U.S. Assistance to Afghan RefugeesPaula J. Dobriansky, Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs
Andrew Natsios, Administrator of the Agency for International Development; and Allen Kreczko, Acting Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration Issues
October 4, 2001
MR. REEKER: Good afternoon. Welcome back to the State Department for our special briefing this afternoon on US assistance to Afghan refugees. As I am sure you are all aware, President Bush was here today, announcing US humanitarian assistance for Afghan refugees, and we have brought together three experts on this field.
We are very pleased to have our Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, Paula Dobriansky; the Administrator of the US Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios; and the Acting Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration Issues, Allen Kreczko, to deliver short remarks and then to take your questions.
We have about 30 minutes today. The normal noon briefing will take place at approximately 1:00 o'clock after that.
So, without any further ado, let me begin with Under Secretary Dobriansky.
UNDER SECRETARY DOBRIANSKY: Thank you. Before the tragic events of September 11, the situation in Afghanistan was desperate, the result of 22-plus years of war, and more recently severe drought, and brutal repressive rule by the Taliban regime.
Over the past two decades, the United States, responding to the humanitarian plight of the people of Afghanistan, has provided substantial aid, in particular food, health care, water sanitation and shelter. Where the Taliban has failed its own people, we have consistently sought to ameliorate the conditions of the Afghans. Last year alone, the United States provided more than $170 million in humanitarian assistance, roughly two-thirds of the total contribution of the international community.
Since the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., the world has seen a major deterioration in the situation in Afghanistan, made worse by the expulsion of expatriate relief agency workers from the country. As President Bush has clearly stated, the United States is leading the international response to mitigate the suffering of Afghans and to provide life-sustaining assistance to those in need.
The announcement by the President today of an additional $320 million will help alleviate the abysmal conditions for a growing number of Afghans. This is both inside and outside of Afghanistan. This amount includes $25 million in immediate aid for those seeking refuge in the neighboring states of South and Central Asia. We are also preparing to increase food shipments and refugee assistance, should the crisis deepen.
As the President said this morning in his remarks here at the Department, he said, we have no compassion for terrorists or for any state that sponsors them, but we do have great compassion for millions around the world who are victims of hate and oppression. We are friends of the Afghan people. We have an opportunity to make sure the world is a better place for generations to come.
The international community faces two immediate obligations: to root out terrorism and to help the Afghan people. Those responsibilities go hand in hand. Indeed, if we do not address the conditions facing millions of Afghans, we weaken our prospects for dealing terrorism a fatal and final blow.
Andrew Natsios will be up next, as the Administrator for AID, addressing the issue of famine, food aid; and then Allen Kreczko with a specific focus on the refugee situation.
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Thank you very much, Paula. There is a famine in Afghanistan that well preceded September 11th. In May, AID sent in assessment teams with some people from the United Nations, and they concluded there is a famine under way; it is the beginning of it, it has not peaked yet in terms of the mortality rates.
You already know that on the human misery index that Afghanistan ranks at the top. A quarter of the children in Afghanistan will die before they are five years old. It has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world. It has the lowest per person caloric intake in the world. And it has the highest number of amputees in the world, per capita.
So the human misery index is there already at a terrible level. So people are weakened. There has been four years of drought, 22 years of civil war. They are not in good shape. They are very tough people, but to go through four years of drought where the crops fail one year after another makes them extremely vulnerable to what now is happening.
Our aid program there -- our humanitarian aid program -- prior to September 11th was $183 million -- I'm sorry, our aid program for last fiscal year up until today was $183 million. So there was a substantial program already. What has happened now as a result of the President's announcement is there has been an enormous increase in that. And there is a reason for that, and that is that we are entering now the peak of the famine. It will take place over the next year.
Our objective is very simple. It is to reduce the death rates. In some villages, the standard in the humanitarian relief community is if there are two people who die per 10,000 people per day, you have an emergency. In some villages in Afghanistan, six to eight people are dying a day per 10,000 people. You can -- if you just do the multiplication per year, that means in a village of 10,000, by the end of the year 30 percent of the people will be dead.
