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UN to Provide Emergency Assistance to Afghans - 2001-09-25

The United Nations says it is completing plans to provide emergency assistance to millions of Afghans. U.N. officials are concerned that aid agencies might not be able to get relief supplies into Afghanistan.

U.N. aid agencies fear a humanitarian crisis of stunning proportions is unfolding in Afghanistan. They say 20 years of brutal conflict, three years of severe drought and large-scale human rights abuses have left more than five million civilians in need of help.

Given the current situation, the aid agencies predict the number of people needing assistance inside Afghanistan will rise to 7.5 million.

The head of humanitarian operations for the United Nations is Ross Mountain, who says that as the situation worsens in Afghanistan, as many as 1.5 million people may try to flee to neighboring countries. "Those that may be able to come out will probably be the lucky ones," he said. "Our concern right now is how are we going to reach those who are locked inside Afghanistan. Those who are able to escape as refugees will be able to receive support from the international community. Those that are not able to escape, those that are still inside Afghanistan, who have depended and the additional ones that may need to depend, on international humanitarian support are those that we are very much worried about now."

Following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, all United Nations foreign workers pulled out of Afghanistan, fearing U.S. military reprisals. About 700 local Afghan employees of the agencies are now operating humanitarian programs inside the country. But Mr. Mountain says it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to distribute aid. "Our very, very real concern for how assistance may be brought to those who will remain inside Afghanistan," said Ross Mountain. "We are indeed trying to see what kind of avenues that we may be able to explore, be it by air, be it cross-border, be it otherwise to be able to provide support inside the country."

The World Food Program says only two to three weeks worth of food remains inside the country. The agency says it is planning to begin a cross-border operation to transport food from Turkmenistan and Tajikistan into Northern Afghanistan. The International Organization for Migration says it is trying to round up a fleet of trucks to deliver the aid.