The United Nations will intensify its humanitarian relief work in Afghanistan as soon as conditions allow, a senior UN official said today.
"At the earliest opportunity, the UN agencies will make every effort to scale up their operations in Afghanistan," said Kenzo Oshima, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. "We will concentrate on those people internally displaced in such cities as Herat, Mazar-I-Sharif and Kabul, and on people threatened by starvation in rural areas."
He pledged that the UN "will do everything it can to support up to 7.5 million civilians with food, medicine and shelter, especially as winter approaches fast."
Mr. Oshima specified a number of conditions necessary for humanitarian work to proceed. "We must have the ability to communicate with our national staff, 700 of whom work inside Afghanistan," he said. "We also must have real guarantees of security and safety for humanitarian staff and also supplies." In addition, he said UN relief aircraft must be able to operate.
"As the events unfold over the next weeks, we will take whatever steps are necessary and possible to allow the UN and its partners to work," he stressed.
The Emergency Relief Coordinator also underscored the suffering of innocent Afghans. "Now that hostilities have intensified, we take this opportunity to remind the world of the need to protect innocent civilians, the need to distinguish between combatants and those who do not bear arms, and especially the need to secure conditions so that aid on a large scale can be delivered to the people of Afghanistan as quickly as possible," he said.
Briefing reporters one day after the start of military action in Afghanistan, Mr. Oshima, who just returned from the region, said that during his visit he had "put the finishing touches on United Nations efforts to prepare for events exactly like these."
While in the region, he said he had sought the assistance of Iranian and Pakistani leaders in sheltering and protecting Afghan refugees. "I'm confident that we have a strong basis of cooperation with these two countries, which have of course been very generous over these years in supporting large refugee populations in Afghanistan."
The Emergency Relief Coordinator also reported that donors have the intention to provide over $700 million for the humanitarian effort in Afghanistan.