Using new supply route, UN rushes relief aid to war-weary Afghans

Using new supply route, UN rushes relief aid to war-weary Afghans

Utilizing a new supply route, the United Nations today dispatched the first barge load of relief supplies destined for the beleaguered people of Afghanistan through the Termez River crossing in Uzbekistan.

Furnished by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the shipments included wheat, winter clothes and water containers, passing over what promises to be a key supply route, according to Stephanie Bunker, spokesperson for the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan.

“The Termez River crossing is expected to become a major corridor for shipment of humanitarian assistance into northern Afghanistan, where an estimated 3 million people face hunger, displacement and a bitter winter,” she told reporters in Islamabad.

For his part, the UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, Michael Sackett, pledged to continue providing relief to millions of vulnerable civilians in the region. “We are fully ready to start bringing in this assistance from Termez as soon as we are satisfied of the required security guarantees for UN staff, both national and international, and of our relief convoys and their distribution to the identified needy population in Northern Afghanistan,” he said.

Meanwhile, the security situation in Mazar-i-Sharif has been marked by reports of tension among various Northern Alliance troops, according to Ms. Bunker. “There are still reports of bodies in the streets, although it is not clear whether they are civilians or military,” she said. “UN vehicles have been seen on the streets, driven by Northern Alliance commanders.”

According to UNHCR spokesman Yusuf Hassan, the agency’s office in Mazar-i-Sharif was totally looted. “Everything that could be carted away has been taken,” he said. “Looters have returned to remove the window frames.”

In Kabul, a mob ransacked a warehouse used by UNHCR, reportedly taking away 1,400 tents and unknown quantities of quilts intended for internally displaced people and returnees.

The agency, which is gearing up to fully resume its activities inside Afghanistan, plans to immediately deploy extra emergency staff and re-open its offices in the country, he said. “We hope to expand our programme in order to deliver the maximum assistance, as more areas become accessible.”

WFP also plans to step up its relief efforts. In Kabul, agency telephone lines were being re-established and premises secured. “Access to the Panjsheer Valley should be open from Kabul in a few days,” said WFP spokesperson Lindsey Davies, noting that this would enable the agency to move food much more easily into the north.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for UNICEF said Taliban soldiers had raided the agency’s sub-office in the Afghan capital yesterday. Chulho Hyun said they “beat three local guards, broke down the office door and took three hand-held radios.”