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Afghan Children Critically at Risk, says UN - 2001-10-16


United Nations aid agencies say they are pressing ahead with relief efforts for the people of Afghanistan, despite the looting of their offices and financial pledges as yet unmet. U.N. officials say they fear that about 300,000 Afghan children may die this year from diseases that could be prevented if medicines and other aid were made available.

The United Nations children's agency (UNICEF) says there are now 50,000 acute cases of malnutrition among Afghan children under the age of five.

UNICEF spokeswoman Wivina Belmonte said these children are too weak to withstand cold weather and to be moved from place to place. She said UNICEF nutrition experts are warning that many Afghan children could die. We know that with one in four children is dying before the age of five, that we expect that 300,000 Afghan children to die this year, largely of preventable causes. We figure that as many as 100,000 more children under the age of five will die this winter in Afghanistan if we don't get the help they need," she said.

Ms. Belmonte added that death from measles, diarrhea, malnutrition and exposure to cold could be prevented if the United Nations can reach Afghans displaced inside the country as well as those fleeing the fighting and drought. UNICEF says it needs $36 million to carry out its work in Afghanistan during the coming winter.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR says it needs an initial $50 million to prepare camps for Afghans fleeing to Pakistan and Iran. A spokesman for the refugee agency, Ron Redmond, said the agency has only a small fraction of the needed funds. "So far, cash in hand is only around $12 million, so this is really a hand-to-mouth operation," he said, "and we are struggling to procure everything and get everything in place that we need to have in place. If we do not see a sizable outflow of refugees from Afghanistan, all of that stuff will very quickly be moved inside Afghanistan when security and other conditions allow."

Security continues to be a major concern for the aid agencies. On Tuesday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported its offices were looted and its staff robbed and beaten in the northern Afghan town of Mazar-e-Sharif. The area is controlled by the ruling Taleban.

IOM spokesman Jean Philippe Chauzy said the agency is not sure who was responsible. "The first people came in last night and started taking some of the office equipment," said Mr. Chauzy, "and then a few came back this morning to take the rest." Mr. Chauzy said the IOM's programs are continuing because there is a need to get assistance to the internally displaced Afghans. He expressed hope that the looting was an isolated incident.

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