US to airlift emergency supplies to Afghans as famine looms
Wednesday, February 7 2:00 AM SGT
ISLAMABAD, Feb 6 (AFP) - The United States said Tuesday it would airlift emergency supplies to Afghanistan this week as the World Bank warned of famine due to a terrible drought and ongoing civil war.
Although likely to save lives, the tents and blankets from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) will be a drop in the ocean of human misery in Afghanistan.
Some 500,000 Afghans are living in poorly equipped displacement camps inside the war-torn country while another 155,000 have sought UN assistance in neighbouring Pakistan since mid-2000.
The US embassy here said USAID would airlift 500 tents, 5,000 blankets and 100 rolls of plastic sheeting for shelters to the refugees in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday.
The chartered commercial plane would then take off for the western Afghan city of Herat, where it would deliver 250 tents, 10,000 blankets, 4,800 water jugs and three medical kits on Friday. Another airlift to Herat would follow next week.
The Pakistani government also announced Tuesday that it was rushing 5,000 tonnes of rice, 5,000 tents and 50,000 blankets to its neighbour.
Some 400 people died of exposure last week in the camps around Herat, where about 5,000 displaced families, or 80,000 people, are sharing 1,700 tents in temperatures as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius (minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit).
Despite repeated calls for boosted international assistance to cope with the crisis, the UN says it is short of all non-food items and the coming months are likely to get worse without a break in the drought.
"I guess it is not yet clear to the donors how serious the situation is," UN Coordinator for Afghanistan Eric de Mul said here Friday.
"We have seen people die there in a controlled setting (the camps) but it is obvious that in the countryside where we have a cold spell many more people have died."
World Bank country director for neighbouring Pakistan John Wall said "funding and capacity urgently need to be scaled up in line with the growing needs."
"The situation appears to have all the ingredients of a famine," he said in a statement Tuesday.
"It is very frustrating for me to watch this terrible situation develop without a mandate to respond. Although the World Bank is not a relief agency I want to add our voice to the many that are speaking out about this tragic situation."
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has called for an immediate halt to the war between the ruling Taliban Islamic militia and opposition forces to allow people to return to their homes and fields.
While there have been no fresh reports of major battles in recent days, neither side of the protracted conflict appears willing to entertain a ceasefire.
Washington late last year co-sponsored a UN Security Council resolution slapping more political and diplomatic sanctions on the Taliban for their alleged support for international terrorists.
The Taliban and their close ally Pakistan have blamed the humanitarian crisis on the sanctions but Washington insists the curbs have been carefully designed to avoid any adverse impact on ordinary Afghans.
A three-member delegation of the Afghan Support Group (ASG), comprising the German, Swiss and Canadian ambassadors to Pakistan, left here Tuesday to visit the displacement camps in the southern city of Kandahar and Herat.
"The ASG group will assess the need for support to the people of Afghanistan in a humanitarian situation made more difficult by continued fighting, drought and by a harsh winter," the ASG said in a statement.
"The mission will tell the Afghan people that the UN sanctions are not against the Afghan people and the donor community remains committed to provide humanitarian aid."
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