It's Raining Food (and Bombs)
October 10, 2001 12:24 AM   Subscribe

It's Raining Food (and Bombs) "Air drops make great TV but they often represent a failure to respond to a food crisis." Opinions that the food drops aren't really working, and that military action exacerbates their inefficiency.
posted by Kato (37 comments total)
In reading the listed contents of the Humanitarian Daily Ration package, why include one match? Dare I say it? Beans?

Why not a spork?
posted by Kato at 12:26 AM on October 10, 2001

Well yeah. The ration packages are covered in stars and stripes and the slogan "a gift from the people of the United States of America". It's as much a PR exercise as an aid effort.

If we *really* wanted to help we would stop bombing Afghanistan, make sure we *really* don't kill any civilians and get aid in by land.
posted by skylar at 1:28 AM on October 10, 2001

I find the juxtaposition in the news reports of missiles being launched followed by food being dropped amazingly bizarre.

And I wonder if the Afghani's also view the missiles as 'a gift from the US', especially if they have seen that footage with the comments written on the bombs...
posted by snowgum at 1:44 AM on October 10, 2001

Speaking of PR and bomb comments, I'm waiting to see "For the oppressed Afghan women, ethnic minorities and real Muslims, whose faith you've sullied with your policies, rhetoric and actions" written on a bomb, placed attractively on the deck of an aircraft carrier, and with a DOD PR flack scurrying off into the distance.

Perhaps they could also duct tape food and transistor radios directly to it under the theory that the items will be dispersed widely by the explosion.
posted by rocketpup at 2:50 AM on October 10, 2001

WTF is with you people? Obviously this is a publicity stunt, but so what? Would you rather they not drop food?

If you accept that the military action is legitimate, which I and most of world do, then so far this is the most humanely staged war in history.
posted by phatboy at 3:09 AM on October 10, 2001

I agree with you phatboy to an extent. I don't think that the scale of the military action is legitimate, but I do think that any aid is good, whatever the motives. It would have been really nice if it was genuine and not a pr stunt though.
posted by twistedonion at 3:31 AM on October 10, 2001

Obviously some food is better than no food at all. And I have to agree that 40,000 or so packages emblazoned with American flags, dropped (semi-randomly?) from airplanes is certainly more effective than food sitting in warehouses which aid agencies have been unable to get into the country. But all reports seem to imply that it is still wholly inadequate.

While the bloody wound lies in Afghanistan, the airdrops seem more like a band-aid for the West.

Is there a better solution? Once the US begins executing a ground war, will it be able to open up supply lines for a more adequate aid effort? We aren't privy to the whole story yet. I just hope it works out.
posted by rocketpup at 3:44 AM on October 10, 2001

I agree that it's better than nothing. I just wish, as twistedonion said, there wasn't so much pr on about it. But the pr may be aimed at us (as in 'we care for them really'), rather than the Afghani's. Especially as the literacy rates are so low (thanks Mr Taleban)! Incidentally, I saw that the Taleban have said that their people are burning the ration packs. Hmmmm!

Too bad about the 4 UN mineclearers who were killed. 'Collateral damage', but no doubt some will regard this as a price worth paying.
posted by snowgum at 4:32 AM on October 10, 2001

Why not a spork?

For what's it's worth, my aunt has always described as the stylized gothic facade of the WTC towers as resembling sporks of the 1970's.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:50 AM on October 10, 2001

Its all PR. Who the hell would open something that comes from the same people who are dropping bombs? Especially when a good portion of them can't read. How would they know they weren't opening a bomb.
posted by brucec at 5:25 AM on October 10, 2001

Wait a minute. They dropped 37K rations in the first phase. According to the CIA World Factbook the population of Afghanistan was
estimated at 26,813,057 as of July 2001.

Let's assume 5 million are refugees, who have split, armed forces they don't want to feed. That comes out to 0.00169623176 rations per person. If there are beans, they'll have to be sliced quite thin, no sporks necessary. Think this is a ridiculous calculation? Me too!

The UN made it quite clear: The humanitarian problem is magnified by the military action. Add to this the fact that the borders are closed. This is cruel to civilians. Keep the argument to military strategy. No one will convince me that any respect to civlians is part of this action.
posted by mmarcos at 5:31 AM on October 10, 2001

The problem is, many Afghans won't go near the food drops. Number one, no one has told them to expect food from the sky, so one might excuse them for not expecting manna to be raining down from heaven intermingled with cruise missiles and bombs. Number two, the Soviets used to do such nice things as drop children's toys wired to explode, resulting in many dead and maimed children. So even if they know it's supposed to be food, one can hardly blame them for keeping away.

