Extensive Japanese Water Help for Afghan Refugees Sought. Former Japanese Prime Minister Asks Aid Measure from Government.

Released in Tokyo, London, Toronto and Washington, D.C.

Tokyo, November 14, 2001 — Former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto said Wednesday he has asked the Japanese government to take the lead role in bringing safe water to Afghan refugees both outside and inside their country in which many estimate to number some 4 million people, in what could become one of Japan’s largest efforts in the Afghan crisis.

Mr. Hashimoto, prime minister from January 1996 to July, 1998, said that Japanese advanced technology in deep earth drilling, water purifiers, pumps that function in remote regions and bulk water transportation could be utilized.

Mr. Hashimoto, a key leader of the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), cited the growing water scarcity worldwide in a meeting with reporters and called for the creation of a special global water force. “They would function like the International Red Cross but they would wear blue helmets and would become internationally recognized by those helmets,” said Mr. Hashimoto. “They would work to bring safe water to everyone, one of the most important problems of the 21st century.”

Leader of an about 100-member group among 357 LDP lawmakers in Parliament, Mr. Hashimoto said he would seek to include water aid in Japan’s assistance for Afghan refugees. “We should ask that we put in a system so that we can provide simple ways for safe water for Afghan refugees.”

“I have already spoken to Prime Minister (Junichiro) Koizumi about my proposal,” Mr. Hashimoto said. “I have also won the support of the Special Envoy to the Prime Minister for reconstruction of Afghanistan, Sadako Ogata (former UN High Commissioner for Refugees). It is my hard task to now win approval for my proposal in the government. It will be extremely difficult as the water crisis [in Afghanistan) is not on the minds of either the general {Japanese] public or the government, but this is something that needs to be done.”

Mr. Hashimoto cited widely accepted estimates that just 13 percent of Afghan people who remained in their traditional villages and towns had access to safe water. “Now, with the added pressure of drought, millions leaving their homes in recent years, and then with the outbreak of the fighting and air campaign, many fewer have access to safe water,” he said.

Lack of safe water leads to many conditions such as diarrhea that are among the leading causes of death among children under five in the developing world.

“Water, water, water,” was the way a UN official described the biggest problem relief agencies will have in meeting the humanitarian challenge of an Afghan refugee crisis in the remote deserts and mountains of Baluchistan province, eastern Pakistan, according to Refugees International.

According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, many Afghans are fleeing both the war and drought. In a report from a refugee camp in Pakistan, the Canadian Medical Association Journal said: “Despite the makeshift tents on a burning plain — many lack many things, but for new arrivals from the desiccated north of Afghanistan, running from their third year of drought, the 40 liters of water allotted per person per day is luxury beyond imagining. Canadians use an average of 350 liters.

In dryland regions of Pakistan, access to water is the most dangerous of issues. Residents of villages near proposed refugee camps have little water to share with refugees, and may resent the competition for a limited, and diminishing, resource. In this context, the security of refugees and the relief agency personnel working to help them also becomes a major concern, Refugees International said on its website.

Mr. Hashimoto came to the water issue in his role as Chairman of the National Steering Committee to the 3rd World Water Forum, which will be held in Kyoto, Japan in March of 2003.

“I am calling on Japan to work with the World Water Council (WWC), organizer of the World Water Forum, to bring safe water to the Afghan people,” Mr. Hashimoto told reporters. He said that the WWC plans to dispatch five water experts to assess the water needs of Afghan refugees.

“Once we get that assessment, we will have a better grasp of exactly what is needed, and then Japan can work in cooperation with the World Water Council to bring safe water to the Afghan people,” Mr. Hashimoto said, saying no funding estimate could now be made. “We also welcome the participation of any other country that would want to assist.”

In response to a question, Mr. Hashimoto said it would be the responsibility of the new Afghan government, once it is formulated, to decide how it would seek assistance to re-build the country’s water infrastructure, whether it would come via multilateral programs, bilateral aid, direct contacts with the private sector or some combination of all three.

“Since I am a mountain climber and have climbed peaks in that part of Asia, I am familiar with the terrain and with the difficulty that would be involved in bringing safe water to the refugees,’ Mr. Hashimoto said. “They have had three straight years of drought in the southern part of this region, and with the onset of winter, it is often impossible to get good water in the northern regions, as it is all frozen, and must be purified when defrosted.”

“The private sector and civilians could handle much of this water program for the Afghan refugees,” the former prime minister said.

The 3rd World Water Forum will highlight actions being taken to implement solutions to global water problems. Some 8,000 government officials, representatives of international organizations such as the World Health Organization, along with water experts, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the media are expected to attend the 2003 meeting in Kyoto, Japan.

“The NGOs have been in the forefront of the struggle to bring safe water to all people around the world,” Mr. Hashimoto said. “It is now the time for governments to take action.”

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