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Friday, 12 October, 2001, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
Afghan aid 'must be doubled'
Afghan refugees
Afghans are facing a dire situation
Aid workers are facing a "race against time" to prevent a massive humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the UK Government has warned.

Current humanitarian efforts need to be doubled to avoid a "catastrophe," International Development Secretary Clare Short told a media briefing at the Ministry of Defence.

She said with winter approaching "in five or six weeks it will become massively more difficult to move in food".

Britain has pledged an extra 15m, in addition to 25m already committed, to assist aid efforts in the region, she announced.

'Tremendous suffering'

Ms Short said food was still being delivered and distributed in Afghanistan, but the priority was to step up the operation.

"We are racing against time to truck massive quantities of food and other emergency supplies into the country before the snows make large-scale trucking hazardous.

"The priority now is to get sufficient supplies in to feed the hungry and lay down stocks to survive through the winter."

She said about 500 metric tonnes of food aid was being driven in every day, by Afghan commercial truckers.

The international humanitarian effort is as important as the military and diplomatic effort

Clare Short
The extra 15m pledged by the government would help to speed up this process by enabling more truck journeys in the vital weeks ahead.

Ms Short said she saw no need for the bombing campaign to halt to allow aid through.

"Mass conveys are moving in now. It's safe and it's happening," she said.

But Defence Minister, Lewis Moonie, said coalition air strikes were likely to ease off over the next few days, out of respect for Muslim religious sensitivities.

Saturday is a Muslim festival day marking the ascent of the prophet Mohammed.

Ms Short said the aid effort would remain a UN operation, rather than a military one.

Most of the 25m pledged by the UK government to help the refugee crisis had already been dispersed, she said.

Ms Short added: "It is important to remember this is not a new crisis.

"Twenty years of war and three years of drought have contributed to a huge loss of life and tremendous human suffering."

New government

She said the Taleban had made humanitarian efforts difficult even before the terror attacks of 11 September, and 4.5 million Afghan refugees had already fled to neighbouring countries.

She said it was hoped that the Taleban regime would "continue to crumble" under the military assault, so that a new government could be established and worked with to ease the food crisis.

But she added: "The international humanitarian effort is as important as the military and diplomatic effort."

In other developments, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has warned Britons to be on their guard against possible terrorist action in the UK, although no specific threat has been made.

His warning followed an FBI warning of an imminent threat to the US.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has returned to the UK from talks in Egypt, where he said the Middle East peace process was crucial to defusing tension in the wake of the US terror attacks.

Mr Blair has also said the UK, US and perhaps other countries were prepared to use their ground forces in Afghanistan.

The Fergus Walsh
"Even before the allied bombing, conditions were desperate"
Clare Short, International Development Secretary
addresses a media briefing at the Ministry of Defence
The BBC's Sangeeta Mhaskar speaks to
Afghans living in the UK

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War view



See also:

12 Oct 01 | Business
UK expands crackdown on terror funds
09 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Allies want 'justice, not revenge'
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