It also occurred to me that an excellent way for the Taliban to stir up anti-American feeling would be to take a few of the food packages and put bombs in them.

Given all this, I would have to be pretty damn hungry to risk approaching one of these food containers myself, were I an Afghan.
posted by rushmc at 5:42 AM on October 10, 2001

Number three, Afghanistan is the second-most landmined nation on the planet, so the risk of being blown up en route to your one-day ration is as high as being blown up by it.
posted by holgate at 5:54 AM on October 10, 2001

mmarcos: At the current rate it'll take 6 months to feed the country for one day.
posted by vbfg at 5:57 AM on October 10, 2001

Semi-random food drops by the military is worse than doing nothing. First of all, because it is highly inefficient and will most likely result in the food getting into the wrong hands. Second, and most important, by mixing military and humanitarian action, other legitimate and independent aid risks becoming suspect. This will most likely result in regimes denying refugees access to that aid, and even aid-workers being captured/banned/killed. It is purely a propaganda effort, and should be viewed as such.
posted by knutmo at 6:31 AM on October 10, 2001

Snowgum, please note that an Afghani is a unit of currency, and an Afghan is a person. I assume you meant people, rather than cash in your comments ;)
posted by dchase at 6:32 AM on October 10, 2001

lemme echo phatboy.... WTF is with you people? skylar if you think you can get aid in by land and get in the hands of the innocent civilians, please share how this could be done. yes, it's not enough food aid and yes the gov't is taking all the credit they can get for giving what they are giving. but what do you expect?

we are doing what's possible to lessen the humanitarian crisis--a crisis for which the US is only remotely and indirectly responsible--and we seem to be committed to following through on the aid/restructing when the dirty part is over... unlike in Iraq--the sanctions against which many of you are so vocally pissed. apparently some ppl think america should be damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. sounds like 'holy war' talk to me.
posted by danOstuporStar at 6:36 AM on October 10, 2001

aid/ *restructuring*
posted by danOstuporStar at 6:38 AM on October 10, 2001

Thanks for pointing out the Afghan/Afghani thing: it makes my posts quite funny to go back and re-read with that knowledge ;-) !

for which the US is only remotely and indirectly responsible

I think that this is debatable. The situation there wasn't good, and there were lots of refugees already on the move, not least because of the 4-yr drought. But I think it is pretty well established that lots more hit the road when military action became a certainty.

The 'coalitions' (lets not forget the Brits) are still bombing Iraq,and enforcing sanctions. Now they are bombing A., and dropping food. What is the common theme here?
posted by snowgum at 6:57 AM on October 10, 2001

Woah. Flashback. Cue "White Rabbit."

"Bomb 'em and feed 'em, man. Bomb 'em and feed 'em."

-- U.S. infantryman, quoted in Michael Herr's "Dispatches"
posted by sacre_bleu at 7:00 AM on October 10, 2001

apparently some ppl think america should be damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. sounds like 'holy war' talk to me.

Air drops make good TV. They make shitty strategy. Here's an idea of what could be done, with the help of the NGOs: establish refugee camps near the Pakistan border for those who've already headed there. Like most police states, the influence of the Taliban high command diminishes the further you get from the cities. You feed, clothe and treat those who are already there, and get them to lead you back to their homes. You engage with the region's culture of hospitality. (No, don't laugh. Watching a BBC reporter share tea with the Taliban footsoldiers, boy-men who all want to show off their AK-47s to the camera, you start to appreciate the mindset of the mujahedin.) You make like Uncle Santa.
posted by holgate at 7:02 AM on October 10, 2001

First of all, the U.N. is working on the refugee crisis (largely in Pakistan), to which the U.S. is contributing.

Second, yes there's a PR motivation, but so what? It's the height of cynicism to suggest that the U.S. doesn't care at all whether this actually feeds anyone (and in any event, for the PR function to be successful, people would have to receive and appreciate the goods. I don't think they will if they get 1/8 of a bean or whatever). There is ample evidence that many if not most of the Afghan people despise the Taliban and it's stern governance. We are not the enemy of those people, and it makes sense for us to communicate that fact.