And those were rates from last May, before the summer crop, before the winter comes on. The winter in Afghanistan in the high mountain areas, which is the whole center -- it's the Hindu Kush -- is extremely severe. In some areas, the snow is 20 to 30 feet deep. And so we are very concerned about the logistics of getting food into remote areas.
We do not want to have large-scale population movements. So one of our strategies is to move as much food into the villages where people are now so they will not move into displaced camps or refugee camps. It is very undesirable, and the reason for that, 50 percent of the people who move in a famine, who are already weakened from hunger and severe malnutrition, will not survive. They will die along the way. And we want to avoid that terrible prospect from taking place.
Our intention is to flood the markets with food in a commercial sense to get the price down. Prices are extremely high now. Even middle class Afghans cannot afford to buy food. For the destitute and the poor, who usually die at astronomical rates in a famine much higher than other social classes, we need to do food-for-work programs, which is part of our plan, for people who are capable of working. For those who are not, they will get free food distributions.
So there are multiple approaches to this. We are also intending to do a seed distribution this fall. The surveys from the NGOs and the UN indicate that most farmers have consumed their seed, if they had any to begin with. Because, when there is a crop failure, you don't have any seed for the next year; you can't plant the next crop, even if there are rains. Farmers in a famine eat their seed, because if they don't think they're going to make it to the next crop. And that's what's happened. If they had seed, they've eaten it; some of them never had any. So we've got to get seed out so that if there are rains next year during the winter wheat crop, which is the time period we're moving into, that there is a crop next year and more people can be self-sustaining, which is one of our other objectives.
So we have an aggressive program. The announcement that the President has made is a shot in the arm to this. His initiative and his support for this program will mean that we will save a lot more people's lives in this terrible tragedy that has been occurring in Afghanistan for a very long time. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRECZKO: As the President mentioned, we want to be in a position to respond to the needs of Afghan people that are forced to flee Afghanistan as well. Therefore, the other aspect of our humanitarian planning is preparation for refugee flows into neighboring countries.
At the international level, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has the mandate for protection of refugees. The United States Government is a strong supporter of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and its largest donor. The UNHCR estimates that as many as one-and-a-half million Afghans could seek to enter neighboring countries in the coming months. Their estimates are based on projections of potential of one million to Afghanistan, 400,000 new to Iran, 50,000 to Tajikistan, and 50,000 to Turkmenistan. One-and-a-half million total. One million to Pakistan, 400,000 to Iran -- I'm sorry. Okay.
These are planning figures of the UN. Actual flows will be affected by a number of factors, including the Taliban attitude toward departure. We have reports that the Taliban are limiting movements, particularly of men, the attitude of bordering states and the extent to which relief is available inside Afghanistan.
At this time, flows to the borders are relatively small, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimating about 20,000 to 30,000 to Pakistan and very small flows to Iran. All of Afghanistan's neighbors have, as a formal matter, indicated that their borders are closed. However, UNHCR is involved in contingency planning with officials of the Government of Pakistan and the Government of Iran, including campsite identification and preparation, and the pre-positioning of materials.
Both Iran and Pakistan have long hosted large Afghan refugee populations. Pakistan hosts approximately two million Afghan refugees already; Iran one and a half million. We appreciate their record of humanitarian efforts, and we hope they will remain willing to provide additional refuge as needed.
To convince them to accept more refugees, the international community needs to assure them that they will not have to shoulder the economic costs of providing for these refugees by themselves, and the President's initiative today puts us in a great position to be able to give them that assurance.
MR. REEKER: Any questions? George?
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you a question as to whether any thought is being given to allowing some of these unfortunate people to resettle in the United States?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: At this point, I don't think that is part of the contingency planning. The contingency planning is that they would be allowed refuge in the neighboring countries.
