing in the Panjshir valley. Many people in the valley reportedly also began to move into shelters set up by humanitarian groups. At present, six weeks after the initial trip, cross-line convoys from Kabul to Panjshir have been scheduled to resume and continue into the coming weeks.

In mid-January, the UN reached the neediest of another estimated 35,000 people displaced in the northern Darra Souf valley. The convoy of 1,500 donkeys succeeded with the help of local Afghan civilians, a Turkish grant, donor response to the fall appeal, and local NGOs. The situation remains grave there, however: because of the treacherous, landmine-ridden terrain, the UN was not able to provide for many of the displaced people. Furthermore, an outbreak of measles is said to have spread through a number of villages in and around Darra Souf, striking people between ages 1 and 25. Media and UN reports indicate that residents do not have access to medical facilities or doctors. Also in northern Afghanistan, BBC and Agence France Presse sources have reported the recent displacement of up to 20,000 people from their homes in Sang Charak due to Taliban attacks, according to opposition force leaders.

In Kabul, aid groups have continued to provide aid to the 16,000 displaced civilians--at least half of them children--living in the ex- Soviet compound, and to vulnerable people living outside the compound. Many people previously living with Kabul residents reportedly have moved into the compound, as it has become increasingly difficult for Kabul families to support them. The UN reports that educational and recreational facilities for displaced children in Kabul are expanding. Some displaced people have been able to return to their homes, but many cannot. The return of displaced people to their homes, and the reconstruction of areas damaged, has been delayed due to recent fighting.

International Aid: According to the UN, international response to the UN's emergency appeal in the fall was satisfactory (including $575,000 committed by the U.S.). Additionally, countries such as Japan, Iran, and the U.S. (the latter having committed $2 million as of 28 January 2000) have contributed independently of the appeal. Overall, however, funding for Afghanistan's humanitarian needs continues to be insufficient. Citing the detrimental effects of reduced funding, including poor access to obstetric care and a lack of reproductive health and family planning services for women, UNICEF recently put out an appeal for children and women in Afghanistan requesting $3,890,000.

In addition, the increasing problem of food insecurity calls for immediate attention. According to the UN, sanctions enacted by the UN against the Taliban in November 1999 have not affected the food/humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. Instead, likely causes of the food problem are high wheat prices caused by reduced trade across the border with Pakistan (Afghanistan's main provider of wheat) and bad harvest. The UN World Food Programme nonetheless fears the situation so grave that the international aid community will not be able to meet the food needs of millions of Afghans. Working to offset dependence on foreign relief, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has been running a scheme to boost crop production and livestock herds in Afghanistan. Officials have called for $10 million of critical funding by June in order to maintain the project.

Action: The continuing insecurity facing Afghans--particularly women, children, and displaced people--requires urgent action. PHR's network can help alleviate the situation and promote steps toward progress by continuing to remind policy-makers that funding for Afghanistan must be sustained. Write to your Senator and Member of Congress and express your support for humanitarian relief assistance for Afghanistan. This includes emergency funding for food and disease control, as well as longer-term support for education and health care for Afghan girls and women.

To join PHR's Afghan Network, please write

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