ACT Critical of Mixing Aid, Bombs: Airdrops by U.S. Termed Ineffective

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Geneva

An international network of church aid agencies criticized humanitarian airdrops linked to U.S.-led military strikes in Afghanistan, saying they compromise other aid efforts in the region.

Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, based here but uniting church-related relief efforts worldwide, called the drops of food packages from military planes "ineffective" and even potentially "dangerous" for the civilian population.

The airdrops were "jeopardizing the credibility of humanitarian aid in the region and were not an effective means of meeting the desperate needs of the people of Afghanistan," said Thor-Arne Prois, director of ACT's co-coordinating office, in a statement.

Mr. Prois said the airdrops violated basic tenets of humanitarian aid, including the need for neutrality and impartiality.

"Simultaneous air strikes and airdrops constitute a total confusion of humanitarian and military actions," he said. Future relief efforts could be delayed or blocked if this confusion led Afghan authorities to question the agencies' neutrality, he pointed out.

Pilots dropping food had no way of ensuring that it reached the needy, said Mr. Prois, who for four years worked in Afghanistan as a representative of Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), one of ACT's member organizations. In addition, people could be injured if they tried to gather food that has fallen on mined fields.

"At best these airdrops are a symbolic gesture," he said.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has reportedly admitted that airdrops are less effective than delivery of aid by land. Rainer Lang, ACT press officer, said that while some people were eating food from the air-dropped packages, others were burning the packages because they thought the food was poisoned. …