QUESTION: We have heard that you are going to try to airlift some of the food in and try to make sure that the Afghan people get it, and that the Taliban don't. How do you make sure that that happens?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Well, there are a number of different measures that we're taking to -- that are programmatic in nature to avoid diversions or manipulation of the aid. Airlifts are one of them; they are -- in any relief situation, that's an option.
The one thing that we decided already is we are going to avoid the storage of any substantial quantity of food within the country. The food will be stored in the Central Asian republics, Iran and Pakistan, where it is safe.
Secondly, we have opened food pipelines on all sides of the country to minimize the length of the routes that the trucks may move in order to get food distributed. The longer the routes are, the more risk there is of diversion.
I might also add that there are now 4,000 donkeys on the way from Tajikistan, a huge convoy -- difficult to miss, I have to tell you. (Laughter.) There's a large manure trail that tells us where they are -- to move supplies into the mountain areas where they are impassable, even in good weather, we during the Afghan civil war, did a humanitarian aid program, and at one point, there was 15,000 mules that we were using. That was a long time ago, though.
And the third thing we're doing is very important; it is modernization. People die in famines because their family income collapses; at the same time, there's a huge increase in food prices. That's classic famine economics. And we do the aid distribution free or through food-for-work for the poorest people in society. But for those in the middle class, and there is still an Afghan middle class, who have assets, we want to get the prices of food down to a normal level and get the markets full of food so we don't have people who have money unable to buy it because the prices are so astronomical.
And, most importantly, the merchants who move that food have their own private security forces. So we sell them the food in the neighboring country; they move it in with their own security. It is very dangerous for Taliban to interfere with commercial Afghan traders. They have their own protection systems, and we want to use those systems to move food into areas that might be insecure otherwise.
QUESTION: Have you made any contact with the Taliban Government to assure that they will not attack aircraft that cross into Afghan airspace attempting to drop food?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: We are not talking to the Afghan -- to the Taliban.
QUESTION: So how can you -- how can you supply all of this relief without contacting the Afghan Government, the existing Taliban Government?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: It was a civil war before September 11th. There has been a civil war going on for a very long time. So the argument that there is a government is an exaggeration. There are parts of the country the Taliban controls. There is a part of the country no one controls. There is a part of the country that is controlled by the Northern Alliance. So I think it is an exaggeration to call the Taliban a government.
We already know from work that we have been doing for the last three years, that Afghans -- the Taliban in their areas of control have arrested relief workers, put them on trial. They have interfered with the relief efforts. Anybody who has worked in Afghanistan can tell you the stories. So we already had trouble with them before. And we were able, in the middle of a civil war, with a very difficult political movement, to run a relief program that saved hundreds of thousands of lives. And we expect to be able to do that in the future.
QUESTION: Two questions. One, do you plan working at all with the Northern Alliance in terms of distribution of the food? And will there be any American AID workers on the ground in Afghanistan?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Well, first in terms of we will be working in all areas of Afghanistan where there are severe nutritional problems. And there are severe nutritional problems in the Northern Alliance area. But we are not going to be working through any military forces in the civil war to distribute food. We don't do that anywhere.
We will be doing it through NGOs, through the World Food Program. UNICEF will do the supplemental feeding that they normally do, and the international committee of the Red Cross. That is who we move through, with their own presence in the field.
I might also add, many of these NGOs and UN agencies have been there for 20 or 30 years. They have some exceptionally gifted and very dedicated Afghan staff, doctors, food experts, agronomists, who have advanced degrees, who are very capable. I have been -- some of the NGOs have told me their best workers in the world in any relief effort anywhere are in Afghanistan, who are Afghans themselves, know how to do this and are trustworthy and people of integrity in their programs.
QUESTION: If I can follow up, though, didn't -- most of the aid workers have been evacuated.
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Not Afghan aid workers.
QUESTION: Not Afghan --
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: They are still in the country.
QUESTION: You are going to be using only Afghan aid workers?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: No. It depends on the area we're in. And I also go back to the whole notion of modernization, which is -- we always see aid only in terms of food distributions to the poorest people, and that is not the only way you fight a famine.
