Afghanistan suffers in silence
Afghanistan's most needy got only $7 in aid last year

BBC News,
By Peter Morgan in Afghanistan
July 20, 2000

At their summit in Japan, the rich countries of the G8 are being urged to take immediate action to help the poorest people in the world.

In Afghanistan - a humanitarian crisis which the world has largely ignored - the only clue to the country's past prosperity lie in its ruins.

The mansions marked "OK" have been cleared of mines. They now house some of the world's poorest people, in some of the world's most squalid conditions.

Lal Mohammed's hands were blown off by a landmine

Life expectancy here is around 40, and a quarter of children die before they reach the age of five.

Families eek a living spinning wool much as they did in the Middle Ages. Afghanistan is isolated by international sanctions, and few journalists gain access here.


This is amongst the world's most serious yet forgotten humanitarian crises. Yav Mohammed is one of the two million Afghans displaced by war.

Afghanistan is isolated by international sanctions He suffers from tuberculosis but tells me he can't afford medicine. Lal Mohammed's hands were blown off by a landmine so he cannot work. He says he has seen no evidence of international aid in his home village or anywhere else.

The rich countries meeting in Okinawa have pledged to help the world's most needy people equally wherever they live.

But foreign aid workers in Afghanistan see different priorities at work. "It's basically distributed around the world according to the amount of television coverage that a particular crisis gets," says Chris Johnson of Oxfam.

"Other key factors include the proximity to the West and the effect of that crisis on the countries of the West."


Afghanistan's most needy people received an average of $7 per head last year in aid. In Sierra Leone, the figure was $16, while in the former Yugoslavia - much nearer to Europe and the US, and better covered on television - the figure was $207 per capita. That kind of discrepency is called a lottery by aid agencies.

Countries aren't getting the help because of security considerations, danger and lack of access. That's not a lottery

UK minister Claire Short But the UK Government says that it is logistics rather than political expediency that often cause these disparities.

"In rural Sierra Leone, there are people in great need and we can't get to them and it's too dangerous," says Claire Short, UK Secretary of State for International Development.

"That's true in Afghanistan and parts of Angola. Countries aren't getting the help because of security considerations, danger and lack of access. That's not a lottery."


A further hurdle is presented in countries like Afghanistan by authoritarian governments. Here the gun-wielding Islamic revolutionaries of the Taleban run drugs and have a horrific record on human rights.

The Afghan foreign minister says his people desperately need aid Wealthy nations may want to help the poor, but they do not want to lent support to oppressive regimes.


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