Missile Strikes, Drought, Disease, and Hunger

QUETTA, Pakistan, October 8, 2001 (ENS) - The United States has launched a second night of air strikes against selected military, Taliban and terrorist targets in Afghanistan, says Air Force General Richard Myers, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Military strikes inside Afghanistan began yesterday evening. Missiles launched by the United States and the United Kingdom struck Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharif.

The Quetta office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) was stoned by a crowd of angry demonstrators today in the most serious security incident of the Afghan conflict to date. Later, the demonstrators set fire to the nearby office of the United Nations Children's' Fund (UNICEF) also in Quetta, capital of the Pakistani province of Baluchistan.

The tense security situation is hampering work by UNHCR and its partners who are trying to prepare for a large influx of refugees fleeing Afghanistan. Border monitors were unable to deploy on Monday.

Demonstrations were also reported from the city of Peshawar in northern Pakistan. A UNHCR team travelling to tribal areas near Peshawar to look for additional refugee campsites was turned back in the town of Landikotal because of demonstrations.

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New arrivals at a refugee camp (Photo by C. Shirley and L. Boscardi courtesy UNHCR)
UNHCR workers say they are facing enormous challenges trying to prepare for a possible influx of refugees into Pakistan and Iran amid increasingly precarious security conditions. Water is expected to be a major problem in the arid Quetta area, hit hard by a four-year drought.

In Pakistan, more than 30 possible refugee campsites have now been identified but only a handful of those sites can be made operational within the next 10 days, according to UNHCR.

All the sites are located in Pakistan's border zone tribal areas. Any work in those areas is subject to approval by the local authorities, with aid workers having to ask daily for permission to access the campsites in order to pre-position shelter materials in them. The sites are located in rugged and barren areas where UNHCR workers say there is no grass or trees.

In Quetta, the UNHCR now has 4,000 tents, 10,000 plastic sheets and 6,000 blankets, which could provide temporary shelter to tens of thousands of people, but not to hundreds of thousands who may flee Afghanistan. The commission is estimating that initially 300,000 Afghani refugees will arrive in Pakistan and 80,000 in Iran.

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Red Crescent volunteers in Pakistan unload relief items from the Spanish Red Cross (Photo courtesy International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent)
Eight people in Quetta have died, and at least another 67 are ill from a tick-borne virus known as Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever. Similar to the ebola virus, both diseases damage blood vessels and lead to the collapse of major organs.

At Fatima Jinnah hospital, an isolation ward surrounded by barbed wire has been established to deal with the disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Country Office in Pakistan and its team in Quetta, and the WHO Office for the Eastern Mediterranean Region report that all the cases were from Pakistan, had disease onset within the past week, and were not linked. Samples have been collected and sent to the National Institute of Health in Islamabad.

U.S. military cargo planes dropped 37,500 humanitarian food packages into remote areas of Afghanistan, just north of Kabul, last night. The packages were dropped from a very high altitude without parachutes. Each package, wrapped in heavy yellow plastic, contains a two pound humanitarian daily ration, which includes rice, vegetables and fruit. They also carry a message to explain that the packages are "a gift from the people of the Unites States of America."

At a forum on Afghan refugees and displaced persons in Geneva October 5 and 6, donor pledges of over $600 million were announced.

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Afghan refugees at the UNHCR Shamshatoo camp (Photo by C. Shirley and L. Boscardi courtesy UNHCR)
Over 50 percent of the total $600 million in new funding has been pledged by the United States, according to Kenzo Oshima, United Nations under secretary general for humanitarian affairs. He also said the Afghan Forum agreed that the group should continue to act as a "humanitarian coalition" in responding to the crisis in Afghanistan.

Speaking October 6 in Geneva, Ruud Lubbers, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, emphasized that "durable solutions" need to be found inside Afghanistan which will allow refugee populations to return home.

Lubbers said he had made a plea to Pakistan and Iran to provide temporary protection and assistance for the most vulnerable, and had received "positive reactions" from them. Although the borders are formally closed, they remain open to the most vulnerable. No Afghans will be forcibly returned.

"I am glad to report that although the borders are formally closed," said Lubbers, "they are open for the most vulnerable, and they will be open if there are bigger numbers and a real necessity, but with the intention to make this temporary."

Working through the night into Saturday morning, a team of Pakistani workers in Peshawar offloaded a Russian Ilyushin 76 transport plane carrying 35 tons of Spanish Red Cross relief items. The flight is the first of many which will preposition relief and medical stocks in case of a refugee influx from Afghanistan.

Before the air strikes, overland food deliveries into Afghanistan by the World Food Program were averaging about 500 metric tons per day. The World Food Program aims to increase these deliveries to up to 52,000 metric tons per month - enough to feed the six million people identified as the most vulnerable inside Afghanistan.