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Monday, 8 October, 2001, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
An aid worker unable to help
Afghan refugee
Millions of Afghans face a winter of hunger and fear
British aid worker Julia McDade, of Christian Aid, has recently arrived in Pakistan to help get food into Afghanistan. But the air strikes have left her - and many others - stuck in Islamabad, unable to help.

The air strikes could not have come at a worse time.

Julia McDade
Julia McDade: Caught in limbo by the strikes
We need to get food into Afghanistan very quickly, because there's only about three or four weeks - five at the most - before the winter starts getting very difficult and many of the roads are cut off.

Our team was due to go to Peshawar, near the Afghan border, today but we've not been able to go because there's quite severe rioting on the streets.

All ex-patriots from any nation - it doesn't matter whether you're American or British - have been requested to stay indoors, both in Peshawar and in Islamabad.

We've had to stay in an expensive hotel, mainly because there are so many reporters

If you meet people on an individual basis, it's fine. But there's a stirring up of unrest and ill-feeling, so it's not very wise to travel just yet.

We're confined to our hotel at the moment and we're like caged animals. We've been doing the best we can to stay in touch with our local partners through e-mails and telephone calls, but for now we can't do any real work.

Lap of luxury

We tried to book hotels and guest houses from London, but every single one was completely and totally booked up - mainly because there are so many reporters.

An Afghan child cries with hunger in a refugee camp
Food convoys have again been suspended
We've had to stay in the only place left, which is probably the most expensive hotel in Islamabad.

This is first time in my entire life that I've stayed in a posh hotel, and it's very embarrassing.

Communication is also proving to be a nightmare, most likely because of the demand on the networks. It takes ages to get onto the internet, and I have to make phone calls through the operator, who calls me back when she finally gets through.

Afghan aid worker with food aid
Aid agencies had hoped to send in tonnes of food aid
We've not been able to contact our staff in Afghanistan because there was a decree two weeks ago that anybody caught using communications equipment would be hung immediately.

We have had information from him through a friendly aid agency that's been in contact with their own people, but he doesn't want to talk directly to us because he'd have to speak English. If he's caught speaking English he could be accused of things.

Food or safety

Soon after 11 September, Afghans fled the major cities fearing that they would be bombed very quickly.

Food parcels dropped by the US
Many Afghans are wary of the US food parcels
But because of the lack of food in the countryside, they depleted their relatives' and friends' resources and had to go back to the cities.

There was some encouragement to do this, as some food had started to trickle in from the World Food Programme and other agencies. And because large amounts of food were expected to come in from the WFP, prices in the markets had started to come down.

I'm very surprised and disappointed that the air strikes started now.

Afghan child
Counting out bread in a refugee camp in Pakistan
There was some stability finally coming, and the people were starting to feel slightly reassured. That's all been completely negated.

I think that dropping food at the same time as dropping bombs risks alienating the Afghans - it's not a positive message, it's too confusing.

And I've heard that they genuinely believe these food packages are made from pork - they are expecting two insults from the West.

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See also:

07 Oct 01 | South Asia
Afghan aid: The supply problems
07 Oct 01 | South Asia
Aid drops target Afghan civilians
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