Disgrace to humanity

Afghan girls on sale for 100kg wheat

Afghanistan is a living testimony to the destruction that modern warfare can cause in human lives. But when the ruination of war is complemented by the ravages of nature, human existence falls below the worst level of degradation imaginable. That, unfortunately, is what Afghanistan has been reduced to by 23 years of war and 3 years of drought. The world has seen images of Afghan civilians and little children killed or maimed by war, and thousands driven from their homes by the bombing and the shrivelling up of their fields and orchards by the drought. Yet, despite being aware of the extent of the Afghan tragedy, the world is unlikely to have been prepared for the shocking revelation by an assessment mission of the International Federation of Red Cross.

After surveying 12 remote villages in the rugged western part of the unfortunate country, amid unimaginable misery and destitution, the IFRC found girls, some as young as 10 years, being sold as "brides" for as little as a hundred kilogram sack of flour. This is what the proud Afghans have been reduced to in a desperate struggle to keep body and soul together. One shudders to think of the future that awaits the "merchandise." That they are being bartered into marriage is a solace contrived by the families to assuage their conscience and to shore up the tatters of their dignity. The cruel reality is that many of the helpless girls would pass through many hands, facing a fate worse than death. The unnoticed villains of the mind-numbing story are those benefiting from the bargain prices, purchasing the little girls, possibly, with the free-of-cost food obtained from the relief agencies.

The IFRC bombshell is a reminder that, despite their exertions, the relief agencies are only scratching the surface of the Afghan misery. It also confirms the worst fears that the food aid is not always getting through to the most needy and the most desperate. Quite clearly, much more needs to be done and on an emergency basis. The luxury of waiting for the winter snows to melt, or the roads and communications or the law and order or the political situation to improve, is simply not available.

The relief agencies are doing their best and can, perhaps, do some more. Following its heart-rending finding, the IFRC plans to expand its efforts to revive agriculture in the five western provinces it is working in. But the magnitude of the emergency demands a military response the onus for which rests on the Coalition forces. Having used modern technology so effectively in destroying its enemies and, in the process, the little that remained in Afghanistan, the US now needs to provide the lead by employing its unmatched communication and transport capability to deliver food, medicines and agricultural inputs to the devastated Afghan countryside. This is the surest way of proving its avowed friendship for the people of Afghanistan.

Confining the rebuilding effort to peace-keeping, and that too in a few cities, will not take the Western involvement beyond cosmetics.

PakNews, February 09, 2002

Afghan girls on sale for 100kg wheat

ISLAMABAD FEB 09 (PNS): An International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) assessment mission on Friday reported that young girls in western part of the war-torn Afghanistan were on sale for a 100 kg bag of wheat. The mission returned from western Afghanistan after watching scenes of great deprivation in villages and remote mountain valleys cut off from the outside world for years. A senior official of the IFRC said: "Girls were offered as brides for as little as 100 kg of wheat flour."

The combined effects of 23 years of war and the last three years of drought have left many people entirely destitute. The IFRC team said, "Girls as young as ten are being offered for marriage in exchange for bags of flour in a desperate struggle for survival in parts of Herat and Farah provinces in western Afghanistan."

A team member said: "We saw children digging in the fields for roots to eat and use as firewood. Leaves from the trees were also being eaten." The IFRC is currently engaged in channelling non-food support to five provinces in western Afghanistan. However, following the report of the assessment team, the Red Cross is planning further interventions "particularly in bringing mobile health services to remote rural areas and supporting a revival of agriculture through food-for-work schemes tackling irrigation projects, and the distribution of tools and seeds".

The IFRC team reported widespread scenes of shocking poverty in the remote mountain valley of Rood Gaz, which provides a snapshot of the appalling legacy of war, and drought in western Afghanistan. The assessment team reportedly surveyed 12 villages in the remote valley, counting a population of 10,305 people. Among them, it found 510 orphans, 261 widows and 699 elderly people largely dependent on their impoverished neighbours and remittances from refugees in Iran to stay alive.

A senior team member said in many of the villages there was no agricultural activity because of the drought, no seeds were available for planting, and much of the livestock had either died or been sold off. Meanwhile, Wendy Darby, a top official of the IFRC, urged the humanitarian agencies involved in food distributions to "take into account the needs in remote locations outside the major towns, like the Rood Gaz valley where people have no access to urban centres".

Despite the fall of Taliban, the United Nations and some other international agencies could not expand their programmes due to poor security conditions, presence of landmines and unexploded munitions and fear of 'al-Qaeda terrorists'.

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