Aid Group Returns to Afghanistan

It's important because looting is taking place in most of our offices, both under the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. Some of the supplies and medical supplies have been taken. And some of the clinics and hospitals were running out of supplies. So I think our return is timely. The past 24 hours have been reasonably calm.

We visited hospitals in Mazar-e-Sharif and we assessed the needs. Clearly, there's going to be a need for supplies in the coming days, and we have them on the way.

I think our major concern would be nutrition. There's been three years of drought in the north of Afghanistan and over 20 years of fighting, and people are really reaching the end of their coping mechanisms. Our major concern is the situation in the countryside, which is harder to reach. And this is our objective for the next few days. So I would say food is clearly a priority.

After the U.S. strikes began, a lot of the medical care was provided by Afghan doctors and nurses. But they need foreign assistance in terms of medical supplies, as well as for their salaries to be paid. The Afghans have been able to carry out a lot of MSF's work, in spite of ongoing looting. They really have done a fantastic job.

We’ll Be Back to Pre-Attack Status Soon

We've got experience of working in this kind of area and of having to leave because of security reasons and then coming back very quickly. I think it's going to go very quickly — maybe a week, 10 days, maximum two weeks we'll be up to the level of support we were providing before the strikes began.

The second task will be to see if we can expand our relief sites into areas previously inaccessible due to the civil war. We hope to return to the center of the country, in Hazarajat, for example. We haven't been able to work there for a number of years, and we certainly expect to find major needs there.

Help from Neighboring Countries Crucial

It would certainly be helpful if countries north of Afghanistan — Uzbekistan, Tajikistan — facilitated the humanitarian assistance by opening their borders and streamlining their bureaucratic procedures with visas. It seems ridiculous, but that's what's really slowing down a lot of the aid efforts. It's not so much security. One of the things that took us so long to get here was the bureaucracy and the red tape of many of the countries of Central Asia. It took us more than a two-day drive just to get to Mazar-e-Sharif. If the Uzbek border were open, we could have been here in an hour and a half.

We've been in daily contact with governments of all these neighboring countries in the north to facilitate. And it's still taking a long time to get things done. We're lobbying for greater assistance, but without a huge amount of success for the moment.

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