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RESPONSE TO TERROR

U.N. Tries to Reestablish Afghanistan Aid System

Reconstruction: Relief workers are sent back to ravaged facilities as officials seek funds to rebuild the nation.

November 20, 2001|WILLIAM ORME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — The United Nations is trying to speed up emergency relief efforts in Afghanistan, sending hundreds of aid workers back to their vandalized facilities while officials here work to raise billions of dollars to rebuild the ravaged country, officials said Monday.

The U.N. is working to secure agreement from the major Afghan factions on a precise time, place and agenda for talks on sharing power in a post-Taliban coalition. Officials of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance agreed Sunday to participate. A well-funded aid program will be crucial to the efforts to build a broad-based new government, U.N. officials said.

Millions of Afghans are facing a winter without power, potable water or staple foods, U.N. aid agencies report.

Medical and many other essential services are dependent on professionals from international aid organizations who were pulled out after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The World Health Organization, UNICEF, the U.N. Development Program and other U.N. agencies, which are staffed locally with about 250 foreigners and 2,200 Afghan nationals, are beginning to return, U.N. officials said.

"We think it is time to get going, to get our people into the country," said Mark Malloch Brown, the administrator of the United Nations Development Program, who was named Friday to coordinate U.N. relief efforts in Afghanistan.

Afghan professionals employed by the United Nations are "a huge resource," Brown said Monday, suggesting that many senior civil servants in Afghanistan's health, education and finance ministries could come from their ranks.

"It is not the U.N.'s intention to run Afghanistan for the next few years," he said.

"From the beginning, we should go for an Afghan-led reconstruction."

There are no official estimates of the size of the planned reconstruction effort, but Brown cited as one precedent the $6.5-billion, five-year program in Mozambique, which was also left ravaged by years of famine and civil war.

Afghanistan is even poorer, larger geographically and more populous than Mozambique. And Mozambique was never the target of the kind of bombing campaign Afghanistan has faced.

Land mines and unexploded bombs that annually cause thousands of injuries and scores of deaths have been embedded across Afghanistan for years.

Only one in four Afghans has access to clean drinking water, and one in five is completely dependent on food shipped in by foreign relief agencies. Before the terrorist attacks, international aid efforts were flagging--a problem compounded by the Taliban's routine theft of aid supplies and its record of threats and violence against foreign relief workers.

Japan and the United States are convening a meeting of several donor nations and U.N. agencies for discussions on Afghanistan in Washington today. Further meetings are planned in Germany in December and in Japan in January.

Next week, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank are joining the U.N. for a three-day session in Islamabad, Pakistan, to assess Afghanistan's most immediate needs, Brown said.

Last weekend, senior U.N. aid workers began returning to Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif and other cities under Northern Alliance control.

The U.N. began sending wheat, clothes and drinking water across the border from Uzbekistan, north of Mazar-i-Sharif. Now that fighting in the border area has largely stopped, the U.N. says it can step up relief efforts there.

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