A week after deadly riots killed more than 190 people and displaced hundreds of thousands of others in southern Kyrgyzstan, foreign aid deliveries are starting to arrive in neighboring Uzbekistan. But aid groups say they are having trouble reaching the people desperately in need of humanitarian aid in the violence-hit areas of Kyrgyzstan, where the situation remains tense.
On Thursday, the United Nations refugee agency said that Kyrgyz officials and aid agencies on the ground report some 400,000 people have been internally displaced in Kyrgyzstan. That is a significant rise from the 200,000 reported earlier this week, a reflection of the ongoing danger in the south.
Families and host communities are housing most of those who have fled their homes, according to the UNHCR. But the agency estimates at least 40,000 other people need shelter.
UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards warned the current situation can't go on for much longer. He said resources from families and communities hosting the displaced are being stretched to the limit. And, soon, they too will need assistance.
"What we at UNHCR are doing is really looking at fundamentally the shelter needs, at essential non-food items. All the unglamorous stuff that goes with emergency situations - flying in plastic sheets, buckets, tents - anything we can to help the people in need," said Edwards. "This is early days of a crisis in Central Asia and, by all signs, we have to plan, I think, for problems for some time to come."
The U.N. refugee agency said the situation in Osh and nearby villages appears to be volatile with sporadic clashes reportedly erupting around the town of Jalalabad. It says many families have left in fear and gone to the capital, Bishkek, or other areas.
Humanitarian aid, including tents and blankets, have begun arriving in the strife-torn southern part of the country, but relief groups say security concerns are hampering distribution efforts. In some ethnic Uzbek neighborhoods, many families have barricaded themselves in their houses for fear of attack from ethnic Kyrgyz gangs.
Edwards said the U.N. is conducting an assessment.
"This is an extraordinarily difficult situation and the priority has to be to get aid to the people in need. We will be flying aid into Osh in the next days and when that arrives, we will have to get that to the people in need, whether we have staff on the ground or not. And that means perhaps working with other partners there, the ICRC [the International Committee of the Red Cross] or others," Edwards said.
A UNHCR airlift to Kyrgyzstan is scheduled to begin this weekend. The agency says it will be sending two planes loaded with 80 tons of supplies for 15,000 people.
Meanwhile, the agency said the government of Uzbekistan is providing assistance and shelter to an estimated 100,000 refugees who fled spiraling violence in Kyrgyzstan. The first two planes stocked with relief landed in Uzbekistan on Wednesday.