ACT critical of mixing aid, bombs

Published December 1, 2001

A U.S. C-17 cargo plane takes off from Germany for Afghanistan.


An international network of church aid agencies criticized humanitarian airdrops linked to U.S.-led military strikes in Afghanistan, saying they compromise other aid efforts in the region.

Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, based here but uniting church-related relief efforts worldwide, called the drops of food packages from military planes “ineffective” and even potentially “dangerous” for the civilian population.

The airdrops were “jeopardizing the credibility of humanitarian aid in the region and were not an effective means of meeting the desperate needs of the people of Afghanistan,” said Thor-Arne Prois, director of ACT’s co-coordinating office, in a statement.

Mr. Prois said the airdrops violated basic tenets of humanitarian aid, including the need for neutrality and impartiality.

“Simultaneous air strikes and airdrops constitute a total confusion of humanitarian and military actions,” he said. Future relief efforts could be delayed or blocked if this confusion led Afghan authorities to question the agencies’ neutrality, he pointed out.

Pilots dropping food had no way of ensuring that it reached the needy, said Mr. Prois, who for four years worked in Afghanistan as a representative of Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), one of ACT’s member organizations. In addition, people could be injured if they tried to gather food that has fallen on mined fields.

“At best these airdrops are a symbolic gesture,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has reportedly admitted that airdrops are less effective than delivery of aid by land. Rainer Lang, ACT press officer, said that while some people were eating food from the airdropped packages, others were burning the packages because they thought the food was poisoned.

“Everybody knows people need long-term aid to get through the winter,” Mr. Lang said in a phone interview from Peshawar in Pakistan. “Even if they could airdrop 100,000 (packages) daily, it would not be enough.”

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that more than 7 million people in Afghanistan need food aid. Even before the U.S.-led military operation against the Taliban, the UN had already declared the situation in Afghanistan, which has suffered a three-year drought, a humanitarian crisis. After more than two decades of war, about 3 million Afghans had already fled to Pakistan, and another million people had been displaced within the borders of the country.

Since the military operations began on Oct. 7, thousands more people fled Afghan cities.

With neighbouring borders officially closed to Afghan refugees, the feat of getting humanitarian aid into the country by road has been haphazard. Demonstrations and political strikes in the Pakistan border city of Quetta as well as other areas further hampered food aid movement.

NCA has been providing two months’ worth of wheat and cooking oil to more than 3000 families in the outskirts of Kabul, the Afghan capital.

In October, NCA, CWS, the Middle East Council of Churches and Christian Aid, an ecumenical relief organization based in Britain – all ACT members – were working to get aid to the needy, especially to mountainous regions which could be cut off with the first snow. They moved substantial food and supplies to border areas in Iran, Tajikistan and Pakistan.


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