Meditation Focus # 53
Re-dedicating Ourselves to Alleviating the Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan
What follows is the 53rd Meditation Focus suggested for the two consecutive weeks beginning Sunday, December 9, 2001.
RE-DEDICATING OURSELVES TO ALLEVIATING THE HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN AFGHANISTAN
2. Meditation times
3. More information on this Focus
4. Peace Watch for the Middle East
As the military operations in Afghanistan now shift from ridding the country of the Talibans to finding and catching the elusive bin Laden, presumably holed up in a cave complex in the mountainous Tora Bora area, on the humanitarian front the immediate priority is to feed, clothe and shelter millions through the winter. UN experts believe 7 million people are at risk, a humanitarian challenge that dwarfs other recent refugee emergencies such as Kosovo. The crisis will be most acute amid the rugged mountains of the north where inaccessible indigenous communities are subsisting on a diet of dried mulberries and where half a million uprooted people are freezing in makeshift camps. Triggering opposition in the UN and in Europe as well as the biggest policy difference with Tony Blair on the conduct of the war, Washington has vetoed the deployment of an international force to secure relief supply routes, meaning that aid deliveries are liable to be hijacked by brigands brandishing Kalashnikovs. Because of this, half the population is out of reach. According to a spokesman from the International Rescue Committee, they are operating at 20 percent of what it could be, due to security problems. To the extent aid is being distributed, it is largely confined to the countrys east and the capital Kabul. In Kabul the long-term situation is bleak. Only a quarter of the city has electricity. US bombing severely damaged the already dysfunctional water system and drinking water, where available, is unsafe.
According to the latest World Bank statistics, half of the countrys children are malnourished and stunted, and one quarter die before they reach the age of five. Diarrhoea and respiratory infections cause 41 percent of child deaths and vaccine-preventable diseases are responsible for 21 percent. Only 39 percent of boys and 3 percent of girls attend school. An Afghani woman dies every 30 minutes from pregnancy-related causes15,000 per year. Nearly 99 percent of all deliveries take place at home and only 9 percent are attended by personnel with any training. Only 13 percent of the population have access to safe drinking water and the average life expectancy is just 41 years. Close to one million people have been disabled as a result of war. Land mines and unexploded bombs, which cover 11 percent of the country, are still maiming between 40 and 100 people per week. Overcoming this tragedy will require the injection of tens of billions of dollars over a sustained period and it is unclear whether the international community has yet resolved to contribute that much assistance, even in the form of repayable loans. Unless this humanitarian crisis remains in the eye and consciousness of the world public opinion and near the top of politicians' priorities for years to come, such levels of assistance may not be forthcoming anytime soon thus dooming millions to die prematurely amidst intolerable living conditions.
Please dedicate your prayers and meditations, as guided by Spirit, in the coming two weeks to contribute in maintaining and heightening global awareness and concern over the plight of our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan. Compassion for our fellow human beings as well as immediate and sustained humanitarian assistance are to be the driving force and key priorities for otherwise humanity will fail a crucial test and numerous other pressing humanitarian needs of our growing global family will fade in the consciousness of those who can afford to help, and the urgently needed shift in human priorities from selfish materialist pursuits to living a more balanced and sustainable lifestyle, enabling a more equitable sharing of resources and food worldwide, may never occur. May Peace, Love and Harmony prevail in the hearts and minds of every human being on Earth and may we all feel our common bond of brother/sisterhood as children of the One Life Force under God, for the Highest Good of All.
2. MEDITATION TIMES
i) Global Meditation Day: Sunday at 16:00 Universal Time (GMT) or at noon local time. Suggested duration: 30 minutes.
ii) Golden Moment of At-Onement: Daily, at the top of any hour, or whenever it better suits you.
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+ means the place is one day ahead of Universal Time/Greenwich Mean Time. * means the place is observing daylight saving time(DST) at the moment.
You may also check at http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/full.html to find your current corresponding local time if a closeby city is not listed above.
