'Banditry' threatens future of aid projects

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The terrorist attacks on America may have helped to avert a humanitarian catastrophe that would otherwise have gone unnoticed by the world, MPs said yesterday.

Members of the cross-party International Development Committee said that the war against al-Qa'ida and the Taliban had broken the "deafening silence" over the worst drought in Afghanistan for 30 years. Tony Baldry, the Conservative chairman of the committee, said: "Afghanistan had the potential for a humanitarian catastrophe of huge proportions before 11 September and the media and other people were not in the least bit interested."

The Labour MP Tony Colman added: "If 11 September did not happen, we could have had many millions of people dying because the world community would not have responded in the way it did."

The committee urged the Government to increase its spending on aid to 0.7 per cent of national income, and to ensure that pledges of support were converted into hard cash. It also called for urgent efforts to ensure security in Afghan-istan so that humanitarian relief could penetrate the "banditry and lawlessness" there.

The MPs said poverty and deprivation were helping to breed political and religious fundamentalism. Mr Baldry said 31 countries were now classed as being in a state of emergency. He said: "Afghan-istan is a failed state and we have to ensure other failing states do not simply disappear into the black hole like Afghanistan did."

Mr Baldry also described American air drops of food packages including peanut butter as "daft", because they often landed in areas full of land mines and other ordnance.