United Nations
Secretary General Kofi Annan
Press Conference
September 27, 2001

The Secretary-General: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I am here with you today to discuss the desperate plight of the civilian Afghan population, and to let you know that the United Nations is taking it very seriously, and to share with you what the United Nations system and its humanitarian partners are doing about it.

Let me start by repeating what I said two days ago: innocent civilians should not be punished for the actions of their government. The world is united against terrorism. Let it be equally united in protecting and assisting the victims of emergencies and disasters.

That applies to the crisis that we already have in Afghanistan, which is very serious. But we also have to be ready 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.

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.

For all those purposes, I am today launching an Alert to Donors, which is intended to cover the projected needs of up to 7.5 million Afghan civilians over the next six months, both within Afghanistan and in neighbouring countries.

After careful calculation by the different humanitarian branches of the United Nations family, we estimate that that will cost some $584 million.

That figure reflects a potential increase of nearly 50 per cent -- from over 5 million to 7.5 million -- in the number of people relying on foreign aid for their survival.

It also implies a substantial increase in the number of internally displaced people, as well as a potential massive outflow of refugees crossing the border into neighbouring countries.

Meanwhile, we are also adjusting our management structures in the field, so that we can handle this crisis in all its broad regional implications.

Some of you may already know that Kenzo Oshima, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, is in Berlin today to explain this to donor governments at an emergency meeting of the Afghan Support Group. From there, I have asked him to go to Pakistan and Iran, to review the state of preparedness of the all the United Nations services on the spot, and to consult with the Governments of those countries.

Let me now try to answer your questions -- but please confine them to the humanitarian issue that we are discussing.

Question: Regarding your report, you mentioned the possibility of military action and giving aid during such a situation. You are also, perhaps, to be in touch with the Northern Alliance, the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan and the United States. Have you already started that job?

The Secretary-General: We have been in touch with all governments concerned during this and also the neighbouring governments. We have been making our preparations and trying to adjust and adapt as best as we can to be able to assist the people in those areas where we can get in food. In the north-west and north-east, some food is getting in. But for many other parts of the country, we do not have access or security for our staff. Of course, as you know, most of our staff have had to leave for security reasons. If it becomes necessary at some stage, if it is deemed to be technically feasible, we may have to consider air drops, as well.

Question: The United States announced that it will launch a huge campaign against terrorism. Do you have an emergency plan for humanitarian aid to countries other than Afghanistan?

The Secretary-General: We do have a presence -– we have a regional arrangement -– in all the countries bordering Afghanistan. Our approach is a regional one. We have a regional coordinator. We would want to be able to assist the Afghan refugees who go across the border, as I have indicated, and also those who are internally displaced. So our approach is a regional one.

Question: What if the United States attacks another country, not only Afghanistan?

The Secretary-General: That is speculation, and I really do not want to be drawn into speculation.

Question: You asked that all questions concentrate on the humanitarian aspect. Does that you mean that you have lost hope or do you continue to hope for a political resolution to this conflict? Have you yourself tried to defuse such a confrontation, as you have been able to do in previous circumstances, thanks to your abilities?

The Secretary-General: Let me, perhaps, clarify my statement. When I said we should focus on the humanitarian issue, I was not implying anything, and I hope you do not read anything into it. Basically, I came here to share with you a difficult humanitarian situation and the appeal we were making for $584 million -– the Alert to Donors. What I did not want was discussions on other issues and other aspects that might crowd out the humanitarian emergency that we are dealing with. It was only for that reason that I wanted us to focus on the humanitarian aspects of the crisis. In fact, this morning, I have been in the Security Council, where we discussed this humanitarian situation, and the Council will be discussing a resolution on the other aspects of the problem later on this afternoon. In fact, I think that they are distributing the resolution as I stand here now.

Question: There are a number of Afghani small children or old people living close to the Taliban. They are really opposed to the Taliban. If there is a problem -- if they are attacked -- will it be possible for the United Nations to get to these people, give them some support and help them get out of such a crisis?

The Secretary-General: Again, obviously I do not know what action is going to be taken. It will have civilian casualties, which is possible if there were to be such an action. The United Nations, as I have indicated, from the humanitarian point of view, is getting ready and we are doing whatever we can to assist the Afghan population within Afghanistan and outside Afghanistan. I think that, at that stage, that is as far as I would want to go.

Question (interpretation from French): The United States has requested Pakistan to close its border. I would like to know whether the borders truly have been closed, or can refugees get through?

The Secretary-General (interpretation from French): In fact, some time ago, the Pakistani and Iranian Governments had said that they had closed the borders. I personally, and Mr. Lubbers, the High Commissioner for Refugees, talked with them and asked them to enable Afghan refugees to go back home, even if provisionally, and later on, when the situation is calm, they could be helped to get home. We are trying to talk with those two countries on that basis. I hope that we will be successful. So far, it is estimated that there are 20,000 refugees who have already gone to Pakistan.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, I hope that I have not missed your answer in regard to humanitarian assistance. This assistance is primarily directed to the refugees, to Pakistan or to other countries. How about the people who are old, and children, women and pregnant women, and so on, who cannot cross the border? Do you have any plan for them? Have you or your representative made contact with the Taliban in regard to assistance to the people in Afghanistan?

