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UN To Re-Evaluate Needs of Refugees Returning to Kabul - 2001-12-04

The United Nations says thousands of Afghan refugees are returning to Kabul as the security situation improves in the city. But the return of the refugees has forced a re-evaluation of the need for assistance.

The U.N. refugee agency says it has begun a two-week program to assess the needs of thousands of internally displaced Afghans living in and around Kabul. UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond says the program is meant to help people in four provinces near the capital.

"We plan to assist 50,000 [internally displaced people] in the Kabul area. During the weekend, we also completed the distribution of the winter emergency kits to 10,500 destitute people living in the city," he said.

The World Food Program is conducting its own survey of food needs for more than one million people in the region around the Afghan capital and expects to start food distribution early next week.

WFP spokeswoman Christiane Bertiaume says for the first time in many years, Afghan women are working with the agency to find out how best to help Afghan families, work the women would not have been allowed to do if the Taleban were still ruling Afghanistan. Ms. Bertiaume has said women are essential to this kind of work.

"If you want to solve the hunger problem in a country, you have to address women. And we need Afghan women to go and talk to women to see what are the needs. Everywhere around the world, if one day you want to stop hunger, you have to focus on women, because it is hungry women who give birth to hungry kids that will suffer all their lives from the consequences of malnutrition," she said.

Meanwhile, another aid agency, the International Organization for Migration says it is receiving a strong response to its call for Afghan professionals to help in reconstruction efforts.

IOM spokeswoman Niurka Pineiro has said more than 80 Afghans living in Tajikistan and Iran say they want to return home to help rebuild their country. "Of the 82, 38 are women. That is a good sign. There are university professors, doctors, nurses, teachers and an economist and various other professions," she said.

IOM has launched a website and is opening 13 information offices around the world in the hopes of recruiting many into the Afghan professional program.