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Linking Humanitarian Airdrops and Military Actions

Afghanistan: Aid Agency Warns Against Linking Humanitarian Airdrops and Military Actions

Some relief aid is getting in to Afghanistan, but the bombing and especially the food drops are causing serious practical and moral problems for aid agencies on the ground.

A message received today from ACT International (Action by Churches Together), to which New Zealand’s Christian World Service belongs, says “Our team in Quetta informs us that our first shipment of 500 shelter kits has reached Hazarajat. The second shipment of 500 kits is on its way and will be crossing into Afghanistan some time this afternoon.”

Three days ago one of ACT International’s Afghani partners reported that the distribution of 1500 tonnes of wheat to 6000 families in Mazar-i-Sharif had been completed.

This effort is made possible because the ACT International members in Pakistan have been working with their local partners in Afghanistan for years helping people affected by a crippling drought and a 20-year-long civil war, as well as working with refugees in Pakistan.
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At the same time, however, ACT International warns against the link between humanitarian airdrops and the US-led military strikes against Afghanistan. The director of the ACT International Co-ordinating Office, Thor-Arne Prois, says that the air drops are jeopardising the credibility of humanitarian aid in the region and are not an effective means of meeting the desperate needs of the people of Afghanistan.

"It is dangerous to do this," warns Prois, who worked in Afghanistan for four years. "These air drops are not meeting the most basic principle of humanitarian aid -- that aid should be given to those who need it most." ACT International members are concerned that the simultaneous air strikes and airdrops constitute a total confusion of humanitarian and military actions, thereby potentially compromising the basic concepts of neutrality and impartiality of humanitarian actions for the future. Prois asks, "Why should Afghan authorities and the population trust 'real relief actions' by the UN or NGOs in the future, once the concepts of impartiality and neutrality have been broken?"

ACT International members say experience shows that airdrops are a dangerous and ineffective means of assisting people in need. Prois points out that there is no guarantee that the food will reach those in need. "Chances are that you risk assisting only the strongest who are armed and in organised groups. It also carries a high risk of provoking fights and riots over meagre resources and the likelihood that the food will end up for sale in the markets."

Afghanistan suffers the added problem of being only second to Angola in the number of anti-personnel mines that cover the country. When food is dropped in areas where unexploded landmines are present and food shortages exist, people, and especially children, are exposed to serious injury or death.

Prois points out that the current crisis in Afghanistan is not a new one. "We have been warning people for years that there was a looming crisis in Afghanistan due to the civil war and the severe drought. The tragic events of September 11 with its devastating consequences for the Afghan people, only added to the humanitarian crisis." Prois says.

Donations to the Christian World Service Afghanistan appeal may be sent to Box 22 652, Christchurch. Credit Card donations Phone 0800 74 73 72 or check our website www.forpeople.org.nz

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