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Call off bombing, plead aid agencies

 By Karen McVeigh
The Scotsman October 18, 2001



AID agencies have issued an urgent plea for the suspension of the air strikes in Afghanistan in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster.


The UN has already warned that 100,000 children under five would die from disease and malnutrition in the harsh Afghan winter if aid did not reach them.


Yesterday, a spokesman for Oxfam admitted: "Our backs are against the wall. Food is not getting through."


The plea came a day after two US bombs hit a clearly-marked Red Cross warehouse in Kabul . Last week, an American missile killed four Afghan staff when it hit a UN building. Pentagon officials, who have admitted hitting civilians by mistake, have warned that there would inevitably be more errors.


The nightly bombing of Afghanistan has severely curtailed the aid effort. Local labourers and truckers, on whom they rely, are becoming increasingly afraid to load or unload food, to drive deep into Afghanistan, or to stay overnight .


Oxfam, ActionAid, Christian Aid, Islamic Relief and other agencies called for all parties in the conflict - including the Taleban and the Northern Alliance -to suspend military action to allow crucial food supplies through.


Christian Aid spokesman Dominic Nutt said that children in Afghanistan were already dying and some people were down to their last weekís worth of food.


Mr Nutt, who toured Afghanistan before the US terror attacks, said: "I saw fresh graves dug every day, small graves for children. Now the food supplies have dried up."


Speaking from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, he said: "We are beyond the stage where we can sit down and talk about this over tea. If they stop the bombing we can get the food aid in, it’s as simple as that. Tony Blair and George Bush have repeatedly said this is a three-stringed offensive - diplomatic, military and humanitarian. Well the diplomatic and military are there but where is the humanitarian? A few planes throwing lunchboxes around over the mountains is laughable."


Oxfam said that it had no food left. "We’ve run out of food, the borders are closed, we can’t reach our staff and timeís almost run out," said Barbara Stocking of Oxfam International, "We’ve reached the point where it is simply unrealistic for us to do what we need to do in Afghanistan."


Two million Afghans need donated food to help them get through the winter and 500,000 of them will be cut off by snow if aid does not reach them by mid-November, the aid groups said.


There are currently 9,000 tonnes of UN food stocks in warehouses in Afghanistan - which amounts to just two weeks supply. To avoid massive loss of life, the UN estimates over 50,000 tonnes of food per month must be got into Afghanistan, plus a stockpile of 70,000 tonnes for the two mountainous areas of the country.


Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary Mr Straw rejected aid agencies’ claims that they could not do their job while bombing continued.


"The overwhelming number of people who are in dire poverty in Afghanistan were in dire poverty before 11 September and they were in dire poverty because of the actions of the Taleban," he said.


"This is military action for a purpose. It is to ensure the death and destruction which was wreaked on the world as well as on 6,000 human mortals on 11 September can’t happen again."


He added: "I’m afraid that has to be the overwhelming consideration. We are taking action so that we can provide a much better future for the people of Afghanistan."


Afghan staff said that at least 35 per cent of food, tents, blankets and other material in the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) centre was destroyed on Tuesday.


On Monday, a bomb landed a few hundred yards from a UN World Food Programme depot where 250 tons of food were being loaded for distribution. The food would have been the first relief to reach the central city of Hazarajat since 11 September, the aid groups said.


It also emerged yesterday that the Taleban have seized more than half of the United Nations’ food aid in Afghanistan - further hindering efforts in the region.


The UN’s World Food Programme reported that on Tuesday Taleban soldiers took over two warehouses filled with wheat supplies in Kabul and Kandahar.