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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

America's New War: Getting Food To Those Who Need It

Aired October 1, 2001 - 05:30   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.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Last week, Peter, you were telling us that the Taliban seized 1,400 tons of food and supplies. What assures you that the supplies that you're sending into Kabul will in fact reach the people?

PETER KESSLER, UNHCR SPOKESMAN: Well, the food supplies that were locked up last week were literally just locked up. The Taliban put them under lock and key. Talks are going on now to get them out and we hope those will bear some fruition.

But what's very concerning is, of course, the global deteriorating humanitarian situation inside Afghanistan. It's been like that for years. Now the expatriate staff have been evacuated. We're all watching the situation from outside, and what we fear is that people could already begin to move and that would be a process taking two weeks to even four to six weeks to see people fleeing the country simply for want of assistance even before any outbreak of further fighting in addition to the chaotic situation already going on in many parts of that country.

LIN: Peter, when we talk about six million people in dire straights, have you ever seen a refugee crisis like this ever in the history of the UNHCR?

KESSLER: Well we have seen, I'm sorry to say, so many unfortunate crises in places like the Congo that are even going on today right now as we speak that are not getting the attention that Afghanistan finally is but certainly Afghanistan deserves the attention. It was a Cold War playground 20 years ago that people suffered tremendously. At the end of the Soviet presence, the country descended into a morass of civil war. The people have suffered. They're fed up with the political situation. Those authorities in the Northern Alliance and the Taliban are doing nothing virtually for the population. And what we would like to see now is for people to begin to care inside the country as well as outside and to work for a solution.

LIN: Well, are you having any luck, though, with the border countries like Pakistan, like Iran and others in opening up their borders at least to these refugees so that they can get to the refugee camps that you are able to set up?

KESSLER: Well, UNHCR had some very promising talks in Tehran last weekend. We have a good relationship with both the Islamabad government here in Pakistan and in Iran. What the governments are both preparing for massive influxes. In Pakistan right now our teams are in the field checking approximately a hundred sites spread along the border and we're getting good cooperation from the authorities, but what we don't have is water. And if there is any event that spurs a major movement beyond Afghanistan's borders that will be the factor that will make or break a crisis situation. If so many people come in that they overwhelm the existing very meager water supplies, then we'll have a crisis no matter how many tents we have coming off the assembly lines here in Pakistan.

LIN: And the fact of the matter is you really don't know how many people are heading your way, do you?

KESSLER: Well right now getting information out of Afghanistan is very, very difficult. But what we do know is that in the past 10 years some four million Afghans who were refugees went back home. These people went home to a very precarious situation and what we could likely see is many of those people moving outwards again. They know where the exists are, they know how to cross the mountains and what they do know is that life is virtually unbearable inside Afghanistan. If you don't have antibiotic, if you don't have medicine for your children, if you don't have food you will move and those people could become the world's next major refugee crisis.

LIN: All right. Peter Kessler, you've got a big job ahead of you and we wish you luck. Thanks so much for staying in touch and we will check in with you again.

KESSLER: Thank you.

LIN: Peter Kessler of the UNHCR.

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