The Secretary-General: I think regarding that group who fall within the internally displaced and the needy within Afghanistan. This is where I indicated the figure of 7.5 million people, and that would be the number of Afghan people who will be relying on foreign aid for their daily subsistence and survival. We have very extensive humanitarian assistance within Afghanistan. We had it even before this conflict reached a boiling point. We are going to continue that assistance once the security situation and access permits.

We did have some supplies in the country. I think it was about two to three weeks of food supplies that we have in the country, and hopefully we will be able to get additional supplies in. I would perhaps ask Carolyn [McAskie] to explain. We have been trying to get trucks to get in additional supplies, but trucks are not easy to come by. Not many people want to go into that situation. Would you want to say a word about it?

Ms. McAskie: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. The cross-border supply into Afghanistan is, as you point out, a very significant part of the problem we are trying to deal with. As the Secretary-General said, we are using a total number of about 7.5 million, of which 1.5 million would potentially be new refugees. But the other 6 million that are covered by the Donors Alert are, in fact, the people in the country, many of whom we are already trying to assist.

The World Food Programme is still active, along with NGOs, in the northern areas covered by the Northern Alliance, and we have been able to get some food across. But even Uzbekistan is not willing to open its borders; even Tajikistan is anxious not to do so, and the trucks that are available, as the Secretary-General said, are being used for people trying to flee the country. Fuel supplies are getting shorter and shorter. Drivers are among the displaced. Trucks from outside do not want to go in, so there is a whole myriad of problems that are halting the efforts.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, how do you intend to ensure the security of humanitarian aid workers who are responding to this? You have the Taliban, which has already moved against or threatened local national United Nations workers. It is no secret that the Bin Laden network does not consider the United Nations a friend. Is there some concern that aid workers are going to be the front line in this new war on terrorism and, in fact, are going to become targeted by either the Taliban or the Bin Laden network?

The Secretary-General: I think you have put your finger on one of our major difficulties. As you all know, we have pulled out most of our humanitarian workers and, in fact, we are talking about getting in supplies, but we would also need to get in the humanitarian workers. I mean, for a while we used our Afghan national workers, and they have done a remarkable work. They have been very courageous, with great risk to themselves, and I should pay tribute to them. But even they have found it difficult to continue their work.

Obviously, we would hope to see some dynamic change in the situation that will allow us to be able to return and continue our work. We have lost many humanitarian workers over the last year or so, and we are not going to be reckless with the staff.

Question: On more or less the same aspect, are there new demands or requests by the Taliban Government regarding the procedure -- the fulfilment of the new aid package? We know that in the past it often led to interruptions of the whole process.

The Secretary-General: I think one of the difficulties we have had is that we have had to close down all our communications. I think we have communications with only one town -– Herat -– in Afghanistan. We do not know the condition of the equipment, telecommunications and other logistical items that we left behind. We know that about 1.2 to 1.5 thousand tons of food we had left there are gone ... taken away. We have had to leave quite a lot of equipment behind worth several million dollars. So we will need to re-establish our communications. We will need to get our staff in. We will need to be certain of access and security to be able to operate effectively.

Question: I am not sure whether you explained it, but yesterday the United Nations [estimate] was at first something like 252 [million dollars] or 253. Now it is 584. I was just wondering, was yesterday’s a massive underestimate, or could you explain?

The Secretary-General: I think the figure you got yesterday was for the High Commissioner for Refugees only; it was for one agency. But the figure you have now includes food aid of $188 million. So let us start with the UNHCR figure you used. They announced their requirements yesterday, which was $273 million. The figure I have given you includes that plus $188 million food aid and $37 million non-food aid, including shelter, $20 million for health, $9 million for water and sanitation, and $14 million for coordination, including security.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, besides the humanitarian help, do you think that the United Nations can form or establish a special task force for terrorism?

The Secretary-General: I think you are going beyond humanitarian. I think we can take that up another time. But I think both the [Security] Council and the Assembly are working on the United Nations response, and you will see something shortly from the Council.

Question: Has the regional humanitarian coordinator been named yet, and where would that person be based? Also, is this a reflection of concern that this crisis -- the humanitarian crisis -- is going to destabilize that whole region of Central Asia?

The Secretary-General: There are broad regional dimensions, and I think the refugees will be trying to get to wherever they can. So all the neighbouring countries will have pressures on their borders to varying degrees.

Ms. McAskie: The UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF all appointed senior officers responsible for the region, and after full inter-agency consultations we named the existing on-the-ground coordinator, Mike Sackett, to be the regional coordinator. He will work not only with his usual humanitarian colleagues, but, because of the nature of the regional crisis, with the existing resident coordinators already placed in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Iran.

