A top United Nations humanitarian official returning from an assessment mission in Afghanistan warned today that the country had the world's fastest growing problem of internal displacement.
"Population movements among Afghans are at crisis levels," Dennis McNamara told a press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Tuesday following his participation in an inter-agency mission to Kabul, Herat and Mazar. "Our biggest concern right now is the impoverished population divested of most basic assets, who remain in their villages and cannot even meet transport costs to get out."
According to Mr. McNamara, who is Special Coordinator for Internally Displaced Persons for the Geneva-based Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 140,000 displaced people are now in Herat, with 100,000 people in Maslakh camp alone. On average, 300 families - over 1,500 people - are entering Herat every day in need of help, and often sleeping in the open due to a lack of shelter. Overall, about 700,000 to 800,000 Afghans have left their homes due to conflict, drought or both, with 500,000 of them still inside Afghanistan, Mr. McNamara said.
In Mazar, the vulnerable population is in "acute distress and living under deplorable conditions, with few worldly possessions," he said. Because the displaced are spread throughout every province of northern Afghanistan, their dispersion makes rendering adequate assistance
The Special Coordinator called for a "multi-layered response," including increased aid across in the areas of shelter, health, food, sanitation and water. He said that the assistance community immediately needed 20,000 new shelters for the displaced, and that the current appeal for $254 million would have to be revised upwards immediately and would require urgent action by donors. Given that 85 per cent of Afghanistan's population lives in rural areas, support to the agricultural sector would be needed, he said, calling for $7 million for seed and other inputs. He also said both UN agencies and non-governmental organizations needed to strengthen their presence inside the country to be able to cope with the escalating crisis.
The assessment mission was comprised of staff from OCHA, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the non-governmental organization CARE.