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UN agencies prepare for impending humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan

UN agencies prepare for impending humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today announced plans to mount a massive relief operation for any Afghans fleeing their homeland, as UN agencies gear up to deal with the growing humanitarian disaster inside Afghanistan.

According to UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond, the agency has ordered 20,000 tents from suppliers in Pakistan, in addition to the more than 9,300 tents already stored in the country. Beginning next week the agency will also fly in plastic tarpaulins. "We expect that the Japanese Government will also be airlifting stocks of relief supplies," he added.

This weekend, UNHCR will begin deploying 25 experienced emergency preparedness staff to Pakistan, where they will join more than 150 personnel currently on the ground, Mr. Redmond said. All the newly identified emergency relief workers should be in-country within the week.

The spokesman repeated yesterday's call by High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers for neighbouring countries to keep their borders open and for a "humanitarian coalition" to help share the burden. "Afghans are directly affected by the current insecurity in their homeland, and governments worldwide, especially those bordering on Afghanistan, should respond in a humanitarian way," Mr. Redmond said. "We are also appealing to governments to work to prevent hostility against Afghans and other Muslim asylum-seekers and refugees."

All the countries surrounding Afghanistan have officially closed their borders to people without visas, though thousands seem to be entering both Pakistan and Iran over irregular crossing points, Mr. Redmond said. "Inside Afghanistan, we understand that many Afghans are continuing to leave for the countryside," he said. "Based on sketchy reports from inside the country, every major city has seen some movement toward the countryside."

Meanwhile, the first relief flight of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), carrying more than $130,000 worth of critical medical supplies, tarps, water purification tablets and other items, was scheduled to arrive this weekend in Turkmenistan, one of four nearby countries where the agency is positioning supplies should large numbers of Afghans seek refuge across national borders, according to Stephanie Bunker, a spokesperson for the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan.

The UN Resident Coordinator for Pakistan, Onder Yucer, told a briefing in Islamabad that the Government of Pakistan has no "fiscal space" for dealing with the humanitarian crisis looming at its borders. He urged international support to help the country cope with the impending emergency.