QUESTION: Have you had or do you plan to have any contacts with the Government of Iran, in terms of putting food on the border or sending in a DART team or anything like that?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: We have had contact through the United Nations, through Catherine Bertini; I've spoken with her several times about this. And we have given her the green light.
We will be moving food from all the borders of Afghanistan with neighboring countries for the reasons that I mentioned earlier. It reduces the incidence of diversion and the risk to the food shipments. And the Iranian Government has a large interest in not having large refugee flows across the border.
To the extent that we can move food through their country, or any of the other neighboring countries, into the villages themselves, it's in their interest for us to do it, so they facilitate. The Iranis are very enthused about this. They have been contacted by WFP. Iran said absolutely; use us. We have moved food through Iran before, up into the Central Asian Republics, but not into the country before. This is the first time we've done that. And we have agreed to that, and we're going to do that.
QUESTION: How about a USAID team in Iran?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Well, not that I know of, Warren, unless you know something I don't know.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRECZKO: Can I just add one thing on that? And that is that this weekend, in Geneva, the UN is hosting a meeting. They are calling an Afghan refugee forum, that will include the primary donors of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, and clearly that includes us. And they have invited Iran and Pakistan to that meeting.
So this will be an opportunity -- in a multilateral setting -- for us to convey that we do want to be supportive in the event that there are refugee flows to either Pakistan or Iran.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the issue of -- if the pipeline -- the start of the pipeline in neighboring countries, what transactions do you see going on there? Are you going to have traders arriving with donkeys ready to take food in? Are you selling to them? Are you giving to them?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: We're doing all of those things. Let me tell you the problem here. Twelve million people of the 23 million are affected by the drought, because of its length and severity. And repeated crop failures -- many families had 300 or 400 goats or sheep; they have four or five left, and they are emaciated.
So herders are at risk, sedentary farmers are at risk, displaced people who are away from their villages are severely at risk. And we need to increase the volume of food total, whether it's from commercial sources, whether we work with commercial shippers, or whether they get their food privately, through all of the aid agencies, whether they be UN, NGO, or ICRC.
And the reason for that is, we've been getting about 20,000 to 30,000 tons of food a month into the country prior to September. I don't know what the statistics are for September yet. We need to get in about 50,000 a month. So we need to more than double -- just about double what we've been getting in. The only way to do that is to turn every spigot on that's available, and some of them are -- such as the commercial one -- is a way of which we can avoid having the food diverted, which is an added benefit, but it also reduces the number of people who have to get free food distributions or food for work.
QUESTION: I have a question. And that was the first part of my question. But even what you explain doesn't quite clarify for me. If you are mandating that some people will get free food, some people will get food for work, if you're just selling to traders and they are not the Afghan aid workers going in, how are you going to be able to know if that's how the food ends up?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Well, we have to monitor it. We will have people who are expert in monitoring food prices at all the markets. These are mainly markets in the cities. We are not going to do commercial distributions of food in a village of 10,000 people. I mean, there isn't much of a market in most of those villages. Because they are agricultural areas to begin with.
The areas we are moving this food into are the large cities, and four or five of the large cities are severely at risk now. They have large populations, and there has been a disruption of commercial markets for some time now, that even precedes September 11th, because of the civil conflict.
QUESTION: Again, you're talking about using Afghan -- trusted Afghan colleagues in this --
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Some of them have already been trained, and they have been monitoring this already. You see that, the difference is, when you monitor food prices, it's very easy. All you do is you go into the market and you say, how much is this? They don't know who you are.
If you are an aid worker and you are monitoring food distributions, they know you're monitoring it because you're standing there watching the distributions take place. Everybody goes into markets and asks about food prices if they want to buy something. So it is very easy for us to send people in to check food prices without any risk to them or anyone else, because it's a normal part of the business of how markets work.
QUESTION: But that's only part of what you said you were planning to do, and that is to give free food as well, or food for work. How do you do that?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: You do the free food for work through the aid organizations.
