Millions of Afghans face starvation: BBC

BBC, 21 September 2001

Vast numbers are fleeing their homes in search of safety Aid agencies are warning of an epic humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, threatening the lives of millions of ordinary Afghans.

Thousands of innocent people have died in the United States. We must now make sure that even more innocent lives are not lost.

Christian Aid

Hundreds of thousands are fleeing their homes in fear of US military strikes, trying to get to remote villages or border areas.

But there is little food or water to keep them alive as neighbouring countries step up border controls to stem the massive flow of refugees.

According to recent estimates, as many as six million Afghans are now affected by drought, war or displacement.

Aid agencies are now issuing urgent pleas that the US-led "war against terrorism" does not become a war against innocent civilians.

No visible support

Agencies are particularly concerned that the main supplier of food aid to Afghanistan, the World Food Program, has stopped importing wheat or transporting it around the country.

Food and water are dangerously scarce

WFP says there are problems with transport, security and a shortage of personnel.

Correspondents say the WFP withdrawal alone has left two and a half million Afghans without any visible means of support.

Several agencies have offered to second staff to the WFP to keep the food aid going.

But the departure of all expatriate humanitarian workers has left Afghans in dire straits.

'Thousands dead'

The UK-based Christian Aid charity says the diminished aid distribution could leave thousands dead before the spring.

"The effects...could be infinitely more tragic and devastating than the worst that a wounded America may now throw at this long, long-suffering country," said Chris Buckley, the charity's Afghanistan programme officer.

"Thousands of innocent people have died in the United States. We must now make sure that even more innocent lives are not lost."

The British charity Oxfam is demanding that the US and its allies should promise Afghan civilians they will not be targeted.

"The local distribution does not just depend on the provision of food," Oxfam's Alex Renton told reporters.

"It also depends on reducing the fear of disproportionate military action which is driving so many Afghans away from their homes," he said.

Border appeal

Oxfam also appealed for international borders to be opened to provide refuge to the thousands of fleeing Afghans.

But the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that there are already 3.5m Afghan refugees living in Iran and Pakistan.

The International Red Cross is still at work in Afghanistan

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that at least 15,000 Afghans have crossed into Pakistan in the last week despite attempts to close the border.

According to the AFP news agency, the UNHCR mission in Iran is drawing up plans for the arrival of 300,000 Afghan refugees at the border.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is exploring alternative ways to move assistance into the western Afghan city of Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north.

The ICRC is still moving aid in from Tajikistan and is looking to ship further assistance via Iran and Turkmenistan.

Rising crime

Meanwhile, the BBC's Kate Clark says there have been reports of rising crime, particularly in the capital Kabul, as fear turns into chaos.

There's also a tide of feeling that a clear political strategy, particularly one led by the UN, could avoid the looming conflict.

Afghans also point out that it was insecurity and civil war in the first place which allowed foreign militants like Osama Bin Laden to flourish in their country.

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