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MS. CASSEL: We are very honored today to have Mr. Bear McConnell, the Director of the Central Asia Task Force of the US Agency for International Development, here to give you a briefing on the status of our aid efforts to Afghanistan.
MR. McCONNELL: I apologize for being late. I was doing some football research. (Laughter.) But anyway, if I may, I'd like to sort of start out with a commercial, and that commercial is on behalf of the WFP. The World Food Program is, in my opinion, doing a magnificent job in moving food. And that is sort of a central theme that we are most interested in, moving food. You know, there's a lot of -- I'm sure we will want to talk about what the weekend's events mean in terms of difference, but the context that I would like to use is how much has been happening before the weekend, if you will.
The month of October was an all-time high for WFP. They moved 29,000 metric tons of food. That is the highest month that they have ever had, whether it's before or after September. But what is even more significant, it seems to me, is this month, not yet half done, they have moved over 27,000 tons already.
So the sort of be-all and end-all goal that they base their calculations on is 52,000 metric tons a month for the country. You all are very much aware of the obstacles in getting to that goal, but the fact that they are accelerating so dramatically in the last month to six weeks is, I think, something that ought not go unrecognized.
An area that people talk about as one of the areas in most need are the Central Highlands, the Hazarajat. It is also significant to note that en route there or there, WFP has moved over 13,000 metric tons. The winter requirement for that region -- and this is the Highlands; this is where the snow is very, very deep, and the mountains are very, very tall -- the requirement for the entire winter to get through is about 30,000 metric tons. So they are approaching half of that already. And this is by road, this is not by airplane. And we can only see improvement in that as the security situation itself improves.
I also need to record that he who pays me, Andrew Natsios, is in the region. I think most people know that. He has so far visited Turkmenistan,
Uzbekistan, and is today in Tajikistan. While in Uzbekistan, he of course was very active in pressing the case for opening the famous bridge, the Friendship Bridge, at Termez. And maybe I could talk a bit about that. And then why don't we see what you would like to talk about.
I think people know the first barge has moved. It was a barge containing 100 metric tons, lightly loaded, because people were concerned about the level of the river. But that barge moved. It moved largely with non-food kinds of things, and it has made the round trip without incident today.
Tomorrow they plan a second barge, this time food, this time 500 metric tons of food, again to get this process done. Even barges, though, are not as efficient as opening the roadway. And we are left sort of with the idea that the Uzbek Government is waiting for assurances on the security situation from Termez, down to Mazar, and we're hoping that that will be resolved this weekend. A UN team will be traveling that route, and based on that assessment, I think that assessment will inform the Uzbek Government on their decision to at long last open that bridge.
So what does that mean? Some more numbers maybe. One estimate is that 25,000 metric tons a month can cross that bridge. That is half, basically, of Afghanistan as a nation's requirement. And of course the significance of being able to do that in the north is the north is where the most need is, based on WFP, World Food Program, estimates.
So we are looking forward to a successful resolution of the bridge being open, but the context I want to leave you with is that that will certainly increase the flow of food, but please understand that our partner agency, WFP, that we contribute significantly to their funding. Those guys are doing a great job in moving food already.
So the idea of opening the bridge is certainly significant, and that is the most dramatic effect of the evolving security situation. But things are going pretty well, even without that.
I think I'll stop there and see what you would like to talk about.
QUESTION: Are you still flying food in, and is there a prospect that you will be able to cease that if the security situation improves considerably? And I understand flying food in is very expensive and kind of inefficient anyway; is that right?
MR. McCONNELL: That is exactly right. Are you talking about the air drops, the military air drops?
MR. McCONNELL: That is sort of a DOD call, whether they continue those or not. Obviously it's very expensive to drop those things. And again, for context reasons, we're talking about -- you know, I've been throwing metric tons at you. We're talking about less than 1 percent of the food that is required and that is going to be delivered comes from those emergency rations.
