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Funds urgently needed to stem Afghanistan's displacement crisis: UN official

Funds urgently needed to stem Afghanistan's displacement crisis: UN official

Funds are urgently needed to stem Afghanistan's growing displacement crisis, which is being fuelled by the twin scourges of severe drought and intensifying civil war, a senior United Nations official said today.

Reporting on his recent visit to the country, Dennis McNamara, the UN Special Coordinator on Internal Displacement, said Afghanistan was witnessing "probably the fastest growing displacement crisis anywhere that we've seen so far today." He warned that in the absence of prompt action, an additional half million or more Afghans could flee their homes.

The UN humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan this year, which totals $250 million, has so far received pledges for $88 million, Mr. McNamara told a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York. "The $250 million is going to have to be revised upwards because of the [population] movements, and the pledges of course are not all payments, so there is an urgent need for that response to be increased," he said.

Mr. McNamara said the UN was making a two-fold appeal to donor governments, seeking both emergency relief for those who had fled, as well as assistance to those who had not, to encourage them to remain in place.

"We need urgent relief: we need tents, we need water, sanitation, food aid for those who have moved -- basic necessities are lacking," Mr. McNamara said. "We need, at the same time, agricultural support for those people who are otherwise likely to leave where they are and move within Afghanistan and possibly across borders."

The Special Coordinator warned that the damaging effects of the drought -- the worst the country has faced in some 30 years -- would persist through the middle of 2002. He noted that the World Food Programme (WFP) was aiming to feed some 3 million people, adding, "and that's not sufficient."

Mr. McNamara also reported on widespread predictions that the civil war would heat up in the coming months during the "dry season" when offensives are normally launched. "No one predicted a reduction [in the fighting], despite appeals for that -- everyone feels it will increase," he said.