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Despite Weather UN Continues to Distribute Aid to Afghans - 2002-01-15

Despite heavy snows and rain in Afghanistan, United Nations relief agencies say they are still able to distribute food and supplies to Afghans in need.

United Nations aid agencies say people in the west of the country initially welcomed the heavy downpours of rain and snow - the first substantial precipitation in the area after three years of drought. But by Saturday they had had enough. Many tents and mud huts in camps in Herat had collapsed under the deluge.

Aid groups are now working to bring in tarpaulin from nearby Iran to re-roof shelters that suffered damage.

A spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, Jean-Philippe Chauzy, says the floods have not halted the agency's relief efforts, but they have prevented some Afghans from getting the help they need. "The snow and rain have triggered some landslides, north and south of Herat," he said. "That is not hindering for the moment our relief efforts because our relief effort is coming from the west - Iran. It has put a stop to the people who were arriving on a regular basis to Herat from the north and south. These people are now probably staying in their villages because they know the roads have been cut."

World Food Program officials say the rain and snow are also complicating the delivery of food aid in the north of Afghanistan. Christiane Bertiaume of the WFP says icy conditions have made delivering food more treacherous, but the deliveries have continued. "It obviously made things more difficult, more arduous, and more dangerous for the trucks," she said. "But we haven't stopped, no."

Meanwhile, in the southeast of the country, about 13,000 Afghans are now in a no-man's land on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and more people are turning up every day. U.N. refugee agency spokesman Chris Janowski says the people want to get across the border in the hope they will get more aid than is available on the Afghan side of the border. "We have reports that there maybe be as many as 40,000 people behind them, basically trying to get out of Spin Boldak - makeshift camps on the Afghan side of the border - and get over to Pakistan since there is absolutely no aid in Spin Boldak."

Mr. Janowski says the U.N. high commissioner for refugees is pressing Pakistani border officials and authorities in Islamabad to allow the refugees to enter U.N. run camps in Pakistan.