We have, in fact, moved to put special coordination staff in the offices of the resident coordinators, so they will now all feed into the regional coordination structure operating out of Islamabad.

Question: With regard to possible air drops of food or supplies, how concerned are you that some of that material could end up in the hands of forces that you may not want it to end up in -- for instance, those of the Taliban or others?

The Secretary-General: That is a constant problem for our humanitarian work in this kind of situation. In fact, yesterday in my statement I indicated that those who prevent assistance from getting to the needy will be held accountable. Obviously, if we are going to do that sort of a drop, we will have to make sure, or be reasonably certain, that the bulk of it will get to the needy and will not end up feeding an army on one side or the other. That is something that will have to be studied very carefully to determine feasibility.

Spokesman: Ladies and gentleman, the Secretary-General has to go. Carolyn McAskie, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, can stay on if you have any further questions.

The Secretary-General: We will have another session on non-humanitarian issues I promise you.

Spokesman: Okay, Steve.

Question: The question was about 250 or 260 million yesterday for UNHCR. Obviously, UNHCR that would have included food because they would have to feed the people -- right? So now, the Secretary-General is saying $198 million for food. Is this for different people or more people?

Ms. McAskie: A lot of the food will, in fact, be going to the refugees who are covered by the UNHCR appeal. The agreement between UNHCR and WFP is such that whenever there is a refugee crisis, WFP automatically has an ongoing memorandum of understanding to provide food. So the UNHCR appeal would be for logistics and the physical infrastructure, it would be for staffing, it would be for transportation, for digging the wells for opening the camps, building the tents. If you are talking about 1 million refugees, you're talking about $100 million dollars just for tents. So the $273 million for UNHCR would not have included the food and the $188 million that is now in the appeal for food is food for the whole region.

Question: So it was actually for more all the time -- they were just a bit premature in coming out with the 275?

Ms. McAskie: Well the nature of coordination is such that we live in a faster-moving world, and UNHCR is going into its Executive Committee, and the Standing Committee of the Executive Committee was meeting yesterday and was asking for a figure of what the UNHCR would need from the donors. The High Commissioner felt obliged to provide a figure that the donors could start discussing.

Question: (inaudible)

Ms. McAskie: No, no, no. I'm explaining what happened because I realize there has been a lot of speculation about breaking the ranks or jumping the gun or whatever cliché you want to use, but, in fact, people have to get on with their lives and they are fully in on the appeal.

Question: and the 37 million non-food including shelter which surely would have been in the 275.

Ms. McAskie: Not necessarily because we will also need money for shelter for internally displaced people and the internally displaced would not have been covered in the UNHCR appeal.

Question: Are there any specific plans from UNICEF to support or to help the children inside Afghanistan who are very close to the borders?

Ms. McAskie: If you look at the appeal, it has a breakdown -- not just by sector, but by agency. The UNICEF has a specific appeal and has a specific amount listed in the appeal. The UNICEF is appealing, in fact, for $36 million to assist children. A lot of it is for inside Afghanistan, but a lot of it will also be for working with UNHCR on refugee children as well. But UNICEF is gearing up to do the best it can to continue support within the country through local civil society and local staff -- to try, if possible, to keep the schools going and to try, if possible, to keep the health centres going.

The encouraging news that we have had over the last couple of days -- and all of this is subject to change at any moment because information coming out of Afghanistan is never reliable at present -– is that this massive UNICEF immunization campaign was partially going to be able to go ahead through the efforts of tremendously dedicated local staff and local civil society. So there are still some vaccinations going on, there are still some schools operating and there are still some children being fed. It is very hard to know exactly what is going on centre by centre, district by district.

Question: We heard some news that they caught in Turkey almost 1,000 Afghanis from Iran who were turned back at the border with Turkey.

Ms. McAskie: So these are people who have made their way across Iran, you are saying? Yes. I am not aware of this latest piece of information, but I know UNHCR is very closely involved, so I will pass your question along to them. I'm sorry I do not have a direct answer.

Question: Who are the donor countries for the appeal?

Ms. McAskie: The main donor countries? I did not bring down with me a list of members of the Afghan Support Group, but the Afghan Support Group is constituted of all of the main donors. The United States is a very big supporter. The United Kingdom is a major supporter. The Scandinavian countries, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland are all members. Canada and Japan are members. Switzerland also and France and Germany. Italy also and Spain. The Netherlands -- I cannot leave out the Netherlands. They are very active. And the Government of Germany is currently the chair. The chair rotates on an annual basis, and that is why the meeting is in Berlin. The Afghan Support Group ordinarily meets once or twice a year either in Islamabad or in the donor capital -- or sometimes in and around Geneva; they have met in retreats sometimes. They constantly watch. They sit down with the United Nations agencies and they discuss everything from the end of poppy cultivation and crop substitution to issues related to social services, gender equity, and constant negotiations with the Taliban.

The International Committee of the Red Cross play a very strong role and sits on the Afghan Support Group, as do representatives of non-governmental organizations.