The Herald (Glasgow), February 26, 2003

Afghanistan has been well and truly betrayed

David Hayman, head of operations, Spirit Aid, 45 King Street, Glasgow.

I HAVE just returned from the last country we went to war with, barely 16 months ago, Afghanistan. I spent a month there taking in medical aid to 13 mountain villages that collectively go by the name of Sheik-Jalaal. Out of a population of 5000, 50% were children and they were dying. Dying of tuberculosis, diphtheria, malaria, whooping cough, gastroenteritis, and URI. They haven't seen a doctor in 24 years! I arranged and paid for teams of doctors, nurses, and drivers. I bought thousands of pounds worth of medicines, and the Halo Trust (the mine-clearing organisation) loaned me a fleet of two ambulances and two Land Rovers.


At the end of the day, though, what I managed to achieve was but a sticking -plaster on the wounds of that beleaguered and forgotten country. Wasn't this the country that Tony Blair and George Bush pledged, in the same breath that announced war, that the people of Afghanistan would not be forgotten? Well, I can say after two visits to Afghanistan that they are not only forgotten but well and truly betrayed. The country is on its knees: roads, bridges, tunnels, schools, homes, hospitals, and farmlands are reduced to rubble and dust. It is one of the most heavily land-mined countries in the world. Only 5% of the rural population have access to clean water, 17% have access to medical services, 13% have access to education, 25% of all children are dead by the age of five. Life expectancy is 43. An estimated three million people are still in refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan, let alone the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced peoples. This country is in a mess and if anyone tells me that millions of dollars worth of aid is getting into this country then I will gladly take them to Afghanistan and point out the brutal truth. The people are dying! And we are turning a blind eye.

The people are dying and we are heading off to war with yet another country that hasn't bombed us or attacked us. How can we even contemplate creating another, inevitable, humanitarian disaster when the evidence of Saddam Hussein's threat to us all has yet to be proven? Surely, at the start of our 21st century, we should have evolved beyond the point where we reduce a country and a people to dust, for the flimsiest of excuses. War is the failure of politics! War is the failure of diplomacy! It is the absence of wisdom and understanding. The humanitarian crises, the desperation of the children, the betrayal of a people I witnessed in Afghanistan must not be repeated. Not in our name, Mr Blair.

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