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As winter sets in, millions in Afghanistan are at risk, UN relief official warns

As winter sets in, millions in Afghanistan are at risk, UN relief official warns

With cold weather approaching, the already dire humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is expected to worsen, putting millions of people at grave risk, a senior United Nations official warned today.

"We are extremely worried that the situation inside Afghanistan is going to deteriorate rapidly as winter comes on," Carolyn McAskie, Deputy UN Emergency Relief Coordinator for the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told reporters at a briefing in New York. Noting that temperatures were expected to drop sharply by mid-November, she said, "after that, it is going to be not impossible but difficult to get supplies in."

Convoys are capable of delivering up to 500 metric tonnes of supplies each, she noted. Putting this figure into context, she said, "you have to juxtapose that with an assessment that 50 to 52,000 metric tonnes per month that will be needed to feed 6 million people." In order to stave off a potential crisis, she estimated that it would be necessary to get between 100,000 and 200,000 metric tonnes of supplies pre-positioned in the country.

Among the myriad problems in the country, the serious risks faced by 1 million pregnant Afghan women was of particular concern, Ms. McAskie said, noting that the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) had issued warnings about the dire consequences of this situation. "For women on the march in a country where you already have high fertility rates, high infant mortality rates, high maternal mortality rates, if you put the women under this kind of pressure you are only going to increase their difficulty," she observed.

The Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator said the UN humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan was being met with contributions from countries around the world. "I'm very confident that the donors will rally around enormously," she said.

Meanwhile in Islamabad, UN officials echoed Ms. McAskie's warning about the danger posed by colder temperatures for the beleaguered Afghan population. "Poverty, hunger, war, drought, displacement and human rights abuses combine to make Afghanistan probably the most difficult place in the world in which to survive," said UN spokesperson Stephanie Bunker. "As winter approaches, the crisis and the suffering will inevitably deepen."

According to Ms. Bunker, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) was predicting an outbreak of falciparum malaria - a deadly form of the infectious disease. The UN was taking preventive measures, she said, including by distributing thousands of bed nets treated with insecticide. "Aid workers believe that any supplies needed before winter should be sent in now," she said.