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The Humanitarian Battle In Afghanistan

The Humanitarian Battle In AfghanistanGetting aid to the Afghan people who need it most may be more of a challenge than we think, says a Tufts expert.

Boston [10.11.01] As U.S. fighter planes began their bombing runs over Afghanistan this week, President George Bush assured the international community that bombs wouldn't be the only things dropping from the skies above the war torn country. In an effort to help the people of Afghanistan -- while the U.S. battles their government -- Bush promised millions of dollars in food and aid would be air lifted to the country's starving population.

But a Tufts expert in humanitarian aid said the challenge may be bigger than we think.

The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is not a new situation, Tufts' Larry Minear wrote in an opinion article in the Los Angeles Times. The crisis doesn't stem from a lack of funding or food -- it's much more fundamental.

"The major challenge has been less the scale of the food shortages than the problem of reaching the people in need," wrote Minear, the director of the Humanitarianism and War Project at Tufts' Feinstein International Famine Center.

War -- which has a long history in the region, including years of fighting between Afghanistan and Russia -- destroyed the country's infrastructure, adding to the growing crisis.

"Now that military action has commenced, reaching people within Afghanistan will become much more difficult," Minear wrote.

Not only will the country be under attack, but the Taliban may step up its efforts to deny aid efforts.

While the Northern Alliance has welcomed foreign aid to the people within its strongholds, the Tufts expert said the Taliban has a history of interfering with relief efforts aimed at helping its people -- who often need it the most.

"The humanitarian principle that assistance be provided according to the severity of need, wherever the needy are located, will be sorely tested," the Tufts expert wrote in the LA Times.

According to Minear, there are already indications that the Taliban will strike against efforts by the U.S. and international humanitarian aid agencies -- fighting what they believe to be politically motivated attacks on their sovereignty.

"In the wake of U.S. airstrikes, the reported attack on a UNICEF field office in Quetta, a city in Pakistan along the Afghan border, is a harbinger of trouble," Minear wrote.

And some news agencies reported that Taliban soldiers were burning the food dropped by the U.S. military.

Minear also noted that increased emphasis on Afghanistan's humanitarian crisis will have a ripple effect worldwide.

"Aid workers in Southern Africa, where programs are already under-subscribed, see their work falling still further off the international screen," Minear wrote in the Times. "Even countries in which the U.S. has been the largest single donor -- Ethiopia and Eritrea, for example -- may experience cutbacks as aid workers are redeployed and food already on the high seas is diverted to ports in southern Asia."

But the distribution of aid within Afghanistan -- however difficult -- may have some powerful effects.

"U.S. assistance policy may come to reflect a more genuine multilateralism, which is essential to the success of the administration's anti-terrorism initiative," he wrote.

And successes may help boost aid to countries around the world.

"Active concern for Afghanistan and the causes of terrorism -- poverty, injustice, isolation -- might conceivably lift the global levels of U.S. economic aid, which have been lagging for years," the Tufts expert wrote.

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