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Millions of Afghan women and children in dire need of assistance: UN

Millions of Afghan women and children in dire need of assistance: UN

The Office of the United Nations Coordinator for Afghanistan today said the humanitarian situation in the country was dramatic, with millions of civilians - mostly women and children - "too poor or unable to move" from their villages because of the armed conflict that rages over half of the territory.

In a statement issued in Islamabad, the UN Office said there were almost 6 million vulnerable people inside Afghanistan - or approximately 25 per cent of the total population. The current caseload of internally displaced persons is estimated at 900,000 and is expected to reach one million before the end of the year.

Due to concerns about possible retaliation against Afghanistan after the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States, the UN evacuated all of its 75 international staff from the country as a security precaution. Several hundred staff of non-governmental organizations have also left Afghanistan.

The UN plans to continue to provide as much life-saving assistance to the civilian population as possible, the UN Coordinator said. Of particular importance will be caring for extremely vulnerable families in their places of origin and internally displaced persons - who are almost totally dependent on aid to survive. The greatest need is to try to continue food, shelter and clothing assistance so that people can survive the advancing winter.

Despite the Afghan people's overwhelming need for help, some important humanitarian assistance programmes will not be able to continue if volatility inside the country increases, the statement said. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is currently helping feed 3 million people in Afghanistan's rural areas alone.

"If this support cannot be continued, massive displacement cannot be ruled out," the statement said. "At least half may be forced to leave their homes to avert starvation, seeking survival either within or outside Afghanistan's borders."

The office of the UN Coordinator said that in the absence of international personnel, hundreds of dedicated Afghan staff would undertake their activities insofar as the situation permitted. It warned, however, that "national staff have never been called upon to carry out their duties in a crisis of this magnitude. It must also be recognized that, while they will receive as much support from Islamabad as possible, as individuals, they will also be faced with making decisions about the best interest of their own families."