3. MORE INFORMATION ON THIS FOCUS
This section is for those who wish to understand in more details the situation of this week's Meditation Focus. For those who wish to read on, we would encourage you to view the following information from a positive perspective, and not allow the details to tinge the positive vision you wish to hold in meditation. Since what we focus on grows, the more positive our mindset, the more successful we will be in manifesting a vision of healing. We provide the details below because we recognise that the knowledge of what needs healing can assist us to structure our awareness to maximise our healing effect.
You may also review our two previous Meditation Focus on this topic:
Urgent Need of Humanitarian Aid and Spiritual Succour for the People of Afghanistan
archived at http://www.aei.ca/~cep/MeditationFocus48.htm
Uniting for Peace and Humanitarian Succour in Afghanistan
archived at http://www.aei.ca/~cep/MeditationFocus51.htm
First snow warns of humanitarian disaster (December 4, 2001)
The first heavy snowfalls of what looks like becoming a very cruel winter blanketed northern Afghanistan yesterday, imperilling the lives of hundreds of thousands of people at risk from cold, hunger and inadequate shelter and raising fears of an impending humanitarian emergency.
But with a massive international relief operation slowly cranking into motion on the coat-tails of the US war in Afghanistan, the aid effort is being hampered by an array of problems from political obstacles to lack of access, banditry, American opposition to international policing of relief supplies and infighting amid the myriad aid organisations.
Three infants died of cold and hunger at a camp of displaced people outside the northern capital, Mazar-i- Sharif, at the weekend. Relief experts said many more were certain to share their fate unless the aid effort acquired much more urgency.
Yesterday the UN reported a disturbing new obstacle - factional fighting within the Northern Alliance which has forced it to pull its international staff out of Mazar.
"We have observations of sporadic fighting and shooting in the city, we don't have any information on who is fighting whom," UN spokesman Khaled Mansour told a news conference. "We have heard about factional fighting."
Some 150,000 people have been uprooted and left homeless in and around Mazar by the war and before that by three years of drought.
"What is happening in one camp in Mazar is happening in all the rest, and what is happening in Mazar is also happening all across the northern provinces," said Brendan Paddy of Save the Children.
"I don't even want to think about the body count last night but it will only be the beginning because the aid agencies have still not got the access they need to do their job effectively. There are people with no tents, no warm clothes. We're going to see a lot more child deaths."
The immediate priority is to feed, clothe and shelter millions through the winter. UN experts believe 7 million people are at risk, a humanitarian challenge that dwarfs other recent refugee emergencies such as Kosovo.
The crisis will be most acute amid the rugged mountains of the north where inaccessible indigenous communities are subsisting on a diet of dried mulberries and where half a million uprooted people are freezing in makeshift camps.
The UN's World Food Programme is the main organisation ferrying in and coordinating food supplies. While it is meeting its targets to sustain Kabul and other urban areas, the main problem is one of distribution and access away from the cities.
Triggering opposition in the UN and in Europe as well as the biggest policy difference with Tony Blair on the conduct of the war, Washington has vetoed the deployment of an international force to secure relief supply routes, meaning that aid deliveries are liable to be hijacked by brigands brandishing Kalashnikovs.
An even bigger problem is one of access to landlocked Afghanistan from the neighbouring ex-Soviet republics of central Asia, the key to an effective operation across the north.
Tajikistan eased restrictions on aid supplies and lifted some bureaucratic obstacles at the weekend, enabling the Russians to send limited supplies to Kabul. Most international aid is being shipped from Turkmenistan further west, but the road is long and arduous and the supply problems will deepen as the winter worsens.
The main road across the Amu-Darya river bridge from Termez in Uzbekistan, an hour's drive from Mazar, is the vital artery for aid, but the Uzbek dictatorship of Islam Karimov, the US's new regional ally, refuses to open the bridge for "security reasons".
The Uzbeks are allowing aid supplies to cross the river by barge and under UN auspices.
Around 150 US and French troops have moved to Mazar from their rear base in Uzbekistan over the past week, but none of them is being deployed to secure aid routes.
