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Afghanistan: UN refugee agency races to provide shelter before onset of winter

Afghanistan: UN refugee agency races to provide shelter before onset of winter

The United Nations refugee agency today said it was rushing to provide shelter for up to 400,000 returnees in rural Afghanistan before the onset of winter weather, expected about three months from now.

Winter "is certainly on the minds of the 1.6 million Afghans we've helped return home so far this year - 1.4 million refugees and 200,000 internally displaced returnees," said Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva. "Many of them are going back to destroyed homes and villages and are going to need shelter assistance before winter weather sets in."

UNCHR said it would distribute about 50,000 shelter kits consisting of 30 wooden poles, a door, two window frames, nails and tools in devastated areas throughout the country.

In addition to the kits, tents have also been handed out to families that were particularly hard-hit during years of fighting to provide temporary shelter while homes are rebuilt.

As part of its $35-million shelter programme, UNHCR has shipped 240 tons of nails to distribution points throughout Afghanistan, along with 240,000 door hinges and a similar number of tool kits, each containing a hammer, shovel and pickaxe, according to Mr. Redmond.

Additionally, the agency has purchased 40,000 cubic metres of timber, and is seeking regional suppliers to provide 263,000 more beams. It is also funding local carpentry workshops in which Afghan craftsmen build doors and windows needed for the shelter kits.

UNHCR, which is facing a $42 million funding shortfall in Afghanistan, had originally planned to provide 97,000 shelter kits this year, Mr. Redmond said, but the agency was forced to halve the programme to ensure adequate funds to provide travel assistance for the larger-than-expected number of returnees.