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Annan issues plea to help avoid potential humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan

Annan issues plea to help avoid potential humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan

Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Backing a recent statement issued by the heads of United Nations relief agencies, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged the world community to help ward off a potential humanitarian disaster involving civilians and refugees from Afghanistan.

"Innocent civilians should not be punished for the actions of their government," Mr. Annan said in a statement released at UN Headquarters in New York. "The world is united against terrorism. Let it be equally united in protecting and assisting the innocent victims of emergencies and disasters."

On Monday, 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) warned of the possibility of a humanitarian crisis "of stunning proportions" in Afghanistan and appealed to the world community to provide assistance to the fragile country.

"I strongly support the statement issued yesterday by the leaders of all the branches of the United Nations involved in humanitarian action," Mr. Annan said in his statement today. "The plight of the civilian Afghan population is indeed desperate."

The Secretary-General noted that more than two decades of conflict, seven years of oppressive rule by the Taliban regime, and three years of severe drought have left more than five million people dependent on foreign aid for their very survival.

"Now, tragically, that aid has been interrupted," he said. "Those who deliberately withhold food supplies from starving people, and attack or impede humanitarian relief workers - whether local or international - should know that the international community will hold them responsible."

The Secretary-General said that many Afghans trying to flee the country have found it difficult to cross the borders. "In accordance with international law, the borders must be open to civilians seeking refuge," he said. "At the same time, the international community must send swift and generous help, so that refugees do not become an impossible burden on the neighbouring States."