Warning of the possibility of a humanitarian crisis "of stunning proportions" in Afghanistan, United Nations relief agencies today appealed to the world community to provide assistance to the fragile country, and to keep in mind basic tenets of international law in addressing the problem of terrorism.
"We urge a world wounded by the horrific and deplorable terrorist attacks of 11 September to be mindful of the principles of international humanitarian law and to take all measures to protect the civilian populations, especially the millions of children and women," said the joint statement signed by the heads of the UN agencies and programmes dealing with children (UNICEF), refugees (UNHCR), human rights (UNHCHR), food security (WFP), emergency coordination (OCHA) and development (UNDP).
According to the statement, 20 years of brutal conflict, 3 years of severe drought, large-scale human rights abuses and significant population movements spurred most recently by the present geo-political crisis have left more than 5 million civilians - the vast majority of them women and children - with a fragile grip on survival. Nearly 20 per cent of those in need are children under the age of five, many of whom are already struggling to survive.
UN agencies and other aid organizations continue to operate camps for displaced people and food delivery with the help of hundreds of devoted Afghan staff, but lack of international humanitarian access is hastening the deterioration of the situation. No additional food supplies can be delivered to Afghanistan at the moment and WFP estimates that food reserves in the country will be exhausted within two to three weeks.
"We call on the entire international community - especially the countries in the region - to help prevent further tragedy by supporting humanitarian relief efforts, by pressing for safe access to all populations in need, by assuring the safety and security of relief personnel, by supporting all measures that lessen the chance of a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries, and by opening borders to those in need," the statement said.
Recognizing the enormous burden already carried by Pakistan and Iran in hosting 3.5 million Afghans, the statement joined UNHCR's call earlier today for more international support for asylum states to ensure that their borders are open to all those who deserve protection and humanitarian assistance. In that statement, UNHCR had announced plans to start screening thousands of Afghan refugees currently camped in the desert along the border area just inside Pakistan.