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America Strikes Back: Doctors Without Borders Help With Afghan Refugee Crisis

Aired October 17, 2001 - 05:44   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: A French group of doctors is pitching into the refugee relief efforts.

Tim Pitt is head of the Doctors Without Borders mission to Pakistan. He joins us now live from Islamabad -- hello, Tim.

TIM PITT, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: Hello.

PHILLIPS: A question for you: The U.S. food drops, on behalf of the military -- we've been covering this quite a bit, specifically the C-17s from the Air Force going in there. Do you think that these drops are sufficient enough?

PITT: Well, we would regard that the food drops by the military are an ineffective way of delivering food. You really need to have a professional team on the ground that can receive the aid. It needs to be distributed in a proper way.

We have great concerns for these kinds of air drops in Afghanistan, because it's one of the most heavily landmined countries in the world, and we don't really know where they're landing. It could be on rooftops. It could be in landmine fields. I think only the people that run the fastest, rather than the needier, are really getting them.

PHILLIPS: Well, the pilots of these aircraft have perfected these drops through GPS systems and special navigation systems. Don't you agree that this is better than nothing?

PITT: Well, humanitarian assistance is contingent upon being neutral, independent and impartial. The assistance -- it really has to be delivered in that way. And what we're calling for, to both sides, the Taliban and the coalition, is that they afford an opportunity for humanitarian agencies to get in and provide assistance, not only food, but medical, shelter. We've got winter coming, and it's a rather grave situation as it stands right now.

PHILLIPS: What about access? Don't humanitarian groups, like yourself, have a harder time getting in there? Military, obviously, can go in and quickly drop and get out.

PITT: Yes, that's right. Access is one of the biggest questions right now. We have our expatriates in the country surrounding Afghanistan, and we're not able to get in right now. It's too insecure with the fighting that's going on, and it's a problem that -- this is why we're calling for both sides of the conflict to afford the opportunity, to afford the space, so that humanitarian assistance can get in and deliver it to those that are the most needy.

PHILLIPS: So what is it that you have -- your organization specifically, and how are you trying to gain access? And when do you think you will be able to?

PITT: Well, we have doctors and nurses, logisticians. We have medical stocks, water and sanitation equipment all in the surrounding countries -- Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, and we're ready to go in.

We've been trying to keep our national staffs working in the places around Afghanistan. They've been doing the best that they can in this very trying circumstance, but with the growing insecurity, especially over the last days, has become increasingly more difficult for those programs to continue.

PHILLIPS: And for the programs that have gotten in -- for the people that have gotten in, in addition to the food drops from the military, are you finding that the people are having to fight over this food?

PITT: We don't have any information about people precisely fighting over the food, but we do know that after 22 years of war, after three years of drought, that the people have been fleeing the urban areas and going into their home villages to try and find some safety.

And it's in those places, after all of this time of war, that their coping mechanisms are already below zero. They need to have -- we as humanitarian agencies need to have the access, so that we can get in there and provide that assistance for them.

PHILLIPS: What are the conditions in the refugee camps right now, Tim? What have you witnessed?

PITT: Well, in some of the refugee camps that are in Pakistan, the conditions are quite tough. But really, these refugees that are here in Pakistan are refugees from the past number of years. They are not fresh refugees, shall we say, from the last month. And this is because the border has been closed, and the displaced people -- the people that are fleeing these urban areas in Afghanistan, they have not been permitted to come into Pakistan.

The problem is that while we have these doctors and nurses and all of this medical stock that's ready to go, we don't have site locations that have been identified and that are ready to receive refugees, if they do outflow from Afghanistan into Pakistan. The sites that have been identified have not measured up in terms of access, in terms of security. They are in insecure areas themselves, and also there is very poor water supply.

So if refugees were to come tomorrow, we would not be ready in terms of sites, in terms of stocks. And people are ready, but sites -- we're still in a rough spot.

PHILLIPS: When you talk about the sites and the lack of information, what's happening here? Why is it that there is this confusion?

PITT: Well, yes, it is a bit confusing. It's a rather complex situation. There seems to be a lot of agendas at play, but what we're calling for, as MSF staff, is that both sides of the conflict, the Taliban and the coalition, have to have some respect for proper, neutral, independent humanitarian assistance.

There's not really an alien subject -- or sorry -- (AUDIO GAP) ships have special status in war as compared to a destroyer. And so it's with this kind of thought in mind, and also with the idea of the Geneva conventions, that we're looking for the access to the populations that most need it. And the situation is grave with the winter coming just around the corner.

PHILLIPS: Yes, conditions will get tougher. Tim Pitt, head of Doctors Without Borders. We salute your efforts. I hope that you can make a bigger impact -- thanks for being with us.

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