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WHO Rushes More Aid to Afghans - 2002-02-12

The World Health Organization is rushing medical aid to Afghans trapped by winter snows. Meanwhile, other U.N. agencies are transferring Afghan refugees to what they say are safer shelters.

The World Health Organization says it is delivering emergency medical supplies by helicopter to the remote northeast Ghor region of Afghanistan.

The area is normally cut off for several months a year because of heavy snowfall, making it virtually impossible for 500,000 people to have access to medical supplies.

Fadela Chaib, of the WHO, says the organization has brought in emergency health kits providing essential drugs for 10,000 people for a three-month period. "Medical supplies are essentially to help the Afghan population in this region to treat the most common diseases, which are measles, respiratory infections," she said. "These supplies also include obstetric care for pregnant women."

Ms. Chaib says medication for burns suffered by Afghan women during cooking and heating accidents, and surgical supplies for war-related and landmine injuries have also been delivered.

In western Afghanistan, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that efforts to re-register internally displaced people (IDPs) at the largest camp inside the country near Herat are so far running smoothly.

IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy says the move is necessary to separate the truly displaced from local urban poor. "The next stage is getting all this information on the IDPs, who have been registered - where they come from, where they came from, how they came to Herat, if they intend to go back," he said. "If so, when and what they need to return to their villages. This next phase is very important because it allows the IOM and other U.N. agencies and NGOs to plan for these returns."

The U.N. refugee agency says it will begin helping Afghans living in Pakistan and Iran to return home in March. 3.5 million Afghan refugees live in both countries.

Meanwhile, UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond says the agency closed a squalid refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan and transferred 45,000 Afghans to safer areas. "We are extremely happy to see the end of the Jalozai makeshift site," said Ron Redmond. "We have transferred those people to five new camps basically along the Afghan-Pakistan border where they can get proper shelter, food and other assistance."

For the past two years, the Jalozai camp housed tens of thousands of Afghan refugees. They built flimsy shelters of plastic and canvas in a dried-up riverbed that flooded whenever it rained.

The UNHCR says the end of Jalozai shows the international community's renewed commitment to help end the suffering of the Afghan people.