QUESTION: That still have people in side?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: That's correct.
QUESTION: And one last question. Did you ever find out --
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Many of them tell us -- you know, we're assuming the Taliban has -- that it's a government. It's not a government, all right? They don't have civil administrators all over the country in a hierarchical sense where you go to them. They exist in some areas and in other areas they don't exist. And they move around, okay? And they have control in some areas and no control in other areas. I mean, that's the reality of the situation. And so the NGOs tell us and the UN, in many areas, there has been no disruption of the relief effort at all.
QUESTION: Can you be specific about how much wheat, for example, the USDA will be providing and how much might be purchased through Pakistan or possibly Iran and other countries?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: We are now --
QUESTION: And -- sorry. Finally, one other question. Senator Biden yesterday called for the US to begin a large international fund. And I believe he suggested the US come forward with $1 billion. Can you respond to that?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: That is for the President to decide and the Secretary of State, not for us. I don't want to speak for you, Allen, or you, Paula. But that is a decision that will be made in the White House and by the Secretary.
The first question again?
QUESTION: How much wheat will be from the US, from Pakistan and other countries?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: We expect the budget that we've presented that the President announced -- he, by the way, announced the most aggressive option. And, by the way, he is the one who initiated this, the week before last. We didn't initiate this; he did. We were asked to give options and we all gave options and he chose the things that he wanted to do. And apparently, from what I am told, he is the one that ordered this whole thing to be started in the first place.
So what did you --
QUESTION: With regard to the wheat, how many thousands of tons --
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Yes. The amount of tonnage, total, is between 300,000 and 400,000 tons that we will be purchasing. The reason we don't know the exact amount is wheat costs more than corn, and rice costs more than wheat, and lentils cost more than wheat. And we have to put vegetable oil -- you have to have a balanced diet. You don't just send in wheat. Ten percent of the food they get has to be a lentil or a bean for protein. And then three percent has to be some sort of vegetable oil for the amino acids that allow people to digest the food and then process it in their systems. There has to be oil, proteins and a starch. You have to have all of those things.
And how -- prices change from week to week. So I can't tell you the precise amount. But it's between 300,000 and 400,000 tons that we will be purchasing over the next fiscal year, this current fiscal year, in order to deal with the famine.
QUESTION: From the US, from Pakistan? Which countries?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Most of it will be from the US, but there may be emergency requirements that will require local purchase. However, I have to tell you, we have large amounts of food already on the way. There are 45,000 tons of US food in Pakistan right now, controlled by the WFP. 65,000 tons were purchased three weeks ago and are on the high seas in the Pacific. And 100,000 tons were purchased a week ago Thursday and -- I'm sorry, a week ago today, and those will be on the high seas very shortly. So there is a food pipeline of considerable size, more than 200,000 tons, that is already moving through the system.
QUESTION: Talking about aggressive options, have you decided to do air drops, which are --
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: No, we haven't decided. We have considered every option, Jane. Any option to increase the pipeline to 50,000 tons is being considered, and one of them is air drops, but no decisions have been made.
QUESTION: When will that decision be made?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: It's not made by me. It's our --
QUESTION: And if you do do it, don't you -- what kind of value do you get out of this, since the air drops are kind of notoriously unreliable for getting food?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: When the decision is made, we will explain to you exactly how it's being done and that sort of thing. But not at this point. Because I don't know the configuration of it. WFP has talked about an airlift from their own resources on their own.
QUESTION: Obviously, your first goal is to feed the people. But when you talk about food for work, can you talk about what some of these jobs are? Do they fit into any plans? I know there's a lot of talk of reconstruction of the country --
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: That's correct.
QUESTION: And it seems as if, in addition to feeding the people, you're trying to create a better life for the Afghans, as you say.
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: That's correct.
QUESTION: And how does this fit into the Bush Administration's promise that it will support a peaceful Afghanistan in the future?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Well, the first thing is, there's been a lot of literature in the 1980s written by Mary Anderson and Peter Woodrow, a book called Rising from the Ashes; Fred Cuney -- some of you may remember Fred, who was murdered in Chechnya -- wrote a book called Disasters and Development. There is a connection between humanitarian relief operations, when they're run properly, and long-term development.