Again, the area where the air drops are occurring is something that we work with DOD to determine, and it is a very sort of focused area which is based on the area of most need and the area of least accessibility, mainly in the north and in the west. So it's hard to say let's stop doing that until we really know we're out of the humanitarian woods, and I don't think we're ready to make that statement yet. But it is a DOD call.
QUESTION: Can I ask you just to step back for a second and say what dramatic military developments of the last couple of days -- what they mean for your humanitarian efforts?
MR. McCONNELL: Again, the best example of the good news that will come from the good news is the very much increased potential for opening the Termez route, because that ridge has been closed because of the security situation on the ground. If what appears to be true is true and that that security situation is resolved and will be so certified by the UN, maybe this weekend, we expect to see that bridge open.
Otherwise, please -- again, the food is already moving. Food is going to move more. And food that moves is only significant if it gets to the hungry mouth. That is where we get to -- I think we talked about once before the indigenous Afghan distributors of the food. These are people who work for NGOs, have done so for years, have been laboring under very, very undesirable conditions for some time. As that security situation clears up, clarifies, is as good as we hope it might be, that is going to basically facilitate the ultimate distribution to those in most need, and that will be the most significant result of the improved security situation.
QUESTION: What about the potential for air lifting rather than air dropping food into the airfields that are now under Northern Alliance control?
MR. McCONNELL: We are actually doing some airlift now. When I say we, I'm talking about we are paying the World Food Program to do some airlift, largely from Quetta. WFP has a warehouse in Quetta where there is quite a bit of food, which we're trying to get up to Turkmenistan in order to sort of jumpstart that route through Turkmenistan. We've got food in the neighborhood, but what we'd use airlift for -- and it's very expensive and it's very inefficient -- is to sort of fill in the gaps here. I mean, having food in the neighborhood doesn't necessarily help focus the food where we really want it to be.
Our focus is, as I think you know, has been reorienting food deliveries to the north. We're not quite sure what these developments, to include the fall of Kabul apparently, will have on our need to get food to the north. The best way to get food to the Hazarajat is that-away, right across Kabul, so that will facilitate getting food to those people. Still, the people in the north that need it are best served from the north, and we're going to continue to pursue that.
So airlift is, again, a gap-filler and it's not something we need certainly in terms of bulk, but it's something we need in terms of those points on the map where you just can't get food normally. And it's a temporary thing.
QUESTION: So does this mean that you have enough food in the region; it's simply getting it into Afghanistan? Or do you need more food brought as well?
MR. McCONNELL: We've got -- I mean, I could say yes, but instead I'll say right now we're unloading about 65,000 metric tons in Bandar-Abbas and one other Iranian port that I can't pronounce that will be coming up the west side and into the north. We've got 100,000 more metric tons that we have purchased and that are being prepared for shipment, and we've just ordered another 55,000 metric tons. Which is a long way of saying we're pretty comfortable with our pipeline as far as getting it to Afghanistan. Again, the tricky part will be sort of the final stages of the delivery, which is to say inside.
QUESTION: So other than the 65,000, you have other stocks than the 65,000 that's arrived in Iran?
MR. McCONNELL: There are about 90,000 metric tons in the neighborhood now, most of which is US food; 65,000 more metric tons of US food is being unloaded as we meet here today, another 100,000 has been purchased and it being prepared, and another 55,000 has just been ordered. We have also bought 20,000 metric tons up here for local purchase, again to try to fill in some gaps here. So most of the food we buy is US food, but we have the authority to purchase locally when we need it to fill in gaps, and we intend to do that. So we are kind of comfortable with the pipeline. What we are a little worried about is the spigot.
QUESTION: Can you help me here a little bit on the numbers? The original number, for instance, in October, the 20,000 metric tons delivered by World Food Program, was that in the area or was that -- did that actually make it into Afghanistan?
MR. McCONNELL: What WFP does is get it into the country. What the NGOs do is distribute it within the country. So the October figure of 29,000 metric tons is what WFP brought into Afghanistan.
QUESTION: And that is what -- I mean, those were the figures that you said you needed in Afghanistan during that period. Do you know how much made it to the people who needed it?
