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RESPONSE TO TERROR | NEW THREATS

100,000 Afghans May Die, UNICEF Warns

Aid: Essential supplies must reach children especially, agency says, to prevent huge toll from cold and hunger.

November 27, 2001|From Associated Press

TEHRAN — As many as 100,000 Afghan children could die of cold, disease and hunger within weeks if vital aid doesn't reach them, the United Nations Children's Fund said Monday.

"Winter is approaching fast, and we need to move in emergency supplies even quicker in order to help the most vulnerable, the Afghan children and women, to survive these very cold conditions," said Thomas McDermott, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

In a report issued to journalists in Tehran, UNICEF estimated that up to 100,000 children in refugee camps and cities inside Afghanistan could die if essential relief supplies are not made available to them in the next few weeks.

Diseases spreading through refugee camps in western Afghanistan, near Iran, have claimed the lives of hundreds of children in the last few weeks, the organization said.

McDermott, who is overseeing UNICEF's Iran-based emergency operations in Afghanistan, said the organization's priorities there are to mount an immunization program aimed at preventing the spread of epidemic diseases, to reactivate social services and to get children back to school.

McDermott said a plane carrying 33 tons of relief supplies for Afghan children landed Sunday in Mashhad, near the border in Iran. He said the supplies--including therapeutic milk, sweaters, boots and mattresses--would be trucked to Herat in western Afghanistan today.

Since the United States began bombing Afghanistan on Oct. 7 in an effort to root out Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorism network and oust the Taliban from power, UNICEF has sent three convoys with 88 tons of relief supplies to Herat, McDermott said.

But he said delivering aid has been a major problem for the staff of UNICEF and other groups because many drivers have been reluctant to travel on mountainous, icy Afghan roads and fear they will encounter retreating Taliban forces.

The Taliban held about 95% of Afghanistan before the U.S. attacks began, but it has lost almost all of that this month to the Northern Alliance and other opponents.

UNICEF offices in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, and the main northern city, Mazar-i-Sharif, have restored regular operations, and international staff will return to Herat after security checks, McDermott said. Offices in Jalalabad and Taliban-held Kandahar, in the south, remain closed.

In New York on Monday, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said U.N. missions scheduled to leave for Mazar-i-Sharif from Termez in Uzbekistan over the weekend were postponed because of "the prevailing insecurity in the north."

Eckhard also said that the U.N. high commissioner for refugees had expressed "extreme concern" about the plight of thousands of civilians in southern Afghanistan after renewed fighting there.

Before the U.S. attacks, Afghanistan was already suffering from decades of devastating war and years of drought that drove millions from their homes.

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