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Fighting Hinders Afghan Aid Efforts - 2001-11-27

U.N. aid officials say continued fighting is making it difficult to get food to people in northern and central Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the U.N. children's agency says it has started rebuilding Afghanistan's devastated education system.

The World Food Program says instability around the northern Afghan towns of Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif has stopped the distribution of food aid in those areas for the past several days.

The WFP's Christiane Bertiaume says that aid workers recently found several thousand displaced Afghans living out in the open, in freezing temperatures with very little food in the northwest of the country. It is believed that these people escaped fighting in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Ms. Bertiaume says Mazar-e-Sharif also serves as a strategic hub to getting aid to other parts of northern and central Afghanistan. She says three million people in these areas have been affected by drought and fighting. "Mazar is located in a valley and from there are many roads from where we can bring the food into the north and northeast of the country as well into the center of the country. That is why Mazar is so important," she said. "Also it is located on the road coming from Uzbekistan and this is a very good road from where we can bring a lot of food inside the country."

Meanwhile, the U.N. children's agency says the education of Afghan children is one of its top priorities. It says that although health coverage in Afghanistan is low - reaching perhaps 30 percent of the country - education is virtually non-existent due to Taleban policies.

Spokesman Marc Vergara says UNICEF is providing educational materials to 20,000 children in central Afghanistan. "Immediately, we are trying to set up classes for this coming winter, because there is such a desire to catch up for lost time," he said. "But also with a need for parents to protect the children, because as you know there is still instability in many places in Afghanistan and the danger of landmines. We are trying to provide basic education kits."

UNICEF says it plans to help rebuild 20 schools in the northwestern area of Herat, including facilities to educate 700 Afghan girls. It has launched an appeal for $69 million in aid for Afghanistan with nearly one-third of that sum set aside for education.