You can initiate -- we call it developmental relief -- development programs in the middle of a civil war and a famine. And that's what we're proposing to do. It is the most innovative of the proposals. The NGOs are fully in favor of this, and what we will do in villages is we will go to the village elders and say, what is the project this village needs? Is it the reconstruction of a school, is it the water system that needs to be -- a new well that needs to be dug, or the irrigation system is in disrepair and you can't feed your crops from the river system nearby. Whatever the project is that they decide on is the food-for-projects that we will undertake. We call it a program -- not just food for work, but an improvement in family assets. The idea is to take people who are completely destitute and give them some more wealth, through the community. And then that way, we will, through the famine relief effort, begin the reconstruction of the country, which has been postponed for too long.
QUESTION: Yes. Clearly your first aim is to feed people, but is there another political aim here to -- particularly with the vast quantities of money and aid you're putting in -- are you trying to undermine the authority of the Taliban in some way?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: The first thing is, the aid program prior to September 11th was the largest humanitarian relief program in the world -- for the United States. I'm not talking about other donors. But we were giving the bulk -- 80 percent of the food that went in last year to Afghanistan came from the United States Government.
So the program was there in place. We are simply increasing it because there is a famine. Now, whether or not the Afghan people will make their own judgment about the program is something I am going to have to leave to them. I do not presume to know how they will react.
I do know that the Taliban is remarkably unpopular in Afghanistan, and the aid workers will tell you that. And the Afghans will tell you that. And the message from this program, which is the second -- I mean, it's a secondary effect, but it's certainly not a bad message -- is that the American people are not the enemies of the Afghan people. We regard the Afghan people as our friends. They don't like this any more than we do, and this aid program has been for years a tangible evidence of the concern of the American people for the welfare of the Afghan people.
QUESTION: Yes, have any safeguards been put in place, because we understand from the United Nations two or three weeks ago, that other food shipments were actually taken by the Taliban?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: There was a report that I checked on, because we sent a disaster assistance response -- the US Government sent a disaster assistance response team to Pakistan in June. And we have had people there monitoring the situation. There was a report that the Taliban had looted 1,400 metric tons of food. That is not accurate. They did not. The food is still there, and Afghans were sent in to check it; it is still sitting there.
So there were -- there are lots of rumors going around. We need to be a little careful with the rumors. We do not have evidence of widespread looting of the few stocks that were in-country. And we intend to keep the stocks very low inside the country, and do it outside so that we avoid that possibility in the future.
QUESTION: With the exception of security or mercenary forces hired by outside food merchants coming into Afghanistan, how do you plan to secure the aid workers that will be actually on the ground distributing?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Well, I'm going to just repeat this again. We've been in a civil war since 1979. Aid workers have a way, through their NGOs, through their networks, through their connections with village elders and the hierarchy of the religious institutions -- I mean the local religious institutions, not the Taliban -- in making friends so that they get the protection of the community. In many villages, the best protection we have is not -- even if we could have security forces, we don't want them. When I say "we", I mean people in the aid community. Because the best support we have is the program itself. People will go into revolt if they know that people are attacking the relief program that's keeping them alive.
So the best friends we have to provide security are the Afghans themselves, who know that if we start having diversions and looting, we can't run the program.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, in all due respect, but prior to September 11, the Taliban made a number of attempts to try to reach out to the American Government, and now they are acting as if we have pretty much declared war on them. Plus, the President has told us there are many terrorist training camps on the ground there. It's clearly a dangerous place. Do you have any tangible plans, besides just counting on the good will of the Afghan people?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: It's not good will; it is the natural instinct of communities to protect the people who are feeding them. And that's not good will, and it's not being na´ve; that's the way it works. And Afghan merchants have their own ways of protecting their shipments. So we've done this before.
