Annan Raises Nearly $600 Million for Afghan People

Donor countries have met — and surpassed — U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's desperate appeal for $584 million in aid for the Afghan people, U.N. officials said Saturday.

International aid agencies have been promised about $600 million to help Afghans survive the winter, officials said Saturday at the end of a two-day humanitarian meeting in Geneva.

"This response is an excellent and extraordinary show of solidarity by the international community," said U.N. Undersecretary-General Kenzo Oshima. He thanked President Bush, who has promised $320 million.

The funding came in response to an appeal made by Annan on Sept. 27. Once the money arrives — some of the contributions still have to be approved by national parliaments — it will be split between the United Nations and organizations like the International Red Cross.

Civil war and a three-year drought have led to famine and forced millions of Afghans to leave their homes. As many as 22 percent of children in some drought-affected areas die before they are five years old, and the national average life expectancy is 40, the World Food Program said.

The humanitarian crisis has worsened since the United States threatened to retaliate against the Taliban rulers for sheltering Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Oshima said there was agreement at the meeting that top priority should go to helping Afghans still inside the country. An estimated 6 million people there, more than one-quarter of the population, is in urgent need of food.

"What is important for the Afghan people is that they know the international community is not looking at them as a target for airstrikes but as people who need support," said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers.

The meeting was attended representatives of Iran and Pakistan, which are home to most of the 3.7 million Afghan refugees. They are bracing for an expected 1.5 million more in the event of U.S. military action.

Lubbers said both Pakistan and Iran had promised to allow refugees to enter in the event of a retaliatory attack.

After rare official talks between American and Iranian officials, U.S. delegation leader Douglas Hunter said both Iran and Pakistan seemed satisfied with assurances that they would not be left to shoulder a huge, long-term refugee burden and that their own security would not be endangered by terrorists entering under the guise of refugees.

Aid agencies withdrew all international staff because of security fears after Sept. 11, and aid operations virtually stopped. In recent days, both the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross have resumed deliveries from neighboring countries, but it is a fraction of what is needed.

Mohamed Zejjari, the assistant executive director of the World Food Program, said the agency hoped to send about 52 tons of food into Afghanistan per month, compared to 30,000 tons before the Sept. 11 attacks.

The agency was hoping to expand road convoys before the onset of winter made it impossible.

The agency also needed to obtain guarantees of safe passage before starting airdrops — a costly and inefficient way of delivering food.

Before the terrorist attacks, Afghanistan's plight was largely ignored by the outside world and U.N. funding appeals attracted little interest.