Afghanistan plunging into crisis

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | September 19, 2001



"We were already calling it a disaster before all the international agencies had to pull out but now it's hard to know what to call it."

—Chris Buckley


The prospect of a U.S.

attack is plunging the people of Afghanistan -- already

in the midst of a grave humanitarian crisis -- into

catastrophe.

In the grip of a three-year drought, 5.5 million people

in Afghanistan -- or one quarter of the population --

were on the verge of mass starvation even before the

threat of war. For many years, Afghans have lived with

insecurity caused by internal fighting between rival

factions. Villagers have for more than a year been

fleeing to camps near the larger cities or to Pakistan.

Both Pakistan and Iran have closed their borders for

Afghan refugees for about one year.

Now that aid organizations have been forced to pull out

foreign workers, refugee camps are bulging with people

who are dying of malnutrition and cholera.

"The prospects are just getting worse and worse. We were

already calling it a disaster before all the

international agencies had to pull out but now it's hard

to know what to call it," said Chris Buckley, program

officer for Christian Aid. "The local Afghan NGOs (non-

governmental organizations) we work with are still

continuing their work in country although they are

facing numerous constraints. But we will try to support

whatever we can through them."

The region's rough terrain is making it difficult for

Pakistan and Iran to fully close their borders to

Afghanistan, and it is difficult to estimate how many

refugees were streaming across the border. Some reports

estimated as many as 15,000 had attempted to cross

Wednesday.

Before the current rise in tension, close to one million

people were displaced in Afghanistan due to drought and

the war between opposition groups and Taliban forces,

according to Action by Churches Together (ACT). Close to

half a million of these displaced are in camps near the

western town of Herat and the northern town of Masar-El-

Sharif, where ACT members and partners are active.

Health services in Afghanistan have dwindled except in a

few major towns and cities including Kabul. Even in

these more heavily populated areas, medical services are

poor and supplies are scarce. Very few professional

nurses and doctors have stayed in Afghanistan, reported

ACT.

Prior to the current tensions, ACT issued a financial

appeal for $5 million to help Afghanis in need.

But most aid workers have left, fearing either that they

may be caught in the expected raids, or that they would

be attacked because they are Westerners. The withdrawal

of aid could harm Afghanistan civilians more than a war

would, said Buckley. "The effects of this withdrawal (of

aid workers) could be infinitely more tragic and

devastating than the worst that a wounded America may

throw at this troubled, long-suffering country," he said.

Before being forced to leave, Buckley helped supply food

and seeds for Afghan communities in need. "In a few

weeks, the winter snows will come, cutting off the

hundreds of isolated villages whose only links to the

outside world are rutted dirt tracks," he said. "Without

seeds, they will be unable to replant for next year.

Without food aid now, thousands could be dead before the

spring."

Taliban militia who now rule most of Afghanistan have

sheltered Osama bin Laden whom the United States

suspects of masterminding last week's terrorist attacks

on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. President

Bush said Wednesday he wanted Afghanistan's ruling

Taliban to hand over members of Saudi-born exile Osama

bin Laden al Qaeda organization who may be hiding in

Afghanistan.

The attacks left nearly 6,000 people dead or missing.

The search for victims and the cleanup continued at the

World Trade Center, Pentagon, and near Shanksville, PA.

Bush signed into law Tuesday a $40 billion package, most

of which will go to recovery efforts in New York City,

Washington, and southwestern Pennsylvania. The president

also signed a congressional resolution authorizing him

to use military force against the terrorists responsible

for the attacks.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said there is

evidence bin Laden and his associates are operating in

50 to 60 countries, including the United States.

The Taliban's leader said would hold talks with the

United States but the White House rejected the offer,

saying it wanted action, not negotiations. FBI officials

continue to gather evidence against bin Laden.

There have been reports of Afghans marching through the

streets of Pakistan shouting pro-Taliban slogans,

burning American flags, and declaring bin Laden a "hero

of Islam."

But most people in Afghanistan hear few details of this

week's events, said Buckley. "The real Afghanistan is

one where 85 percent of the population are subsistence

farmers. Most Afghans don't have newspapers, television

sets, or radios. They will not have heard of the World

Trade Center or the Pentagon, and most will have no idea

that a group of zealots has attacked these icons of

western civilization. There isn't even a postal service."


Related Topics:

Mold is long-term flood issue

Volunteers sought for TX response

“Crabby” Community gets help


More links on Disaster Relief

Advertisers:

DNN Sponsors include:

Advertisements: