Afghan childrens fund: show us the money

“America’s Fund for Afghan Children” – this is the name George W. Bush has given his “dollar for Afghan kids” drive. My daughter received a letter from her school requesting that she bring a dollar in for this drive.

Since donors are instructed to send their money to the White House, I figured I’d do some checking. When I called the White House to ask what they were going to do with the money raised by kids, they told me it would be turned over to the American Red Cross. The American Red Cross, it turns out, is actually officially chaired by President George Bush.

The president had promised, in his press conference announcing the birth of America’s Fund for Afghan Children, that the American Red Cross would work with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to make sure that “every dollar, every single dollar that’s been raised by the boys and girls of America will be spent on the needs of the boys and girls in Afghanistan.” The USAID, of course, is a federal agency that has been notorious for its close historical links to the CIA.

The American Red Cross website indicates that it will use “an integrated approach to provide food, water, shelter, clothing and basic health care and preventative health education in Afghanistan with partners including the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the United Nations and other non-governmental organizations.”

It cites the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees as estimating the number of refugees at 2.6 million.

It does not mention, however, that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for a suspension of the U.S. military campaign to enable relief workers to get food into Afghanistan to avert starvation.

I called the American Red Cross and asked them whether they had staff or facilities in Afghanistan that would enable them to provide relief to children, how they might actually get food to the children, whether they would cooperate with the U.N. and other non-governmental organizations, how much of the money raised would be needed for their administrative costs and whether I could get an accounting of how the money would be spent.

It took several bounces before I was finally able to reach a supervisor willing to answer my questions. She answered them as follows: (1) No, the American Red Cross did not have staff or facilities in Afghanistan. (2) They were going to give the money to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Association. (3) No, they did not plan on cooperating with the U.N. and other non-governmental organizations, only with the International Red Cross/Crescent. (4) She didn’t know the answer to my question about administrative costs. (5) She said they couldn’t give an accounting until the end of the fiscal year, but that there would be something on the website of the International Red Cross about it.

I checked the International Red Cross website, but there is nothing there specific to “America’s Fund for Afghan Children.” It was interesting to note that the supervisor I spoke to denied that the U.S. had bombed an International Red Cross warehouse in Kabul. She said that it wasn’t true, and that the media had carried a retraction!

Upon checking the BBC website on the subject, however, I viewed a video clip in which a representative of the International Red Cross complained bitterly that the U.S. had destroyed its warehouse and injured one of its employees. He said that the buildings were clearly marked and should have been off limits.

This was before the second bombing of International Red Cross warehouses on Oct. 26. The U.S. military at first had declared the second bombing to have been a mistake, but they have since reversed themselves, indicating that they had intentionally bombed the Red Cross because the Taliban was supposedly exercising control over Red Cross activity.

Since my conversation, the disorganization and inefficiency of the American Red Cross has become public. Bernadine Healy, the organization’s $450,000-a-year CEO, has been forced to resign. The Chicago Tribune called the situation a “fiasco.” Its lead editorial on Oct. 31 was titled, “Red Cross Squanders Goodwill.”

It made the case that the ARC had lost credibility in the eyes of the American people and that donations that had been given for victims of Sept. 11 were being siphoned off to other projects. The American Red Cross, the article revealed, is not a full, dues-paying member of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent societies.

There is ample cause for concern about whether any of the dollars raised in response to President Bush’s call will actually reach children in Afghanistan. The administration has no mechanism for delivering relief supplies to Afghan children, other than dropping those famous yellow food packages, which are the same color as the unexploded cluster bombs.

The American Red Cross has no staff or facilities in Afghanistan, and is dependent upon the International Red Cross for distribution. The International Red Cross facilities are the ones that have been twice bombed by U.S. forces.

U.N. officials and Oxfam International, which has staff and facilities in Afghanistan, have both pleaded for a pause in the bombing so that they can actually get food, medicine and supplies into rural areas before winter sets in.

At the very best, the mechanism set up by the Bush administration for collecting and distributing the funds is bureaucratic and inefficient. The money must pass through several layers and transfers before it gets to an organization that can actually deliver.

Why not send it directly to the International Red Cross? And why not ask Bush to stop bombing the International Red Cross facilities so that what our kids actually have raised will not be destroyed by our own military?

Tim Yeager is a parent and a trade unionist in Illinois.