MR. McCONNELL: Well, there's always too many numbers when we do this, but WFP estimates that the monthly requirement for Afghanistan is 52,000 metric tons. That's their goal. That's if everybody lived next to the Safeway or something like that. That's what would do the job.
What they actually were able to get in the country in the month of October is 29,000 metric tons. And the numbers are still a little foggy on actual distributions in October -- because, understand, this is people, in some cases, clandestinely reporting back -- is about 20,000 metric tons. So the delta between what's in the country -- 29,000 -- and what is actually distributed -- 20,000 -- is what we need to work on, and what the improved security situation will allow.
QUESTION: One of the things Mr. Natsios said, I think in one of the very early briefings, was he talked about these 4,000 donkeys that were going in. Can you give us an update on that, or tell us if donkeys are still going to be used, or if that's something you don't need to use as the situation changes on the ground?
MR. McCONNELL: I'll leave donkeys to Andrew. People are in fact looking for that form of transportation. I honestly don't know. WFP I don't think is using donkeys. But in fact, mainly here, I think there were donkeys rented at your favorite local rent-a-donkey.
QUESTION: What exactly was the Uzbek -- I presume you made the argument to the Uzbeks, or someone made the argument to the Uzbeks, that maybe you don't have to open up the bridge to all traffic, but just open it up to the WFP trucks. And if you did make that argument, what was their objection?
And the second thing is, what is this UN team that is going down the road to Mazar-e Sharif looking for? I mean, if they make it round-trip without getting shot at, does that make it a safe road, and is that enough to please the Uzbeks?
MR. McCONNELL: As far as the negotiations with the Uzbek Government, you're out of my lane. I shouldn't really deal with that, and I'm assuming other occupants of this building can deal with that better. I think it is safe to say that the Uzbeks are, like all of the 'Stans, are nervous about flows in -- well, the entire neighborhood are nervous about flows into their borders. That certainly is part of it.
There is a terrorist organization that the Uzbeks are very aware of that is in -- reported to be in northern Afghanistan. They certainly don't want those guys to have unimpeded access to the north. But I would ask that you ask somebody who gets more paid for that sort of thing than me to comment on it.
The second question?
QUESTION: The UN team -- what makes the roads safe?
MR. McCONNELL: It's a hard surface road, and I think if I were riding that road, I would want to see if that hard surface was unbroken, which would be a good hint that it was not mined. Certainly not getting shot at is a good indicator that you probably want to ride the road again.
They will do whatever security guys do when they make route assessments, and it's got to be done in a direct and professional way in order to present that to the Uzbek Government as assurance that it is time to open.
QUESTION: Do you know if there are already existing refugee camps in the northern areas? If there is any kind of organized refugee camp where people can be fed easily, or are these going to be small, isolated towns or hamlets where the food has to be gotten to them, or they have to come to the food?
MR. McCONNELL: Technically, there are no refugee camps inside. I mean, the people who are inside and not living where they live are IDPs -- I don't mean to dance on the head of a pin here -- internally displaced people.
There are certain areas where IDPs are, and I think we have a map somewhere that we could maybe give you. But one of the major objectives of the strategy that flows from the President's initiative on for October is to reduce population movements. And again, the reason for that is, people are more likely to survive, even in a debilitated state, if they are where they live. Once they start moving, that means they have run out of other ideas or other resources, and they are likely to die en route.
So one of the reasons we are so focused on getting the food to the individual village is to keep them at home, keep them in the surroundings that at least offer some sort of support for them, and if we can get food to them, they will have a better chance.
QUESTION: How long are your efforts going to focus solely on humanitarian direct aid and food distribution? And are you going to wait until everyone is fed before you start worrying about more sustainable aid, such as helping with crop planning? Are you going to wait for the winter is over, or what are those plans? Or is that part of the reconstruction?
MR. McCONNELL: Well, I don't know that there is a definite sort of line between any of these phases. One of the things we are interested in right now is something called "spot reconstruction," and one of the reasons why we are anxious to get some assessments that we are a little bit comfortable with is to be able to identify repair kind of projects. To me, the continuum is you give somebody something they can put over their heads for shelter in the emergency, you repair the water system in sort of the next phase, and then maybe you build a new water system in the long-term phase.
