Shipments of food, shelter and medical supplies to Afghanistan and its neighbours began flowing into the region on Tuesday as aid agencies launched an all-out effort to avert what the United Nations has called a "humanitarian crisis of stunning proportions" inside Afghanistan. The UN believes that as many as 7.5 million Afghans will need emergency assistance in the coming months, including 1.5 million new refugees who could flee into neighbouring countries.
In addition to some 200 mt of food shipped by WFP to the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Monday - the first WFP shipment into Afghanistan in three weeks - the first plane-load of Russian aid arrived in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, on Tuesday morning. The supplies, mainly food, tents and blankets, will be ferried into opposition-held parts of northern Afghanistan by helicopters, as part of a Russian operation to help Afghans and refugees in Tajikistan.
The press secretary of the Russian embassy in Dushanbe, Andrey Osipov, confirmed to IRIN that the plane had arrived on Tuesday morning, and said Russia's Deputy Minister of Emergencies, Yuri Brazhnikov, was in Dushanbe to coordinate the humanitarian operation.
"The operation will be conducted in three rounds," Osipov told IRIN. "During the first round, three planes will deliver foods, tents and blankets. In the second, medicines, foods, tents, blankets and detergents will be sent. The third, sent by rail, will be field hospitals, ambulances, generators, water tanks, stoves, field kitchens, beds, bedding and utensils."
The UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, on Tuesday airlifted emergency shelter items, including tents, into Mashhad, in northeastern Iran. The shelter items are part of a British government donation. Other flights, carrying more tents, plastic sheeting and tarpaulins, are planned for later this week. Plastic sheeting and blankets were also due to arrive in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province on Tuesday.
WFP said on Tuesday it was also bringing aid into Afghanistan from Tajikistan and Turkmenistan before the onset of winter. Other humanitarian agencies, including UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), have also launched cross-border operations into Afghanistan.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed last Thursday for US $584 million in emergency aid for Afghanistan from 1 October until the end of March next year.
The UN's Emergency Relief Coordinator, Kenzo Oshima, on a brief mission to the region, warned on Monday that there was only a brief window of opportunity in which to get aid into Afghanistan before the onset of winter when conditions will make the delivery of assistance extremely difficult.
"It is a race against time. There is a window of opportunity that is not very long in sending in as much food and relief items as possible to a large part of the country," Oshima said in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. "What we hope to be able to do in the next few weeks is to send as much food and relief items as possible, to as large a part of the country as possible, and as efficiently and effectively as possible."
Oshima met Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf and the Taliban ambassador in Islamabad, Abdul Salam Zaeef before leaving on Tuesday for Iran.
More than one million Afghans are reported to be on the move inside Afghanistan due to fears that the United States will retaliate against the prime suspect for the recent terrorist attacks on the US, Osama bin Laden, who is being sheltered by the Taliban.
Agencies fear that in weeks to come, there will be a massive flight of Afghan refugees across its borders. One million Afghans are expected to go to Pakistan, 400,000 to Iran and 100,000 to other neighbouring countries.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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