If this were new and this were an experiment, I think your argument would be well taken. But I have to tell you, we've done this in a lot of places -- and actually places more dangerous than this, where there is more chaos going on -- successfully. I think we have learned a lot since what happened in Somalia 10 years ago. We have studied it, we know the mistakes we made, and NGOs and the UN system and the ICRC are making fewer mistakes because we learned our lesson.
QUESTION: How are you going to get the message out to the Afghan people that this aid is coming in and that they should be aware of it? We've heard of some pamphlets and things of that nature that you might drop.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRECZKO: I don't know anything about pamphlets being dropped. But I think we will try to publicize the fact of this effort. And I think it is clear to Afghan people, either in refugee camps or inside Afghanistan, I mean, they see that the assistance is coming to them from the UN system, from the NGOs. Those are primarily Western NGOs. So they know that the assistance is coming to them from the outside and that the Taliban has not been able to meet their needs.
QUESTION: One thing you were saying is that -- I believe it was you -- that 50 percent of the people die sometimes on their way to trying to find food. So how do you get the message to them not to leave their villages or their cities or whatnot, and wait because the aid is coming?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: In fact, there is a VOA broadcast system, BBC does broadcasts in both Pashtu and Dari, which are the two principal languages in Afghanistan. And there is also an Afghan information system. They do a newspaper that is distributed in the large cities that is in Pakistan. We have been in contact with those people about publicizing exactly what you just mentioned. There is actually a strategy we are developing for public information on exactly what you are mentioning. But there are already established ways of doing that.
QUESTION: Andrew, you are saying that the purpose of the aid is that people would realize that the American people are not the enemies of the Afghan people. But you said that the United States has already been providing 80 percent of the aid. And, in spite of that, they are housing terrorists that apparently attacked the United States. What will be the benefit of this aid to the United States? And, in fact, if American troops have to go into Afghanistan to seek out terrorists, won't they be facing Taliban soldiers beefed up on American aid?
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: In the first place, any person who has been through a famine knows, in a chaotic situation or whether there is a government, that people with guns always eat, whether there is aid or not. And it doesn't require genius to know that, you know, if you're hungry and you're starving, whether you're a soldier or a policeman or you're a common person, if you've got a gun, you eat. So the Taliban is going to eat one way or the other, whether we're there or whether we're not there.
Two, their army is not very big, and the amount of tonnage required to feed an army of the size that I have seen in the newspapers is very small. It is tiny in comparison to how much need there is in the country to feed the entire population.
So I really think that is a bogus sort of a charge or an argument. If you had an army of a million people, and some countries do, it's different. Their army is very small.
The second thing is, you said the purpose of this -- the purpose of this is to stop the death rate, is to stop the famine. It has a side effect of sending a message to the Afghan people, which is one reason why the Taliban does not have much support. If you read Rashid's book -- Ahmed Rashid's book, The Taliban, an excellent book -- he argues, the Taliban believe -- he says it, and I don't remember the page number, but I'll get it for you if you want it -- he says the Taliban says they have no duty to provide public services, particularly food. It's not their problem; it's Allah's problem. I mean, and they -- so they have washed their hands, which I might add violates principles of Islam, where almsgiving is a central principle.
So this is really not consistent with Afghan tradition or Islamic tradition in Afghanistan. People, when they're hungry, there's a requirement in Islam to feed them. They are not doing that. Bin Laden has done nothing in the famine. I asked last summer, where is bin Laden with all this -- this is before the event. If he really cares about these people so much, why isn't he running -- claiming that he represents pure Islam; he does not -- a program to feed starving people. He's not doing it. There is no program by bin Laden, and there's no program by the Taliban. We're the program. And the Afghan people know that. The relief workers you talk to will all tell you that.
The only reason that the Taliban is still there is they have guns. And they shoot people. I mean, you don't -- if you read Rashid's book, you'll see what the atrocities that have been committed over the last decade.
QUESTION: Thank you.
ADMINISTRATOR NATSIOS: Thank you.