So there is discussion all along that continuum, and I think we'll hear more about that this very month. Now, a discussion does not mean a specific identification of projects, specific identification, more importantly, of funding, but there is a lot of attention being paid to next spring and beyond, as opposed to just this winter.
The obvious immediate focus is people are dying now, so we need to work mainly on that and then certainly focus on the, "Then what?"
QUESTION: If I could follow up, is this going to be part of the Work-for-Food Program that you've been talking about before? I mean, the spot reconstruction?
MR. McCONNELL: That is certainly a part of Food-for-Work. But when we're in the emergency phase, we would rather do food-for-no-work and maybe get an IOU to do some work later. I mean, we are to the point where people are dying now and so it's kind of tough to tell somebody who is starving that if you dig this ditch we will then feed you. So I think we are the in the food-for-food phase, but that is certainly out there as part of the
QUESTION: Can you talk about how many food markets have been supplemented specifically inside Afghanistan, a little bit more about specifically how you are distributing the food?
MR. McCONNELL: Well, the markets themselves -- is this our favorite subject of monetization or --
QUESTION: I think we asked about that the last time, too. Sorry.
MR. McCONNELL: Well, the good news is -- the good and bad news is there is no more news than there was the last time. But, again, our team is still over there and with the situation that is evolving as quickly as what's going on over there, we don't have a good market answer. That's what I'm talking about when I say maybe that's something that we can do some tests in the spring on.
I mean, what we need to do right now is get on with feeding people and getting them through the winter, and we will add sophistication as circumstance allows. We're not dealing specifically with markets. What we're talking about is NGOs taking food to a town and, ideally, to a town that they know who exactly the needy are and they're putting the food directly in the needy hand, as opposed to relying on just dumping a bunch of food out the back of a truck.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say, then, that at this stage, as you guys are sort of in the middle of the relief effort, that Mr. Natsios' plan was originally maybe over-ambitious?
MR. McCONNELL: No, I would never say --
QUESTION: Since he was the one who put the idea of food markets in my head and all the other reporters.
MR. McCONNELL: How could I possibly say that my boss' plan was overly ambitious? I would say that my boss' plan was strategic, and we're dealing on the tactical end of the strategic plan here.
QUESTION: Well, a lot of aspects of your boss' plan are not actually -- you know, would seem to not be part of the plan any more.
MR. McCONNELL: No, they're part of the plan but they're not the instant gratification part of the plan. I mean, a monetization system is something that you're going to be working on for a year or more. And so the elements of that plan that I told you about the last time are still all there, but it's gotten colder since the last time we talked about it, and we want not to neglect the immediacy of some of that.
QUESTION: Do you have any evidence as to how much the war has worsened the humanitarian situation there now, just in the past few weeks? Are you able to get any information about --
MR. McCONNELL: It's anecdotal. I mean, remember the idea of focusing the humanitarian effort on the area of most need has the happy coincidence, in a way, of being focused in the north and the west part, where most of the, as my military friends are fond of saying, kinetic activity occurs in the south and the east.
So Taliban land is down here; hungry people land is up there. So there is not as much impact, I guess, as you would immediately assume. So there are anecdotes about, yes, there are problems about Mazar because of what's been going on around Mazar. But are there problems region-wide in the northwest because of the military action? I would say no.
QUESTION: The non-food items that went in, could you talk about those? I mean, are they blankets, tents, sheeting?
MR. McCONNELL: Yes, yes, yes. Seriously, I mean, we're interested in shelter, we're interested in winterization, we're interested in medicine, we're interested in child care kinds of things. All of those are in the plan. But when we talk about famine and so forth, I mean, your mind immediately goes to the food position; whereas, in actual fact, hungry people get sick very easily when they get cold, so we need to keep them warm if we can. And that is included in the overall campaign.
QUESTION: Can you talk about refugees pre-September 11th and currently in Pakistan and in Iran?