The absurdity of the knee-jerk insistence by so many in criticizing every step the U.S. takes becomes really clear in cases like this. If the U.S. hadn't dropped food or medicine, we'd be hearing "they don't care for the Afghans." But when we do, it's "worse than doing nothing" (knutmo). Lame.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:16 AM on October 10, 2001

Pardonyou: It's not worse than nothing, but one has to question the US' motives. If motives were genuine, one might imagine that they would truck in the goods. But the fact that aid is just being dropped into open mine-filled desert makes me suspect that the motivation is more in terms of US citizens' opinion than anything else.

Certainly the accidental bombing of a UN mine-clearing office shows that these military types are NOT geniuses and they're NOT taking every last humanitarian possibility into account when planning their drops.
posted by skylar at 7:21 AM on October 10, 2001

it is pretty well established that lots more hit the road when military action became a certainty

the military action is exactly what i meant by "remotely and indirectly responsible." whatever foreign policy may have fostered it...clearly it was bin laden and the taliban that started the war.
posted by danOstuporStar at 7:28 AM on October 10, 2001

Skylar, maybe they will. If they had tried to drive in before achieving air superiority, they would have been sitting ducks. Talk about lack of military genius. I'm going to go ahead and assume that as it becomes safe to enter by land, they will bring the food in more efficiently. Of course, I'm not as cynical as some.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:34 AM on October 10, 2001

Actually Rumsfeld started discussing trucking in food in this morning's press conference, (problem right now is nobody wants to drive the truck,) and specifically declaring the inadequacy of air drops. On to the next bitchin n moanin topic please
posted by quercus at 7:47 AM on October 10, 2001

I'm going to go ahead and assume that as it becomes safe to enter by land, they will bring the food in more efficiently.

Pretty safe assumption considering that both Gen. Myers and Sec. Rumsfeld said that that was exactly the plan.
posted by Wulfgar! at 7:50 AM on October 10, 2001

I like the stuff about air supremacy - not sure that they have set themselves much of a challenge, there!

Perhaps soon we'll get a press-release from the Admiralty explaining the naval supremacy? ;-)

Arguably the terrorists didn't start a 'war', they committd a terrorist act. Of course, they claim that it is a war, as do the IRA etc, in order to give themselves the legitimacy of warriors/soldiers. Perhaps agreeing that it is a war was the only option given that the British Foreign Office doesn't seem sure their evidence against OBL would stand up in a court of law, so a trial of OBL might not have been in their interests.
posted by snowgum at 7:55 AM on October 10, 2001

Let's be clear: the air drops are PR and nothing else. The number of displaced people in the region numbers in the millions, and the air drops are pretty much useless. The best strategy would be for the US and other countries to funnel aid through existing humanitarian NGOs. If I was an Afghan and the US dropped food on me, I'd burn it.

A true humanitarian act would have been not to bomb.
posted by tranquileye at 8:01 AM on October 10, 2001

Apparently there are quite a few land mine fields left over from the Soviet and Civil wars. Some of the aid workers fear that people will be risking their lives in the fervor to retrieve these rations if they have fallen into these mine fields.

There was also some concern about hoarding and profiteering since each of the rations are valued at about $4US.
posted by Jeffy at 8:03 AM on October 10, 2001

tranquileye: "Let's be clear: the air drops are PR and nothing else. " And you know this how? You have personal knowledge that the US government couldn't care less whether people are actually fed?

"If I was an Afghan and the US dropped food on me, I'd burn it." Have an axe to grind, do we? That couldn't be coloring (colouring) your pronouncements, could it?
posted by pardonyou? at 8:11 AM on October 10, 2001

[If I was an Afghan and the US dropped food on me, I'd burn it.]

That's evolution in action!
posted by revbrian at 8:33 AM on October 10, 2001

of course he'd burn it...there's a US flag on the box
posted by danOstuporStar at 8:40 AM on October 10, 2001

imagine the situation reversed --

there you are, sitting in your livingroom, when "crash!" the window breaks and a ration box lands on the floor

couple of thuds from the roof

you open the front door to see the roof of your SUV dented and bean-streaked
posted by yesster at 9:10 AM on October 10, 2001

I think this is the next step in W's "put food on your family" strategery.
posted by gazingus at 9:18 AM on October 10, 2001

"The UN and international aid organisations like Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières/Artsen Zonder Grenzen are very concerned about the food droppings. They fear all aid will be seen as American propaganda. Futhermore it's too expensive and too little food is dropped. It could be dropped into minefields."
Read this in my newspaper today, here's a link, but it's in "Moonmans language'
posted by ginz at 9:26 AM on October 10, 2001

Y'know, if you drop these things in a minefield, they'll probably set off some mines. Thereby helping people.
posted by smackfu at 2:08 PM on October 10, 2001

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