Fear of increase in food shortages
15 December 2000
Tens of thousands of people in Herat, in western Afghanistan, are facing a sharply deteriorating humanitarian situation. Hundreds of new refugees are arriving daily in Herat. Nothing is available to them, not even tents - let alone any adequate form of shelter. Meanwhile, the temperature has dropped below zero. Humanitarian assistance to the population is already inadequate, but it is feared that it will deteriorate even further following the departure of the majority of international UN-employees last week. The withdrawal is being described as a security measure in preparation for possible new UN-sanctions against the Taliban. The food stocks in Herat are only sufficient for a few more days. The MSF feeding centres for displaced people near Herat will have to cease, since they depend on the UN World Food Programme (WFP). Country manager Fouad Hikmat said: "Among the 50,000 displaced people around Herat, we are already seeing roughly 10% malnourishment among children less than five years old. We are worried that malnutrition will rapidly increase while new arrivals of exhausted refugees will exacerbate the situation." The Afghan population has been hit hard in the past few months by the severe drought and the recent heavy fighting in the north of the country. Tens of thousands of people have left their home in search of water or safety. People are already seriously weakened as result of decades of war, and there are regular outbreaks of disease. Iran started sending back Afghan refugees en masse a few months ago. A lack of monitoring by the UNHCR has recently led to MSF operations there suspending its involvement. In the meantime, all the international borders have been sealed. There are more food stocks in places like Kabul, but the situation could also deteriorate there in a couple of weeks if food is not brought in. Less than 50% of the required funds for the coming winter have been pledged. MSF is closely monitoring the events surrounding the UN withdrawal, and is sending a representative to New York next week to draw the attention of the UN to the worrying situation. MSF might also issue a press release.