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Thursday, 25 October, 2001, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Aid warning as supplies run out
Afghan refugees sample air dropped aid package
Aid agencies say US airdrops are a token gesture
By BBC News Online's Marcus George

Aid agencies are calling for a renewed impetus in aid operations inside Afghanistan following reports that food warehouses in rural areas are now empty.

Oxfam has confirmed its warehouses have now run dry and staff are unable to continue vital distribution of food to thousands of starving Afghans.

The situation is disintegrating into anarchy around us

Matt Grainger, Oxfam
The agency said its operations to supply 265,000 people in Hazarajat and Shahr-e Bozorg, both in the centre of the country, have ground to a halt until it receives more supplies.

"We knew that we had run out of food about four or five days ago. But we believe we now have a shipment of 132 tonnes in Hazarajat from the World Food Programme", Oxfam spokesman Matt Grainger said.

"The Kabul-Hazarajat supply line is the only conventional one now operating and the situation is disintegrating into anarchy around us."


The requisitioning of offices and vehicles by the Taleban in Herat, Kandahar and Mazar-e Sharif has further restrained the WFP's humanitarian programme.

Aid entering Afghanistan
WFP expected delivery per day: 1,700 tonnes
WFP stock inside Afghanistan: 12,800 tonnes
WFP average delivery per day: 408 tonnes
WFP stock in the region: 48,000 tonnes
WFP total delivery since 1 Oct: 5,708 tonnes
WFP target for next two months: 100,000 tonnes

Some staff members, fearful of the US bombardments have also disappeared, it confirmed.

A food convoy destined for its warehouses over a week ago was abandoned after an incoming rocket injured a WFP worker loading the food trucks, the agency said.

Oxfam has emphasised that the "positioning" of aid stocks is critical and that the number of tonnes in stock matters less than the amount actually being distributed.

The news comes as WFP continues negotiations to buy 17,000 tonnes of Iranian wheat and up to 10,000 tonnes of Kazakh wheat to feed Afghanistan's desperate populations.

Oxfam is looking to solve the aid bottleneck by re-stocking warehouses via deliveries from Turkmenistan.

Volatile situation

But finding drivers willing to take their trucks into an increasingly volatile situation on the ground is likely to cause severe difficulties.

Cluster bombs being attached to a US plane
The US has started dropping cluster bombs on Taleban positions

Politicians are reassuring the public that the aid is getting through to those needing it.

But the obstacles facing aid agencies, despite multi-million dollar donations flooding into the region, are growing by the day.

The US bombing campaign is traumatic for Afghan civilians and disastrous for humanitarian organisations.

The widening use of cluster bombs, which rain down terror over urban areas, has caused the exodus of 70% of Herat's population, the United Nations has said.

Dropping a few cases of drugs and food in the middle of the night during air raids is virtually useless

Medicins Sans Frontieres

The UN now fears the consequences of hundreds of unexploded bomblets in and around the city.

Manager of the UN's Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan Dan Kelly has said they are volatile and could explode if touched.

"Our de-miners are not familiar with and have not yet been trained to destroy these devices," he said.

Mr Kelly appealed for information about the types of cluster munitions, "so we can train our people and prevent further loss of human life".

Air drops 'useless'

Aid agencies have also condemned the US "political" aid drops as creating future problems for humanitarian workers.

Red Cross warehouse on fire
A Red Cross warehouse in Kabul was hit by a rogue bomb

"This is not a humanitarian operation," a statement from Medecins Sans Frontieres said.

"It is part of a military campaign designed to gather international approval of the attacks.

"Dropping a few cases of drugs and food in the middle of the night during air raids, without knowing who is going to collect them, is virtually useless - and may even be dangerous," it added.

Getting security guarantees from increasingly belligerent authorities is another cause of long delays which aid operations can ill-afford.

The alleged looting of several agency compounds and offices in Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar by the Taleban has enforced a humanitarian shutdown in areas of need.

Warehouse seized

WFP says its warehouse in Kandahar, containing over one thousand of tonnes of wheat, has been occupied by the Taleban.

The humanitarian effort has taken a back seat as war in Afghanistan moves to centre stage.

Oxfam has estimated that only 400 tonnes of food supplies per day are entering Afghanistan, a far cry from WFP's hopeful 1,700 tonne daily delivery.

Worsening security conditions are taking their toll on WFP food convoys into Afghanistan and, much to the detriment of the Afghan people, the stop-start factor is likely to continue.

If the humanitarian drive is to be effective agencies must be ready for a winter now only a month away.

Many of Afghanistan's roads will be impassable within six weeks, which WFP estimates will cut off 100,000 families from food deliveries.

Aid bottleneck

This will not affect Afghanistan's slow and rutted transport arteries. Roads like those from Turkmenistan to Herat, Peshawar to Kabul, Quetta to Kandahar, are likely to remain open to aid convoys.

Aid worker
Distributing supplies is becoming much harder

But the other end of distribution networks will be narrowed by the effects of winter causing the creation of aid bottlenecks.

At the very least trucks may be substituted by donkeys laden with food sacks along well-trodden paths. Although this maintains trickles of aid into isolated regions, distribution reach is massively curtailed.

The humanitarian effort has taken a back seat as war in Afghanistan moves to centre stage. And as the supply bottleneck tightens, many Afghans will be left starving and vulnerable.

See also:

24 Oct 01 | South Asia
Taleban 'to welcome aid agencies'
18 Oct 01 | Education
A refugee's story
01 Oct 01 | South Asia
How Afghans became aid dependent
15 Oct 01 | South Asia
Thousands cross into Pakistan illegally
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