Aid groups create big camps in Afghan north - U.N.
UNITED NATIONS, June 21 (Reuters) - International relief groups, reacting to a growing humanitarian crisis in northern Afghanistan, are setting up their first large camps there for victims of drought, war and poverty, the United Nations said on Thursday.
Some 150,000 people are believed to be homeless in the region, "and the number seems to be rising dramatically," a U.N. statement said. "The aid community in the north is now engaged in helping some of these families move into more structured camps."
The first two camps, each intended to accommodate 5,000 families, will be set up near Mazar in Balkh Province and in Baghlan Province, it said. Various agencies will be responsible for food, water, health, shelter and educational needs.
The central Asian nation has been torn by civil war for 21 years, with the Taliban rulers of most of the country fighting Gen. Ahmed Masood's United Front, which controls a swath of land in the north.
The war and the worst drought in 30 years have caused widespread suffering and starvation, sending the humanitarian situation into a sharp downward spiral that will continue for at least another year, aid groups say.
Across the country, some 700,000 Afghanis have left their homes in the past year and remain homeless in Afghanistan today, the U.N. said, with another 300,000 having fled to neighboring Pakistan and Iran.
The number of homeless people inside Afghanistan was expected to top 1 million before the end of the year, it said.
Until now, aid workers in the north have resisted setting up large camps, instead encouraging the homeless to move in with local families or find makeshift accommodations.
But their rapidly increasing numbers and growing shortages of shelter and drinking water have put these families at too high a risk of disease and death, obliging the aid groups to try to bring them together in camps, the U.N. said.
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