Afghan aid groups persevere despite danger


Prospects for the upcoming winter in Afghanistan were bleak enough before Sept. 11, as years of drought destroyed crops and drove millions of people toward famine.

But with the United States-led coalition having destroyed the Taliban regime in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the United States, Afghans face even more dire straits, with many having fled their homes and any food stores they had. Starvation and freezing are real threats, the secretary general of a Japanese nongovernmental organization said.

Keiko Kiyama of Tokyo-based JEN (formerly Japan Emergency NGOs) said her 560-member group will soon send truckloads of blankets stockpiled in its warehouse in Peshawar, northwest Pakistan, to four Afghan provinces, as well as to Kabul.

Shipments of other items, including clothing, stoves, water tanks and dishware, are also planned, she said, adding that other NGOs with which her group is working are to bring food to the people.

Kiyama, who visited the war-torn country before and after Sept. 11, said the situation for the Afghans — both those sheltering within and outside of the country — is getting worse.

“I heard from another NGO that, last December, local people were still able to eat nan bread dipped in tea, sugar and oil,” she said. “But now they are eating nan with red peppers and hot water.”

The ongoing attacks against the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces have left many people stranded in their homes, unable to pay for transportation or too physically exhausted to travel to refugee camps, she said.

Under these circumstances, delivering aid is more difficult because aid workers must knock on the door of each house to see if people live there and interview the residents to determine if they really need the goods, Kiyama said.

Security concerns have prevented JEN from delivering goods to local communities for two months, she said.

Since Kabul’s fall to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in mid-November, however, the United Nations has been delivering large volumes of relief items from Pakistan on trucks that go along a mountain road. Many of the food convoys get robbed by bandits or disappear along the way, she said.

Kiyama’s group, however, plans to begin its deliveries as swiftly as possible with the help of security forces from the U.N. or the Northern Alliance, she said.

“We must start with what we can,” Kiyama said.