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[casi] One humanitarian disaster and now another looms

The Herald (Glasgow) February 26, 2003

Afghanistan has been well and truly betrayed

By David Hayman

I have just returned from the last country we went to war with, barely 16
months ago, Afghanistan. I spent a month there taking in medical aid to 13
mountain villages that collectively go by the name of Sheik-Jalaal. Out of a
population of 5000, 50% were children and they were dying. Dying of
tuberculosis, diphtheria, malaria, whooping cough, gastroenteritis, and URI.
They haven't seen a doctor in 24 years! I arranged and paid for teams of
doctors, nurses, and drivers. I bought thousands of pounds worth of
medicines, and the Halo Trust (the mine-clearing organisation) loaned me a
fleet of two ambulances and two Land Rovers.

Over a period of two weeks we medically examined and treated the whole
population. It was mission accomplished and the people and schoolchildren of
Scotland who donated to our "Children of the Rubble" campaign can be very
proud of what those donations achieved.

At the end of the day, though, what I managed to achieve was but a sticking
-plaster on the wounds of that beleaguered and forgotten country. Wasn't
this the country that Tony Blair and George Bush pledged, in the same breath
that announced war, that the people of Afghanistan would not be forgotten?
Well, I can say after two visits to Afghanistan that they are not only
forgotten but well and truly betrayed. The country is on its knees: roads,
bridges, tunnels, schools, homes, hospitals, and farmlands are reduced to
rubble and dust. It is one of the most heavily land-mined countries in the
world. Only 5% of the rural population have access to clean water, 17% have
access to medical services, 13% have access to education, 25% of all
children are dead by the age of five. Life expectancy is 43. An estimated
three million people are still in refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan, let
alone the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced peoples. This
country is in a mess and if anyone tells me that millions of dollars worth
of aid is getting into this country then I will gladly take them to
Afghanistan and point out the brutal truth. The people are dying! And we are
turning a blind eye.

The people are dying and we are heading off to war with yet another country
that hasn't bombed us or attacked us. How can we even contemplate creating
another, inevitable, humanitarian disaster when the evidence of Saddam
Hussein's threat to us all has yet to be proven? Surely, at the start of our
21st century, we should have evolved beyond the point where we reduce a
country and a people to dust, for the flimsiest of excuses. War is the
failure of politics! War is the failure of diplomacy! It is the absence of
wisdom and understanding. The humanitarian crises, the desperation of the
children, the betrayal of a people I witnessed in Afghanistan must not be
repeated. Not in our name, Mr Blair.

David Hayman is head of operations, Spirit Aid, 45 King Street, Glasgow.

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