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Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis may worsen if security deteriorates, UN warns

Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis may worsen if security deteriorates, UN warns

Afghanistan’s already calamitous humanitarian situation could degenerate if law and order is further disrupted in the country, the United Nations warned today.

“Continuing violence and worsening security would seriously impair efforts to reach the people who urgently need humanitarian assistance,” Stephanie Bunker, a spokesperson for the UN Coordinator for Afghanistan, told reporters in Islamabad. With widespread famine conditions already prevailing in much of the region, she warned that “unless food, shelter, and medicine can be rushed as soon as possible, the north of Afghanistan might be bracing for a human catastrophe of unimaginable proportions.”

Commenting on the situation in Mazar-i-Sharif, which fell to forces of the Northern Alliance over the weekend, she said reports indicated that “some elements looted UN and NGO [non-governmental organization] offices, including food warehouses.”

Other UN agencies reported that looting and insecurity were hampering their work. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said one of its truck convoys had been hit by bomb shrapnel. While there were no casualties, “initial reports indicate that 80 per cent of the food is damaged and is unusable,” WFP spokesperson Lindsey Davies told reporters in Islamabad.

She described the situation in Mazar-i-Sharif as volatile, citing “reports of looting, abduction of civilians from the city, uncontrolled `freelance' gunmen and some street battles.” Over the weekend, a WFP warehouse storing oil, sugar and high-energy biscuits was looted. “All the 89 tonnes there seems to have disappeared,” said Ms. Davies.

The agency, which has supplies located in nearby towns, will truck in more assistance as soon as possible. “We do not know how the situation will evolve over the coming days, but right now we have to seize whatever chance we have to deliver the food, not only to Mazar but to the rest of the north.”

A spokesman for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Chulho Hyun, told reporters in Islamabad that the Northern Alliance had reportedly seized a 10-truck UNICEF convoy as the city was falling. “UNICEF is seeking to ensure the safety of the commercial transport company drivers – who are all Pashtun – the trucks themselves and the supplies, which we presume had been taken to the commander’s base in Mazar for protection,” he said.

Mr. Hyun also reported a “major loss” of additional UNICEF property in the city. “Our colleagues at the sub-office have reported that soon after the fall of the city, a group of armed people entered the UNICEF premises and removed almost every item found inside,” he said. “These included computers, furniture, radio equipment and other supplies related to UNICEF projects.” No injuries to staff members were reported in the attacks.

In addition to the theft of supplies, UNICEF lost all of its vehicles, which were reportedly taken by Taliban forces as they moved away from Mazar towards Pulikumri.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, has called on all combatants in Mazar-i-Sharif to take “every necessary measure” to ensure full respect for the rights of non-combatants and those not involved in the fighting, including civilians of the various minority groups. “It is time to end the climate of impunity in Afghanistan,” she said in a statement issued in Geneva on Sunday. “This is the very least we must guarantee the long-suffering civilian population.”