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UN Warns of Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan - 2001-09-14


The United Nations warns that more than one million Afghans may be forced to leave their homes in search of food if foreign aid workers are not able to return to Afghanistan quickly. The United Nations has pulled all its foreign staff from Afghanistan, fearing possible U.S. retaliatory strikes for Tuesday's terrorist attacks.

The United Nations says the withdrawal of foreign aid workers could seriously disrupt humanitarian operations in Afghanistan. U.N. officials say as many as 1.5 million Afghans could be forced to seek survival either within or outside Afghanistan's borders.

In a statement issued Friday, the United Nations notes the World Food Program (WFP) currently feeds about three million people in rural areas of Afghanistan. If this support cannot be continued, it says at least half may be forced to leave their homes to avert starvation.

The United Nations has evacuated nearly 80 expatriate staff, among them 21 WFP workers. WFP spokeswoman, Christiane Berthiaume, says 370 local Afghans, part of the U.N. staff, are carrying out essential work in the country.

But, she says humanitarian operations will suffer if international workers cannot return to Afghanistan quickly. "Winter is approaching very, very quickly," she says. "As you probably know, by mid-November normally, we start having access problems in that country because of winter, because of the snow, because of problems. So, we have to be back as quickly as possible. There are operations that have been stopped. All the food-for-work operations, school feedings have stopped, some food distribution in some hospitals have stopped. It is the essential ones that have been kept on for the time being."

Essential programs include continued running of bakeries in the capital, Kabul. These bakeries feed tens of thousands of widows, children, elderly, and handicapped people who otherwise would have nothing to eat. Food also is being distributed to millions of Afghans displaced by war and drought.

While WFP currently is feeding three million people, Ms. Berthiaume says more than five million people are in need of help. She says the agency recently appealed for $150 million to meet the growing needs. "One has to remember that we did launch an appeal of $78 million at the beginning of the year and this was supposed to last until March 2002 for more than three million people. But, the needs have increased and the number of people in need have also increased," she says. "There are tremendous needs in Afghanistan for people that are suffering. It is probably the worst place to live on earth right now."

The United Nations says most of the non-governmental agencies that provide vital humanitarian support to the Afghan people also have left the country. The United Nations says fewer than 50 private aid workers remain in Afghanistan.

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