MR. McCONNELL: I can, but only at a fairly shallow level. My agency does the internally displaced. The Bureau of Refugees here in the State Department worries about refugees. But I will say that the original planning was based on a million and a half additional refugees. That has not materialized, and, in fact, I think the current number is somewhere around 300,000.
So the refugee situation -- and I have to check that number with my partners in the Refugee Bureau, but I think that's right. So the refugee problem -- the additional refugee problem, I should say -- has not met the worst fear kind of estimates.
QUESTION: What about the internally displaced?
MR. McCONNELL: That has been about a million people and --
QUESTION: Since September 11th?
MR. McCONNELL: That has not changed much. I don't know whether it's since September. That's what it was before and I think that's about what it is still. Remember, we're talking about really fuzzy numbers here.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. Did you say a million or a million and a half?
MR. McCONNELL: Internally displaced, I said a million.
QUESTION: Is it not possible that the closure of some of the borders has kept people from becoming refugees and kept them as IDPs?
MR. McCONNELL: Yes. It's not only possible, it's true.
QUESTION: Well, so then maybe the original estimate wasn't that far off if there were --
MR. McCONNELL: No, because they are isolated areas. And, literally, in some parts I am told you can actually see a refugee camp sort of on the other side of the border. What's a good example of that? I'll have to come back to you with a good example of that. And particularly these are anecdotally on the Pakistan side where, in fact, just inside Afghanistan there are camps. And that sort of puts the UN in a dilemma because you can't really treat it as refugee camp because there aren't refugees and there's no representation, until this weekend perhaps, of the UN inside Afghanistan to really deal with it.
Now, I think anecdotally again there are informal attempts to help these people rather than say, well, the definition is, therefore I won't. I think there is stuff going on, but not on a big scale. And the camps along the border are not massive either. So all the neighbors have closed their borders. None of them are really interested in adding. I mean, Pakistan, for example, is already host to, depending on who you hear, 2 to 3 million refugees and have been for a long time. I think at one point they were up to 8 million refugees. But they have been pretty generous, so it's kind of hard to complain that they're not a little more generous. So I think they deserve some credit for that.
QUESTION: Are food and other supplies getting in to the Central Hghlands area, or is that mainly Taliban-controlled area which is off bounds?
MR. McCONNELL: The Central Hghlands has never been Taliban-controlled, and that is one of the -- partly because there are not many people there, partly because it is fairly inhospitable in a terrain and climate sense. But the answer to the direct question is, yes, food is getting in there. The number that WFP uses to take care of this area inside the dotted line for the winter is about 30,000 metric tons. They've got either there, or almost there, close to half of that now. So food is moving that-away and this is by truck. This is not by airplane.
QUESTION: I just wanted to make sure I understood. Even though Kabul seems to be open now and there will probably be traffic next week to Kabul, you are continuing your focus so that you hope to have at least half the food coming down from the north now, rather than depending on the Kabul route?
MR. McCONNELL: Well, and that is because, again, of need.
QUESTION: Right. And that the food will all come in to Iran now?
MR. McCONNELL: No, the food will come in --
QUESTION: So some of the 100,000 will come in to Pakistan?
MR. McCONNELL: The current plan is the 100,000 will come in through Iran.
MR. McCONNELL: But that doesn't mean -- I mean, the original plan for the 65,000 was to come in through Pakistan.
MR. McCONNELL: So, you know, the current plan today does not mean that will be the current plan --
QUESTION: But right now, that's 100,000 going to Iran, 65,000 offloading in Iran, and the food moving down through the north, which is a big change from pre-September 11th?
MR. McCONNELL: Yes.
MR. McCONNELL: Well, let's see. Since September 11th? I don't think that event equaled the big change. We have been interested in sort of reorienting the flow for longer than that.
QUESTION: But isn't it true that it's because of September 11th that the UN pressured Iran to open up to let you do that?
MR. McCONNELL: I don't know. On September 11th I was a DOD employee and not nearly as kindly as I am now. So I can't answer that and I think the building occupants in this building would be better able.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. McCONNELL: Thank you.
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