Suffer the little children.
The pictures of starving babies fighting losing battles for survival in Afghanistan in recent days will have struck a distressing chord with many Northern Irish soldiers who risked their lives — and lost colleagues — in their bid to build a new, better country for its people over too many years.
And I’m sure the troops and the medical teams who gave so much of themselves in Helmand province will have been wondering what the hell it was all for as the country has been facing what the United Nations say is the world’s most critical humanitarian crisis in the wake of the US pull-out from Afghanistan earlier this year.
The countdown to catastrophe is how the World Food Programme’s executive director David Beasley assesses what is happening and parents are going to the unimaginable lengths of selling their babies, not only to guarantee their infants’ futures but also to get much-needed money to feed the rest of their families.
My memories from 2008 of children in their home compounds in Helmand are probably rose-tinted but the smiles of appreciation and excitement that spread across their faces as Royal Irish Regiment soldiers handed them treats during a tour in the desert have been forever etched on my mind.
But ever since the Americans withdrew from Afghanistan I keep wondering how those same youngsters — now in their teens and twenties — are coping since the Taliban took back control of their country and their lives.
The UN have warned that millions of people will die unless crucial aid arrives in Afghanistan soon and that’s unlikely to happen after international funds which had kept the fragile economy going have been stopped as the world discusses how to deal with the new regime whose reserves have been frozen.
It beggars belief that the powers-that-be could still sit on their hands and allow a solution to elude them after witnessing the gut-wrenching reality of the crisis highlighted in a BBC news report last week when reporter Yogita Limaye travelled to a hospital in Herat and reported on the shocking situation there in wards overrun with newborns.
The cowardly temptation for me was to reach for the off button on the remote as the pictures got increasingly more harrowing. The words brought little comfort too as viewers were told that the going rate to buy a baby was around $500.
Yogita said that some parents had even offered their babies for sale to her crew which must have presented them with unbearable dilemmas.
Preparing for my trip to Afghanistan my crew and I were taken to the overpowering heat of Kenya to acclimatise for Helmand and at one point we went to an orphanage in a village to record soldiers doing charity work and helping staff.
In one room we saw rows of cots filled with orphaned babies who stretched out their arms to us and it was all I could do not to bundle one up and bring him or her home.
But a former ITN colleague Michael Nicholson didn’t stop at pitying the children he encountered on his foreign assignments. And not once but twice he managed to bring back to the UK and adopt two children that he encountered in Bosnia and Brazil.
That’s hardly likely to ever happen again but seeing the plight of those children in Afghanistan has sparked worldwide appeals from humanitarian groups for help in saving them.
The only solution, as unpalatable as it may be, would appear to be recognising the hateful Taliban rulers, even though they are unlikely to ever live up to their promises to liberalise their regime.
According to the UN more than half the population — a staggering 22.8 million people — are facing what they call ‘acute food insecurity’
And we think we have problems…