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UN refugee agency awaits full access to Afghans in rain-soaked camps

UN refugee agency awaits full access to Afghans in rain-soaked camps

Humanitarian Aid

The United Nations refugee agency reported today that it was still awaiting full access to tens of thousands of Afghans encamped in a makeshift site in Pakistan, where conditions have deteriorated recently under the force of heavy rains.

More than18,000 people camped in the open at the Jalozai site near the northwest Pakistani border city of Peshawar have been severely affected by torrential rains and wind that hit last week, destroying more than 3,150 shelters and flooding sections of the already squalid site, according to Kris Janowski, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The spokesman said that despite repeated appeals from UNHCR, and an apparent agreement reached two weeks ago between UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf that agencies would help Afghans inside Afghanistan as well as the recent arrivals in Pakistan, the Islamabad Government had yet to facilitate the delivery of adequate assistance by relief agencies to meet all the needs in Jalozai.

"Children are suffering and dying unnecessarily at Jalozai, where deaths are recorded daily," Mr. Janowski told reporters at the agency's Geneva headquarters. He warned that the Pakistani authorities had permitted UNHCR and other agencies to deliver "only a minimum of services and assistance" to those in need.

Describing the inhumane conditions prevailing at Jalozai, Mr. Janowski said paths in the camp "have been reduced to cesspools, with flies breeding among the flimsy shelters and the smell of human excrement pervasive throughout the site." He added that the overcrowded conditions and the site's severely overstretched sanitation facilities, combined with the start of the rains, "are raising the danger of epidemics."

More than 170,000 Afghans have fled to Pakistan since last September, adding to the more than 1.2 million Afghans already in the country.

According to UNHCR, the humanitarian situation inside Afghanistan is "desperate," with up to 1 million Afghans affected by famine while others flee the civil war that still rages in parts of the country.