Reviews Website of the week

Focus on Afghanistan

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 09 February 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:371
  1. Alex Vass (avass{at},
  2. Tessa Richards (trichards{at}
  1. BMJ
  2. BMJ

    The media continue to provide detailed coverage and analysis of the situation in Afghanistan. Web coverage extends this further and offers the opportunity of getting information “straight from the horse's mouth.” Discussion forums on all the major search engines — for example, at — also provide the chance to engage in debates over subjects such as: what is the American economic interest in Afghanistan? Can war be justified? Is religion the root of war? How should the current humanitarian crisis be handled?

    The main focus of much internet attention is now on reconstruction and the provision of humanitarian aid. In the “reconstructing Afghanistan” area of you can read World Bank news stories and reports on the estimated levels of aid required for reconstruction. You can also access the findings from reconstruction conferences held in Bonn and Tokyo. The UK Department for International Development at has links to situation reports posted every few days and details UK action. For example, the UK government has recently promised £300m to the United Nations trust fund to support reconstruction and the salaries of the interim government.

    The UN's section on Afghanistan ( contains links to aid agency programmes, reports, and a photo gallery of the UN's activities in the country. More than 100 staff are now working there and all regional centres are staffed. The main activity is to encourage disarmament in the areas beyond cities, where lawlessness and instability are rife. For in depth economic analysis on the level of aid provision visit the European Commission at and the United States Agency for Development at

    For information on the activities of aid and government agencies, Assistance Afghanistan ( is a good site. Currently more than 50 organisations are present in the country — and all can be accessed through the “organisations” link bar on the home page. The site also gives you the opportunity to donate to the UN Afghan Emergency Trust Fund, which supports the UN humanitarian/relief efforts in Afghanistan and Afghan refugees in Pakistan. You can also go direct to aid agencies' sites — for example, the Red Cross (, Oxfam (, and Unicef ( The World Food Programme site at estimates that it has provided 200 000 tons of food aid since October to more than 6 million people. Winter conditions, with temperatures as low as —45°C, have been reported on some roads and special bulldozers are being used to get through to displaced people.

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    The difficulties for aid agencies working in Afghanistan lie in its geography and in its ethnically and linguistically diverse people. gives all the key facts about the country — geographic and health data, economics, and transport facts. Kabul's average temperature in February is —2.8°, more than 30 languages are spoken in the country, and last year Afghanistan was the world's largest illicit producer of opium. is also one of the best for a cultural viewpoint and fascinates with details of what, beyond the poverty and tragedy, is a culturally rich country.

    Human rights issues in Afghanistan

    Two good sites for accessing human rights issues in Afghanistan are:

    (the Human Rights Watch, Afghanistan)

    (the US Department of State).

    Both agree that women's rights must be prioritised in Afghanistan's reconstruction effort. They urge the interim government to establish laws guaranteeing women's rights to education, political involvement, free expression, mobility, employment, and health care. But they warn that advisory teams require specific funding and are essential in pushing for these protections. Strong political leadership is also vital to push through the extensive reform agenda set out by the United Nations Development Fund for Women ( after its wide consultation with Afghan women's groups.

    Much hope is pinned on Dr Suhaila Siddiqi, the new health minister, who is one of only two women in the interim government cabinet. A visit to the website of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan ( shows just how badly women need powerful advocates. It graphically catalogues the systematic violations of women's human rights that have taken place over recent years and underlines the urgency of Amnesty International's call for the establishment of a strong independent justice system in Afghanistan (

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