October 9, 2001
The international medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today expanded upon its position on air drops being undertaken by US and British military forces and the need for independent humanitarian relief inside Afghanistan.
"As a humanitarian organization, our concern with any military actions, such as those of US and UK forces in Afghanistan, is with their impact on civilian populations," stated MSF-USA executive director Nicolas de Torrente. "We fear that air drops of food by the US military, even if well-intentioned, are not the most effective means of meeting the enormous humanitarian needs of the Afghan people. We are also worried that the blurring of lines between military and aid activities has the potential to undermine the provision of larger-scale humanitarian assistance by independent, non-governmental actors to the most vulnerable populations in Afghanistan."
Air Drops Not Ideal Means of Delivering Aid
The US government has emphasized the delivery of aid as a component of its comprehensive anti-terrorist strategy. Clearly, there is a great need for assistance; Afghanistan has been in the midst of a dire humanitarian situation this entire year, and as winter approaches the situation will only worsen. A way must be found to reach those suffering the long-term effects of war and drought in Afghanistan. However, air drops of food and medicine will not by themselves address the very significant humanitarian needs of the Afghan people.
MSF's experience delivering humanitarian aid throughout the world in armed conflicts for over 30 years has taught us that untargeted and unmonitored relief is generally ineffective and can be potentially harmful. Malnourished persons require specialized nutritional care. Also, medicines need to be delivered through health structures and administered by qualified health staff if they are to be effective, and not risk causing more harm than good.
Potential Harm of Blurring Humanitarian and Military Activities
Providing aid to vulnerable populations under the sway of armed factions in a politically charged climate is always very difficult. Ultimately, it rests on demonstrating that the motives for helping are purely humanitarian and divorced from any ulterior political, military, or religious agenda. Humanitarian aid presupposes that assistance is delivered according to thse principles of independence, and that it is provided after an assessment of needs carried out in an impartial fashion. This basic task is intended as an act of humanity during inhumane times. When aid is subordinated to political objectives, it can no longer be called "humanitarian."
MSF is extremely concerned that there are clear risks in associating humanitarian aid with military operations. MSF believes strongly that for humanitarian aid to be effective, it must not be encumbered by political or military motives.
What is Needed Now
Until Sunday, October 7, the UN and aid agencies such as ourselves were still able to get some aid, though not enough, into Afghanistan. Due to the US airstrikes, the UN has stopped all convoys, and MSF has found delivering aid much more difficult. What is needed now is a large-scale independent humanitarian relief effort aimed directly at reaching those most in need in Afghanistan and neighboring countries. This response could be led by the United Nations in coordination with independent humanitarian aid organizations. All parties to the conflict, including the Taliban, must allow for the delivery of large-scale convoys of basic foodstuffs and medicines by humanitarian actors who can ensure that it is delivered to those who need it.
International Borders with Afghanistan Must be Open
MSF is also extremely concerned with the closing of all international borders with Afghanistan and the containment of the population. Over the past months, hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees have sought refuge from warfare and drought in Pakistan and Iran. This internationally recognized right to seek protection and receive asylum in neighboring countries, and the right to non-refoulement (the right not to be forcibly returned to an insecure area), must be upheld.
© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)