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Aid ought be about people's needs

17.02.11

GOVERNMENTS focus aid on countries that affect their national security interests and figure largely in their counter-insurgency efforts in places like Afghanistan, but to say ''civilian aid'' can only be channelled through the Australian government is misleading (''Charity says aid is military driven'', The Age, 11/2).

Professor Peter Leahy said that without government or military aid in areas such as Afghanistan's Oruzgan province ''civilian aid workers are often ill-equipped to distribute aid''.

This overlooks the work of independent aid organisations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres. In Afghanistan's Helmand province, Médecins Sans Frontières operates a surgical hospital for civilians independently of NATO, the Afghan army or Taliban forces.

It is becoming ever more dangerous for Afghanis to receive assistance from military bodies or affiliated groups as they risk retaliation.

In Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, where 1 million people lack access to healthcare, a patient explained the district headquarters hospital now has military doctors so it is too dangerous. Another said ''no one goes to the NATO clinic because they will become targets'' of the Taliban or other militant groups.

The Afghan people must be able to receive essential assistance without having to make life-threatening choices. Humanitarian aid should be based on needs, not political or military objectives.

Dr Nicholas Coatsworth, president, Medecins Sans Frontieres Australia, Sydney, NSW