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Over 200,000 Afghans hit by severe cold to receive UN assistance

19 February 2008 – United Nations agencies are delivering emergency aid to ease the plight of more than 200,000 Afghans suffering under a harsh Central Asian winter that has already claimed hundreds of lives in recent weeks.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is distributing relief items such as tents, blankets, plastic sheets, sleeping mats, lanterns, jerry cans, kitchen sets and soap to recent returnees from Pakistan and Iran, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and other vulnerable people. Many of the new returnees are experiencing snow for the first time after nearly 30 years in exile.

The agency has already assisted more than 85,000 Afghans in different parts of the country. Along with other UN agencies, UNHCR has provided 2,500 families with winter supplies in two IDP settlements in the western province of Herat.

In addition, supplies have been sent to the local officials in Daikundi, Farah, Ghor, Badghis and Nimrooz provinces for further distribution.

Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has already distributed nearly 2,500 tonnes of food to 33,000 households – about 200,000 people – in several provinces, including Herat, Faryab and Jawzjan.

Along with the Government, the Afghan Red Crescent, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and provincial reconstruction teams, the UN has been mobilizing support in more than 50 districts in 13 provinces to help those most affected, said WFP Country Director Rick Corsino.

“What we are trying to do is try to reduce the hardship placed upon households, particularly where damage has been done to their dwellings through avalanches or excessive snowfalls that caused the collapse of buildings,” he told a press briefing in Kabul. The UN is also assisting those unable to move out of their areas due to winter conditions, to reach markets or obtain social services.

Along with the severe cold, many Afghans also have to contend with rising food prices in the country, particularly for staples such as wheat flour. Mr. Corsino noted that there has been an “immediate and very generous” response from donors for the appeal launched last month for more than $80 million to help over 2.5 million Afghans facing food shortages due to the soaring price of wheat.

Some $38 million has been contributed in the past three weeks, he said, adding that this will allow WFP to distribute 50,000 tonnes of food.

Harsh winter conditions have swept across much of Central Asia, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) yesterday appealed for $25 million to help UN relief agencies provide assistance in Tajikistan.




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