Powell Applauds Bridge Opening (Saturday December 8)
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (AP) - The reopening of the ''Friendship Bridge'' into northern Afghanistan will end a potential border bottleneck and help speed food and other aid to struggling Afghans, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Saturday. Powell announced the opening of the Soviet-built bridge, a crucial supply route, at a news conference with Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
''This will ease the flow of humanitarian aid,'' Powell said. CLIP
Aid stockpiled in Uzbekistan will flow to an estimated 3.4 million people in northern Afghanistan dependent on outside relief. That figure includes about 1.1 million in refugee camps across seven northern provinces. Powell's meeting with Karimov and other Uzbek officials came as he continued a goodwill tour through former Soviet republics in Central Asia that have helped in the anti-terrorism effort. ''I assured the president our interests in this country and region go far beyond the current crisis in Afghanistan,'' Powell said. The United States has pledged $100 billion in aid to Uzbekistan since Sept. 11. CLIP
As major powers jockey over aid, millions of Afghanis lack food, shelter and medicine
By James Conachy
7 December 2001
Nine weeks of US bombing and the seizure of much of the country by the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance has put large sections of the Afghani population at risk from starvation, exposure and disease. Winter is setting in and vital food, clothing and medicine, on which an estimated seven million people depend, has not been distributed.
The UN-sponsored conference of rival Afghani factions in Bonn has anointed a new interim administration which is due to be installed on December 22. But it will preside over a country in which central authority has broken down and rival warlords, tribal leaders and militia commanders have established a patchwork of individual fiefdoms. In the south, where the Taliban still holds Kandahar and other areas, US bombing is continuing. (Note this is no lobger true now for Kandahar)
The confusion and chaos combined with a lack of basic infrastructure have severely impeded aid efforts. The UN World Food Program (WFP) has transported 55,000 tons of food to Afghanistan or neighbouring countries during Novembersufficient to provide bare sustenance for six million people for one month. But the non-government organisations (NGOs), which distribute the aid on behalf of the WFP, have either ceased operating or are refusing to dispatch relief convoys due to security fears.
Medecins sans Frontiers (MSF) spokesman Georges Dutreix told the Los Angeles Times: In the northern parts of Afghanistan, many areas are unsafe due to the banditry... When you dont know who is the boss and who is in controland sometimes you have different people controlling the same areait is very difficult. The southern areas were a no-go area, Dutreix said. Half the population is out of reach. According to Mark Bartolini from the International Rescue Committee: Were probably operating at 20 percent of what we could be, due to security problems.
To the extent aid is being distributed, it is largely confined to the countrys east and the capital Kabul. Aid convoys have begun to arrive from the Pakistani town of Peshawar. In Kabul, while initial food distributions have been conducted among its 1.1 million inhabitants, the long-term situation is bleak. Only a quarter of the city has electricity. US bombing severely damaged the already dysfunctional water system and drinking water, where available, is unsafe. Bombing also destroyed the last operating international telephone antenna and only 14,000 telephone lines are believed to be functioning. There is no transport system and the airport runway is damaged.
UN spokesman Khaled Mansour said that the number of doctors in Kabul has fallen from 1,000 to 759. Mohammed Naim, a doctor at the citys main emergency hospital, told the Washington Post on December 2: The health sector has nothing. It is totally demolished. We get a lot of sick people in need. We can only provide them shelter and medical advicenothing else. There are no medicines, little food and no modern equipment. Even the old equipment we had has been looted.
Another Washington Post report described as almost apocalyptic the way people are living in the Kabul suburb of Darulaman, the scene of heavy fighting between rival warlords in the early 1990s. Block after block of bombed-out, shelled, crumbling buildings, with the twisted wreckage of cars strewn about like rags. In many houses, the roofs are gone, allowing the sun to shine through the ruins. In many others, the wall on one side has been peeled away, revealing the interior like a giant dollhouse.
