The aid worker

Chris Buckley, 29, heads Christian Aid's operations in Central Asia. He is desperately making plans to try to minimise the imminent humanitarian crisis
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The Independent Online

Watching in stunned silence as the events of 11 September unfolded on the television screen in his Waterloo office, Chris Buckley, Christian Aid's programme officer for Afghanistan and Central Asia, was quite unable to take in the wider implications of what this tragedy meant for the long-term stability of the region in which he works. But within hours, as people were quick to lay the blame on Islamic fundamentalists, Mr Buckley realised it would have extremely serious consequences for Christian Aid's work in the western provinces of Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

In recent days Mr Buckley has felt saturated with world events. He reluctantly looks at newspapers now, comes home late and forces himself to switch on the television in order to pick up the latest news. "I don't have a life any more," he admits. "In the office I've been drawing up contingency plans to respond to these new circumstances, and spending a lot of time talking to or emailing people in Pakistan and surrounding countries as the Taliban have banned outside communication. Much of the work which Christian Aid has painfully built up over the last few years will inevitably be lost. I spend a lot of time thinking of all the people I know out there and feel very sad."

Mr Buckley had only just returned from working in Christian Aid's office in Pakistan when the terrorists launched their devastating attack on America. He will shortly return to the region, to visit Tajikistan and begin implementing an urgently needed seed programme for farmers in an area with 17,000 displaced families. Christian Aid aims to support communities in solving their own problems through working in partnership with local projects. It was for this reason, two years ago, that the charity was asked to register with the Taliban to clarify its aims and reiterate its allegiance to the Red Cross code of conduct, which promises not to further any political or religious positions.

"Before all this, we were scaling up for our third year of drought. Then came the terrorist attacks and within two days we had to evacuate our international staff from our Herat office because the Taliban said they wouldn't be able to guarantee their safety once military action started.

"All the Muslim directors of the development organisations we work in partnership with, who have their headquarters in Pakistan, are as shocked as anyone else about the atrocities; but they are also very concerned about what military action will mean for their work. Herat has come to a standstill, inertia has set in and everyone feels anxious."

Mr Buckley is concerned that efforts being made to set up refugee camps in surrounding countries fail to recognise the horrendous consequences of severely malnourished people leaving their homes and walking hundreds of miles through treacherous terrain. His efforts now are to convince those who supply the food to get it to the people in the country. Without this, millions face starvation.

Mr Buckley had feared that Christian Aid's Afghanistan Appeal, launched last week, might fail to capture people's imagination because of the repulsion felt for Muslim terrorists. "But people are very concerned that innocent Afghans should not suffer for what is happening in America and are responding very generously."

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