10 Downing Street - Lobby Briefing November 28th
LOBBY BRIEFING: 11AM WEDNESDAY 28 NOVEMBER 2001
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised journalists that the Prime Minister had had a meeting with the US Ambassador and George Bush snr this morning. They were likely to have reviewed the overall situation in Afghanistan. Mr Bush was due to attend the Memorial Service at Westminster Abbey tomorrow to commemorate the victims of the September 11 attacks. The primary focus of the Service would be on the victims' families and their wishes.
The PMOS advised journalists that a report on the humanitarian effort in Afghanistan was being published simultaneously by the CIC in London, Islamabad and the US today. It looked at the daunting and difficult problems which remained on the humanitarian front. It also reviewed the causes of the crisis, partly to remind people just how serious the situation had been even prior to September 11. The report showed that 70% of people in Afghanistan were under-nourished. Only 13% had access to clean water. One in four Afghan children would not make it to their fifth birthday. There had been over three and a half million Afghan refugees even before September 11. Six million people in Afghanistan and 1.5m refugees depended on international relief programmes. The average life expectancy in the country was 46 years. The UK was contributing substantially to the aid effort, along with others. We had set aside £40m for Afghan relief, with additional aid for Pakistan as announced in October. The humanitarian effort was continuing. The release of the report today underlined that the future had to be a more stable and secure Afghanistan because that was the only way to tackle the underlying economic problems and the underlying food problems which caused so much misery. That was why it was important to win the military battle and was also why the Summit in Bonn was so important.
Asked whether the £40m had already been distributed or whether we were waiting for a settlement in Bonn, the PMOS said we had set aside £40m for Afghan relief and most of it had already been delivered to the humanitarian agencies. Asked whether we were planning to contribute an additional sum if a settlement was reached in Bonn, the PMOS said we would keep the situation under review. However, there was an immediate humanitarian issue to be addressed, no matter what the outcome of Bonn might be, followed by the medium-to-longer term issues of reconstruction.
Asked to comment on an independent report on the aid effort which was being published today and which suggested that the aid effort was unable to work effectively without a stabilisation force in operation and without close military co-operation with the humanitarian effort, the PMOS said that discussions would continue about which forces and other military assistance was necessary. That said, it was clear that the best way to help the aid programme was to make military progress as quickly as possible. That was where our current focus lay. However, we were also addressing the issue of how to get aid into areas as quickly as we could. The military successes so far had allowed us to get aid into Kabul, Jalalabad and other areas where previously it had not been possible to do so. We acknowledged there were difficulties. The report we were putting out today in no way under-estimated what they were. However, we were taking things step by step.