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Changes in Afghanistan Affecting Relief Efforts - 2001-11-14

United Nations aid agencies say the rapid changes in Afghanistan are making it difficult to get food and medical supplies to the people who need them most. Agency officials say that, once the roadways are secured, they can resume aid deliveries in Afghanistan.

U.N. aid agency officials say they are having a hard time distributing supplies in Afghanistan. World Food Program spokeswoman Christiane Bertiaume says the chaotic military situation and concern for the safety of U-N staff members are hampering aid efforts to the more than seven-million Afghans who rely on the agencies for food and other necessities. "We have the food, we have the trucks, we have local people on the staff, but access is the problem," she says. "Access because of the security situation and because, obviously, winter is coming up."

Ms. Bertiaume says the WFP has over 90,000 tons of food positioned in region. She says if roads are secured, that aid could be distributed and another 52,000 tons of food could be brought into Afghanistan each month. She adds that winter snow is also posing an additional challenge to distribution. "Winter is obviously a big problem. The aim is now to bring in as much food [as possible] by truck," she says. "We have bought some snowplows. We have bought [them] in order to keep the roads open as long as possible."

WFP says it will air drop food if the aid cannot be transported by road. Meanwhile, the U.N. children's agency says it is having difficulty contacting its staff in Afghanistan because communications equipment was recently stolen from agency offices in the northern town of Mazar-e-Sharif. Spokeswoman Wivina Belmonte says some trucks were also taken, but they have been recovered. "Six out of the 10-trucks that arrived in Mazar over the weekend, with UNICEF supplies, that were taken away have been located in a district just outside Mazar," she says. "The supplies are still on board and intact and the drivers are safe."

UNICEF says it is in contact with Northern Alliance troops about finding the other four vehicles and the supplies they are filled with. The agency says Afghanistan's women and children are facing a long and harsh winter, and they need those supplies.