BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 21.10.01

Interview: PETER SNOW talks to JUSTIN FORSYTH, the Policy Director at Oxfam.

About the problem getting food to refugees in Afghanistan.

PETER SNOW: And to discuss the refugee and relief crisis, I'm joined by Justin Forsyth of Oxfam. Now what no one doubts is that there is here the potential for a humanitarian disaster. As in the war over Kosovo, but to a far greater extent, we're faced with the prospect of what could be a catastrophe. Up to seven million people could be at risk this winter. There are hundreds of thousands who've fled to refugee camps along the Northern borders of Afghanistan and of course, most of them, the vast mass of the refugees, here along the border with Pakistan, just inside Pakistan. But the really severe problem is the plight of people inside Afghanistan. Some displaced by fear of the fighting and the bombing, others like the Hazaras up here in their mountain villages to the West of Kabul, in the Hindu Kush mountains cut off completely and largely dependent on relief aid supplies by the agencies. Now the aid workers say the bombing is now making delivery almost impossible and in only a month's time the winter will be upon them and snow will effectively prevent supplies reaching them at all. Furthermore the Taliban were reported three days ago to have seized the agencies' supply depots in Kandahar and Kabul up here. But it's not clear yet whether supplies there have been looted, and one agency tells us the Taliban have actually handed back the depot in Kabul - with the supplies intact. The aid agencies say they need to move no less than fifty two thousand tons of aid from their dumps here in Pakistan, down opposite Kabul there, and here opposite Kandahar, into Afghanistan for distribution in the next month. And that's up to fifteen hundred tons a day. But the bombing, they say, and obstruction by the Taliban makes this impossible. One convoy for example left here in Pakistan and went off towards Kabul Tuesday last week with thirteen hundred tons but hasn't yet reported reaching its destination. So what is to be done? Justin, have you yet heard what's happened to that convoy? JUSTIN FORSYTH: We haven't heard yet what's happened to this United Nations convoy, but what we do know is that we need convoys like that every day. We need fifteen hundred tons of food, maybe even up to seventeen hundred tons a day going into Afghanistan. That convoy might have reached its destination, what we're hearing though, is that most food isn't getting to where we are working, which is in the very rural areas of Afghanistan, we're working in that central region that you talk about, and we have no food at all, and we're responsible for feeding one-hundred-thousand people just in that area along. SNOW: Now do you recognise you're very unlikely to get a pause on the bombing and that you're going to have to cope with the bombing continuing when you try and do this. FORSYTH: Well we would like a pause in the bombing. We think it would actually help us to get food to people in need. And it is getting very desperate in Afghanistan. But what we're saying, if we don't get a pause, if we want commitments from all sides, including the Taliban, but also the Northern Alliance to do everything possible to allow us to deliver aid. What we're hearing in these very remote areas is that people are beginning to eat roots and grass, they've run out of food, and we're in a race against time. Winter will come in a few weeks and then it will be impossible to get to them. People think of Afghanistan as a hot country. In the middle of winter, the oil, the acid in your motor car freezes, it's that cold. SNOW: Okay Justin Forsyth, thank you very much indeed. John?
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.