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UNICEF: Outlook for Afghan Refugees Grim - 2001-10-05

The United Nations agency for children calls the outlook for Afghan refugees grim, with predictions of widespread famine and child malnutrition. UNICEF is stepping up its efforts to get food and medical supplies to those in greatest need.

Even before the September terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, UNICEF had estimated that some six million Afghans were at high risk due to 20 years of civil war, drought and the coming winter.

Now, with the possibility of military strikes against Afghanistan's ruling Taleban looming, UNICEF Special Representative for Afghanistan, Nigel Fisher says women and children there face additional peril.

"In Afghanistan today, whatever happens at the borders, hundreds of thousands of children, if not millions, urgently need blankets, winter clothing and shelter, food, especially therapeutic food for malnourished children," he said. "We estimate that 50 percent of children in Afghanistan have some level of malnutrition and obviously need medical drugs and essential supplies. Women, especially pregnant and lactating women, are particularly at high risk."

Mr. Fisher says one out of four Afghan babies will not see their first birthday, while one Afghan woman dies every 30 minutes daily in childbirth. He says UNICEF fears these numbers could dramatically increase.

Mr. Fisher adds that in the event of any military action against Afghanistan, United Nations agencies are estimating some 1.5 million Afghans will try to cross the border, while another 1.25 million could be internally displaced.

Mr. Fisher says UNICEF is stockpiling resources along Afghanistan's borders to aid the refugees. It also has begun airlifts of 200 metric tons of blankets, tents, and medical supplies to the border areas. Convoys of trucks and donkeys are also carrying needed goods into Afghanistan.

He says that UNICEF has been able to maintain communication about the needs and situation of the Afghan people with local UNICEF employees in the presence of Afghanistan's ruling Taleban government health officials.

Mr. Fisher adds that UNICEF is not working at full capacity, but is still able to help some of Afghanistan's women and children. He says UNICEF is in urgent need of financial resources to do more.