Outside Kabul, the situation is worse. Even in Jalalabad, just 150 kilometres from Kabul, relief agencies have had serious concerns about resuming aid distribution. Upon taking the city in mid-November, troops loyal to the local Northern Alliance warlord looted food warehouses and stole over 100 UN vehicles. The MSF withdrew its foreign staff this week amid rising local anger over the scores of civilian deaths caused last weekend by US bombing in the nearby Tora Bora area. Around 1,500 refugees have fled to Jalalabad to escape ongoing attacks.
In the south, no food aid has reached Kandahar since November 12, due to both US bombing and ground fighting. US marines have cut the roads into the area. Over 240,000 people in the city were being fed by relief agencies, with aid coming from Pakistan, via the border town of Spin Boldak. On November 27, the Pakistani government sealed the road to Spin Boldak, leaving 60,000 people in three refugee camps with only enough food for one month and cutting off Kandahar completely.
In the north, food aid arriving in Mazar-e-Sharif has plummeted to just half the amount that had been getting through before the Northern Alliance took the city on November 10 and looted WFP warehouses. A 10-truck United Nations Childrens Fund aid convoy was also hijacked last month and two of its drivers kidnapped, possibly murdered. This week, the UN withdrew its last remaining staff due to gun battles between rival ethnic Uzbek and Hazara factions of the Alliance.
The best supply route to the citythe Amu-Darya bridge from Uzbekistan to Afghanistanhas been kept closed by the Uzbekistan government for security reasons. (NOTE: This has now changed with the opening of the bridge this Sunday). The airport is being held by American troops but is closed to all except military flights.
In a refugee camp housing 150,000 people on the outskirts of the city, children are dying from exposure as temperatures drop. Brendan Paddy, from the Save the Children group, told the British Guardian on December 3: I dont even want to think about the body count last night, but it will only be the beginning because the aid agencies have still not got the access they need to do their job effectively. There are people with no tents, no warm clothes. Were going to see a lot more child deaths.
Some relief is beginning to arrive in the city of Herat, trucked in from Iran and Turkmenistan, but it may be too late to assist the drought-stricken north-western provinces. Nabil Khalili, an Afghan journalist, told the Los Angeles Times that many people are naked and eating the roots of grass. The Maslak refugee camp to the west of Herat, which lacks safe drinking water or adequate sanitation, now holds 150,000 people. Thousands more are reported to be arriving to escape starvation and the winter.
Attempts are also being made to resume deliveries to the mountainous central highland regions, where over one million people are on the verge of starvation due to drought. A number of villages have not received aid since relief organisations fled Afghanistan before the US attacks began in October. Aid workers reported then that villagers were eating their livestock and the seed needed for next years crops. WFP plans to ship 30,000 tons of food to the area, essential to feed the population throughout the winter months, have been at a standstill. A convoy of 73 trucks finally left Peshawar on December 5.
The harsh central mountains are home to the Hazara ethnic minority who, because of their adherence to the Shiite sect of Islam, are among the poorest and most oppressed layers of the population. In Bamyan province, for instance, there are only two doctors to care for a population of 434,000 people. In an interview in the Los Angeles Times, Yusef Vaezi, a spokesman for the Hazara-based Islamic Unity Party, warned: If the world is not going to move more quickly to help, we will witness a humanitarian disaster. At least two million will die.
The politics of aid
The provision of aid has itself become a political football as the major powers vie for influence in Afghanistan following the collapse of the Taliban regime. Britain and France both want to deploy troops to establish their political presence inside the country and have argued that military protection is needed to enable aid convoys to reach their destinations. The US, however, blocked these plans in November, and has since made clear that it does not support a large multi-national force.
The determination of the US to retain its military monopoly in Afghanistan has already led to criticism in the European press over the inadequacy of aid operations in Afghanistan. On November 29, the European Commission criticised the US reliance on air drops, following the death of a woman near Mazar-e-Sharif when a crate of US food parcels hit her house. The EC used the incident to argue for the opening of land routes, and the deployment of European troops to protect the convoys.
