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International Agencies Rush Quake Aid to Afghanistan - 2002-03-26

International aid agencies are rushing emergency assistance to Baghlan province in northern Afghanistan, following devastating earthquakes overnight.

U.N. and private aid agencies say the emergency supplies include 500 tents, blankets, medical supplies, clothing, and household items. But they say getting aid to the quake area is not easy because two of the three access roads are blocked.

UNICEF spokeswoman Wivina Belmonte says there are growing concerns about sanitation and the spread of disease because of the damaged water supply.

"We have to make sure that on the ground, the water supply does not become contaminated and that is a key concern," she said. "The other key concern is to make sure that people who have lost their homes have a safe and warm place to stay tonight. It is very cold there in the day. It is even colder at night. We have to be able to give these people shelter of some kind, blankets, household supplies, the basics so they can get through the first few nights."

A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, Peter Kessler, says the quake and repeated aftershocks destroyed at least five villages and caused significant damage in many others. The quake region in Afghanistan's Baghlan province is about 120 kilometers north of Kabul.

"Many refugees that are under our care in Pakistan hail from this region," he said. "They fled the area of Nahrin district due to heavy fighting in mid-2000 between the Taleban and Northern Alliance. Many of them were sheltered in Jalozai and now they are in other UNHCR camps. We are currently advising people not to go back if they hail from these areas."

A U.N. assessment team is going to the stricken area to evaluate the needs. Officials also are trying to bring relief supplies into Afghanistan from neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.