Secretary-General Kofi Annan today launched an appeal for over half a billion dollars to shore up the United Nations humanitarian effort for Afghanistan, where current conditions are worsening in a country already ravaged by years of war and drought.
The appeal for $584 million aims to provide assistance to some 7.5 million Afghans - both living in their home country and seeking shelter in neighbouring States - who are projected to require outside aid to survive.
At the same time, Mr. Annan announced that the UN was working to bolster its capacity to respond to the emergency. "We are adjusting our management structures in the field so that we can handle this crisis in all its broad regional implications," he said.
Reiterating a theme he has been sounding in recent days, Mr. Annan stressed that "innocent civilians should not be punished for the actions of their government." Noting that the world was united against terrorism, the Secretary-General said that it should be "equally united in protecting and assisting the victims of emergencies and disasters."
Calling the emergency in Afghanistan "very serious," Mr. Annan said the international community must be prepared to deal with future dimensions of the crisis. "That means being prepared to meet a potential large increase in humanitarian needs and give much more support to neighbouring countries which host Afghan refugees, and it means being in a position to protect the most vulnerable people - especially children and women - and to help provide for their longer-term needs within their home communities."
Asked how the UN would ensure security for its aid workers, the Secretary-General replied, "you have put your finger on one of our major difficulties." He noted that since international relief staff were withdrawn from the country, the UN has been relying on local Afghan staff. "They've done remarkable work, they've been very courageous with great risks to themselves and I should pay tribute to them, but even they have found it difficult to continue their work," he said.
While expressing hope that the situation would change so that international relief personnel could soon return, Mr. Annan stressed that the UN would protect them. "We have lost many humanitarian workers over the last year or so, and we are not going to be reckless with the staff."
Mr. Annan also said that he would dispatch the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Kenzo Oshima, to Pakistan and Iran "to review the state of preparedness of all the UN services on the spot and to consult with Governments of those countries." Mr. Oshima is currently in Berlin briefing donors at an emergency meeting of the Afghan Support Group.