Tom Bergmann of the UN, who is UNICEF representative in the Maldives, said in Palma yesterday that “the best thing humanitarian associations can do for the people of Afghanistan is concentrate on the millions of Afghan refugees in neighbouring countries. He added that although he does not know the area at first hand, “UN personnel has been evacuated from the country and only Afghan personnel remain, so that it is very difficult to deal with the population still in Afghanistan, as it would not be a solution to risk more human lives while the bombing continues.” Bergmann, who is a consultant in crisis situations on four continents, co-ordinator of development programmes in Togo, Rwanda, Niger and Bangladesh, and a member of the UN Security group in Togo, gave a lecture last night on International Cooperation in Times of Crisis at Sa Nostra's Cultural Centre. He expressed his concern for his Afghan colleagues still in the country because “unfortunately, it is still dangerous to work for the United Nations.” He said that everything was being done to get countries in the area and Afghanistan itself to open their frontiers and allow more refugees to leave, but the big problem is in the lack of a direct interlocutor with whom to negotiate. Food drops by American plans are “a good idea,” he said but cannot be done by humanitarian associations “because we lack the logistic capacity to do so, unless planes were leased. “But,” he went on, “this cannot be the priority because we do not know where the population who needs the food is.” He added that for that reason it was better at the moment to try to satisfy the needs of the millions of refugees. Speaking from his experience of 20 years in the field, he said that sending food to a war torn area should only be a short term operation, otherwise it creates a dependency which is later difficult to break. That, he said, is why the UN policy is to favour a country's own resources and its self sufficiency once the worst of the emergency is over. At the moment, the distribution of food rations is vital, as in the case of Afghanistan sufficient agricultural production to guarantee the population's needs over the next few years is impossible because of the large number of mines which have been laid. The collaboration of people of the most developed countries is essential for this emergency aid “as countries such as Pakistan, with huge deficiencies, cannot take care of the millions of refugees in their territory on their own.” Bergmann also said that there is talk of organising a second Marshall Plan if the international political situation in Afghanistan changes, in order to ensure the long term development in Afghanistan and the entire region. Bergmann lamented the situation of Afghan children, but pointed out that the Children's Rights Convention had been ratified by all countries in the world with the exception of Somalia and the United States. As a member of the UN security group in Togo, Bergmann has experienced first hand the drama of child slaves, which he said is very difficult to solve, because a difference must be made between the sale of children by their parents under the promise of an education for the children, and the networks which traffic in child slaves which have occasionally arisen from the good faith of many parents. The solution to the problem must involve all the humanitarian agencies and all the countries in the region, he said.

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