24 September 2001


GENEVA/NEW YORK, 24 September -– A humanitarian crisis of stunning proportions is unfolding in Afghanistan. Twenty years of brutal conflict, three years of severe drought, large-scale human rights abuses, and significant population movements spurred most recently by the present geo-political crisis have left more than 5 million civilians, the vast majority of them women and children, with a fragile grip on survival. The onset of winter will loosen that grip even further.

With the eyes of the world on Afghanistan and the neighbouring countries, we call attention to the following indicators of a broad and disastrous humanitarian crisis:

-- More than 5 million people currently require humanitarian assistance to survive, including more than 1 million people who have been displaced from their homes.

-- Tens of thousands of people are now on the move in search of safety and assistance, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) believes that many more are unable to move.

-- Already, 3.8 million Afghans rely on United Nations food aid to survive. By 1 November, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 5.5 million people will depend on its food shipments.

-- Nearly 20 per cent of those in need are children under the age of five, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), many of whom are already struggling to survive.

United Nations agencies and other aid organizations continue to operate camps for displaced people and food delivery with the help of hundreds of devoted Afghan staff who remain at work inside the country. But lack of international humanitarian access is hastening the deterioration of the situation. No additional food supplies can be delivered to Afghanistan at the moment, and the WFP estimates that food reserves in the country will be exhausted within two to three weeks.

We urge a world wounded by the horrific and deplorable terrorist attacks of 11 September to be mindful of the principles of international humanitarian law and to take all measures to protect the civilian populations, especially the millions of children and women.

We call on the entire international community -– especially the countries in the region –- to help prevent further tragedy by supporting humanitarian relief efforts, by pressing for safe international humanitarian access to all populations in need, by assuring the safety and security of international and national relief personnel, by supporting all measures that lessen the chance of a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries, and by opening borders to those in need.

We particularly recognize the enormous burden already carried by Pakistan and Iran in hosting 3.5 million Afghans and join the UNHCR in urging more international support for asylum States to ensure that their borders are open to all those who deserve protection and humanitarian assistance.

We thank those donors -– governments, organizations and individuals -– who continue to support humanitarian relief efforts in this region, and urge the international community to increase its support in the face of the growing humanitarian crisis.

Carol Bellamy
Executive Director

Catherine Bertini
Executive Director
World Food Programme

Ruud Lubbers
United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees

Mark Malloch Brown
United Nations Development Programme

Kenzo Oshima
Emergency Relief Coordinator
Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Mary Robinson
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights



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