The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is dramatically increasing relief efforts for Afghan refugees. Red Cross officials are appealing for $25 million to respond to what it calls a potential humanitarian crisis.
The bulk of Red Cross aid is being planned for Pakistan. But agency officials say that, as the possibility of war looms, more Afghans might try to flee to Iran and other neighboring countries.
Red Cross spokesman Denis McClean says it is vital to get the relief items in place as quickly as possible, before winter sets in. "We are anxious that we have in place sufficient winter clothes, blankets, adequate winter tents to ensure that those people who do decide to leave Afghanistan in the coming weeks are adequately looked after for the coming winter," he said. "But the winters are bitter and cruel in that part of the world and we are particularly concerned about the plight of the elderly and other vulnerable groups who might be at risk in the event there is a massive displacement and that this winter is particularly bad."
The United Nations and other aid agencies are preparing for a so-called worst case scenario of 1.5 million refugees fleeing Afghanistan. Mr. McClean says there has not as yet been any significant influx of refugees into the countries bordering Afghanistan, but he says the Red Cross is obliged by the lessons learned in recent years to be prepared for the worst. "If you recall 10 years ago, the crisis in Kurdistan where you had a very untenable humanitarian crisis on the mountains bordering Turkey," said Denis McClean. "And very few humanitarian agencies were ready. Something similar happened during the Great Lakes crisis on the border with Zaire and Rwanda, when over half a million people poured in in the space of a few hours. We were all caught unprepared. We do not want that to happen again."
The appeal will be used to provide shelter, clean water, and sanitation as well as basic health care for those leaving their homes. Mr. McClean says that in Pakistan alone, the International Red Cross will provide shelter for up to 250,000 refugees.