UN Rushes Relief into Afghan Mountains Ahead of Winter

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, November 6, 2001 (ENS) - The World Food Program (WFP) is "turning somersaults" to step up food deliveries into the mountainous areas of Afghanistan, attempting to get supplies where they are needed before winter begins, according to WFP representative Lindsey Davies, speaking at a briefing in Islamabad.

The immediate priority, Davies said Saturday, is to transport almost 40,000 tons of food into the mountainous northeast regions before they become inaccessible due to snow. So far about 7,000 tons have gone in.

Davis said WFP is developing plans to establish a supply camp at a high elevation in the mountains in order to keep deliveries moving through the winter.

The WFP has hired an Arctic harsh environment specialist who is drawing up plans for WFP to set up a logistics base camp at the tip of the Anjuman pass. This is a 6,000 meter (19,500 foot) high pass that leads into the Panjsheer valley. This camp will help to continue the food convoys and to supply them with fuel, accommodation for drivers, trucks and snow ploughs, the first time this will be done in Afghanistan.

The aim is to keep the Anjuman Pass - the only link in the Pansheer Valley from the north - open as long as possible.

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Afghan father and son return from a WFP food distribution at Shamshatoo. Their flour is from the Japanese government. (Photos by Mike Huggins courtesy WFP)
With an estimated six million people expected to need food aid inside Afghanistan over the winter months and a potential 1.5 million refugees to feed in neighboring countries, WFP is working across the region in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Iran and Pakistan to avert an humanitarian crisis.

According to recent estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 100,000 Afghans have arrived in Pakistan since September 11, when terrorist plane strikes leveled the World Trade Center in New York and damaged the Pentagon in Washington, DC. U.S. President George W. Bush has laid the responsibility for these terrorist attacks on Saudi multi-millionaire Osama bin Laden who is believed to be hiding out in Afghanistan sheltered by the Taliban regime.

Bush has said he wants bin Laden "dead or alive" and the U.S. has been conducting a bombing campaign against Taliban strongholds for the past four weeks. Food rations are also being dropped by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). The U.S. Agency for International Development said today the DOD has airdropped 1,239,000 Humanitarian Daily Rations valued at $5.3 million into Afghanistan.

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Wheat donated by the U.S. is loaded on to trucks at Peshawar, north western Pakistan, ready for transport into Afghanistan.
Davies said the priority for WFP is to deliver 39,000 tonnes of food to feed 700,000 people living in the isolated Central Highlands, the Panjsheer Valley and five districts in the North Eastern province of Badakshan which usually get cut off by snow, by the end of this month.

To speed food to the stranded refugees, the WFP is buying bulk quantities of the food in the region, including Iran and Kazakhstan. On Sunday, two huge bagging machines were flown in from WFP's Djibouti operation to Turkemenabad. "This means we can bring in bulk wheat and bag it insitu and load it immediately onto trucks, enabling us to take it more quickly and efficiently to the north and north west of Afghanistan.

Turkmenabad will become a major hub as it has road links to transport food to the north and north west of the country as well as rail and road networks to Tajikistan which allows WFP to get into the northeast.

If trucks cannot make it, then "as a last option we will have to use air operations," Davies said. WFP already has an emergency air group in Islamabad working on the technical aspect of the operation.

WFP reported that several districts in northern and western Afghanistan remain inaccessible due to insecurity. An estimated 500,000 people live in these areas, and WFP anticipates a severe food shortage by the end of December.

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Millions of people inside Afghanistan, like these women, are living on the edge of famine after years of drought and conflict.
News sources reported that the Taliban Embassy in Pakistan has called on the United Nations to resume its relief efforts in Afghanistan.

Speaking Tehran, Iran today, Lakhdar Brahimi who is visiting the region in his role as special representative of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said, "I don't think that the Taliban asked the UN to resume their efforts in Taliban held areas because our efforts have never stopped. What I think they said is that they want the UN personnel whom they had asked to leave to return.

"The United Nations personnel was very sad to leave Afghanistan, and I think we would very much like our personnel to go and work everywhere in Afghanistan, irrelevant of who is in charge, as to the humanitarian activities that we carry out in Afghanistan. But I think we need to ascertain what the security situation is in every single part of Afghanistan before we decide to go back."

During his time in Iran, Brahimi said, Iranian leaders asked the UN to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of Afghanistan, and so has the rest of the world, he told reporters. "I think that there is more than a consensus, that there is unanimity in the international community and in the United Nations ... So, this is a very big responsibility for the UN. The Secretary General is telling everybody that yes, he will take up this challenge."