The Bush administration has ignored the European demands, insisting that any peacekeeping force would get in the way of US military operations against the Taliban. Up to 1,000 US marines are now dug in near Kandahar after being airlifted into place last month. The US has also deployed its own troops to occupy airfields at Bagram, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar and now Jalalabad.
One of the US commanders bluntly declared after his troops landed near Kandahar: America now owns a piece of Afghanistan. He was mildly rebuked by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld but the comment reflects the line of thinking not only in Washington but in other capitalsin order to have a political say in Afghanistan, troops are needed on the ground.
The political function of aid was clearly seen in the course of the UN-sponsored meeting on Afghanistan held in Bonn over the last week. US, UN and German officials all made abundantly clear that no money would be provided for aid or financial assistance unless the Afghani factions represented agreed to the political framework determined by the UN Security Council.
Now that the delegates have rubberstamped the UN proposals, the major powers are jockeying for position at various meetings being held to discuss Afghanistans reconstruction. The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the UN Development Program, as well as relief agencies, met in Berlin on December 5, following an earlier summit in Pakistan, and a hastily-called government-level conference in Washington in late November.
The wrangling over the Washington meeting again highlighted the underlying tensions. The Bush administration initially attempted to convene the talks, under American and Japanese chairmanship, to extract financial pledges for Afghanistan. According to Japanese sources, the French and British governments insisted that the meeting be held under the auspices of the UN, with the European Union (EU) sharing chairmanship and China, India and Australia also participating. The EU then convened a foreign ministers meeting in Brussels effectively scuttling the Washington talks which were downgraded to a preparatory meeting.
Whatever the outcome of this manoeuvring, the amount of aid will not match Afghanistans needs. Some estimates put the aid figure as low as $US6.5 billion, spread out over five years and much of it in the form of repayable loans. A recent World Bank report, prepared as a guide for the reconstruction talks, highlights the extent of the social and economic breakdown in Afghanistan and thus, without saying so, the inadequacy of the proposed aid package.
Summing up the situation, the report states: Afghanistans infrastructure has been destroyed or degraded; its human resource base severely depleted; and its social capital eroded. State institutions are largely non-functional, and the economy and society have become increasingly fragmented. Afghanistan faces serious political problems, a dire humanitarian emergency in the short run and large needs of reconstruction and development over time.
Afghanistans economy is in a state of collapse. The three-year drought and resulting famine, the recent ban by the Taliban on opium production, the choking of trade via Pakistan and the massive displacement of the population, have exhausted what coping capacity was left among families and civil society. The key economic institutions of Statecentral bank, treasury, tax collection and customs, statistics, civil service, law and order, judicial systemare extremely weak or simply missing. Basic infrastructureroads, bridges, irrigation, canals, telecommunications, electricity, marketshave been destroyed or oriented to the war effort.
According to the latest World Bank statistics, half of the countrys children are malnourished and stunted, and one quarter die before they reach the age of five. Diarrhoea and respiratory infections cause 41 percent of child deaths and vaccine-preventable diseases are responsible for 21 percent. Only 39 percent of boys and 3 percent of girls attend school.
An Afghani woman dies every 30 minutes from pregnancy-related causes15,000 per year. Nearly 99 percent of all deliveries take place at home and only 9 percent are attended by personnel with any training. Only 13 percent of the population have access to safe drinking water and the average life expectancy is just 41 years. Close to one million people have been disabled as a result of war. Land mines and unexploded bombs, which cover 11 percent of the country, are still maiming between 40 and 100 people per week.
To overcome this tragedy would require the injection of tens of billions of dollars over a sustained period. The World Bank report commented: Merely restoring the pre-1978 economic situation in Afghanistan (even if that were possible) would leave the country one of the poorest in the world in terms of both incomes and social indicators. Clearly the World Bank does not believe that money for even this limited objective is going to be forthcoming.
