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A drop in the bucket

Editor’s note: This is Ellen Ratner’s debut commentary for WorldNetDaily. You can find her column here each Friday exclusively on WorldNetDaily. Reporter Gareth Schweitzer contributed to this column.

Americans should rightly be proud of recent American relief efforts in Afghanistan. Yet magazine images of Afghans gathering food dropped from American planes should make each of us desire that our nation act with even more compassion. Even before Sept. 11, the United States was the largest donor of food to the Afghan people. Unfortunately, food drops and blankets provided by the United States government cannot cover up the brutal fact that hundreds of thousands of Afghans face immediate starvation. Without a brief cessation of the bombing and military attacks, it may be impossible to rectify an impending human tragedy.

The U.N. World Food Program estimates that as many as 7.5 million people may be facing severe hunger if food is not delivered to them by the start of winter. Reports from Oxfam this week state that there may be as many as 400,000 people in the central region of Afghanistan existing solely on roots and berries. This nation with virtually no infrastructure presents massive difficulties to aid workers attempting to bring food in by land – since all international personnel left the country on Sept. 12, widespread lawlessness and a shortage of trucks, equipment and personnel have handicapped relief efforts. Disorganization on the ground due to military strikes and fleeing civilians has further complicated the relief efforts aimed at millions of internally displaced Afghans.

Current U.S. aid drops cannot begin to deliver the estimated 55,000 tons of food per month needed to avert a crisis. According to Roger Normand, executive director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights, the food drops constitute “a drop in the bucket.” While any supplies that reach a hungry Afghan undoubtedly constitute a success, Abby Spring of the U.N. World Food Program notes, “There is no question that air drops are not the most effective means to reach hungry people. Historically, the use of air drops is a last resort method.” Airdrops are both costly and difficult to target. Even if the Taliban does not get to the food first, there are no ground personnel to ensure that the neediest people receive food.

There is no question that the United States and its allies are pursuing a just course to rid the world of a regime that oppresses women in unspeakable ways, harbors terrorists and provides them training camps. However, if the United States wants to dispel accusations that the food drops are mere propaganda, it should utilize every possible means in the next month to prevent this impending disaster.

With approximately three weeks until winter arrives, there is a narrow window of opportunity to get food to needy Afghans. According to Jim Jennings, president of Conscience International, convoys are being seized and outrageous tolls are being charged for the drivers of relief trucks. Jennings believes that security is totally inadequate. Why is the United States not then asking the international community to support efforts to provide security to aid personnel so that food can get through? Food aid by land is the most effective means of providing relief – if adequate security can be maintained. Rear Admiral Stephen Baker, a fellow at the Center for Defense information, noted the continued hesitancy towards putting troops on the ground. He added, however, that “close air support for the convoys” could be a possibility.

Mirroring a popular sentiment that American lives are more important, radio talk-show host Marc Bernier said, “Why don’t the people of Afghanistan get out of the way? War is hell.” Continuing to blame the victim, Bernier added, “The people of Afghanistan let this happen to them. They acted like sheep being led to the slaughter.” We must be careful not to blame the Afghan people even as we preach that they are not the enemy. We must demonstrate to the international community that we believe Afghan lives are as valuable as American ones. We must do whatever it takes to stop terrorism at home without perpetrating unspeakable tragedies in Afghanistan.

If saving lives means we must briefly cease bombing, or even negotiate with the Taliban to get food into the country, we should do so. If we let the rhetoric of “no negotiations” dominate, we will fail to prevent a calamitous humanitarian tragedy of a scope beyond what most Americans can even conceive. The question is not if the United States has noble goals, but whether we are going to cause unimaginable human misery in pursuit of anti-terrorist ends.