From the same webiste see Also:
US air strikes kill hundreds of Afghan civilians [4 December 2001] http://www.wsws.org/articles/2001/dec2001/civ-d04.shtml
Russian airlift to Afghanistan highlights underlying US-Europe tensions [3 December 2001]
Major powers pull the strings at Bonn talks on Afghanistan [29 November 2001] http://www.wsws.org/articles/2001/nov2001/afgh-n29.shtml
Behind the "anti-terrorism" mask: imperialist powers prepare new forms of colonialism [18 October 2001] http://www.wsws.org/articles/2001/oct2001/imp-o18.shtml
OTHER RELATED NEWS
Tribal Groups Clash, Bicker Over Spoils of Kandahar (Saturday December 8)
SPECIAL REPORT ON AFGHANISTAN BY THE GUARDIAN http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,614097,00.html
Scramble to cut off Taliban escape routes (December 8)
Kandahar celebrates the Taliban's departure (December 8)
Key dates and events that shaped the war in Afghanistan
How bombing and diplomacy eased the Taliban's grip on Kandahar
Explained: the new Afghan administration (December 5)
A deal was signed today in Bonn, Germany which will establish an interim government for Afghanistan.
Peacekeepers must be in Kabul in two weeks (December 8)
An international force must be deployed in Kabul before the interim government takes office in Afghanistan in two weeks time, the head of UN peacekeeping said yesterday.
Bin Laden spotted near caves, Afghan attackers claim December 8)
Afghan fighters say they have seen Osama bin Laden rallying some of his al-Qaida troops during the battle that is raging in the Tora Bora caves in eastern Afghanistan, under attack by mojahedin forces on the ground and US bombers in the the air.
An American abroad (December 4)
Last week's uprising at a fort near Mazar-i-Sharif turned into one of the most barbaric battles in modern times. Astonishingly, 85 Taliban survived the slaughter. And there was another surprise - one of them was a white, middle-class US citizen.
Pakistan plans to return Afghan refugees (December 6) http://www.guardian.co.uk/afghanistan/story/0,1284,614274,00.html
In-depth coverage about Afghanistan & The Taliban
4. Peace Watch for the Middle East
Here are some of the latest developments in the Middle East. Please also keep this situation in mind during your meditations in the coming two weeks to help ensure that peace prevail there as well.
Arafat details arrests in Israeli TV interview (December 8, 2001)
Yasser Arafat reached out directly to the Israeli people last night in a rare Israeli television interview in which he claimed to be complying with Ariel Sharon's demand that he should arrest Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants.
Following the Palestinian police's roundup this week after the Jerusalem and Haifa suicide bombings, more than half those on the wanted list handed to the Palestinian Authority by the Israeli government were under arrest, he said.
The Palestinian police say they have arrested more than 200 members of Hamas, which was responsible for the suicide bombings, and Islamic Jihad.
Although the popularity of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members with Palestinians makes their arrests politically dangerous for Mr Arafat, the Israeli government said it was still not satisfied. It says most of those arrested are low-level operatives. To keep up the pressure, Israeli planes bombed two five-storey police buildings in the centre of Gaza City early yesterday. Twenty people were injured.
Israel suspending its attacks on Palestinian positions on Wednesday to give Mr Arafat time to make the arrests. After the raid, the defence minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, said Mr Arafat "needs to do more". But in an interview last night Mr Arafatsaid he had arrested 17 of the 36 people on Israel's list. Others were still being hunted.
Two leaders of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Rantissi, are under house arrest. Two others, Ismail Abu Shanab and Ismail Hanya, were jailed this week.
Mr Sharon found himself at the centre of a new row yesterday when the Turkish prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, said that he had "openly expressed" a desire to be rid of Mr Arafat during a telephone conversation.
The Middle East must top the agenda after Kandahar
Another desperate situation cries out for intervention
Israeli Helicopters Hit Palestinian Compound
Islamists fill vacuum left by Arafat's waning star (December 6)
To the outside world Hamas spells terror: to Palestinians it means food and shelter.
SPECIAL MIDDLE EAST REPORT BY THE GUARDIAN
BBC Coverage on the Middle East Conflict
FULL COVERAGE http://dailynews.yahoo.com/fc/World/Middle_East_Peace_Process/
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