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The BBC's Susannah Price
"Aid agencies are warning of a potential famine"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 7 February, 2001, 14:57 GMT
US emergency Afghan airlift
Aid agencies have been struggling to cope
An American plane carrying emergency supplies to thousands of Afghan refugees who are living in desperate conditions has arrived in Pakistan.

The Pakistani authorities and aid agencies have been struggling to cope with 150,000 people who have crossed the border since last September.

Most were trying to escape the civil war and devastating drought in their homeland.

Refugee camp
Tens of thousands lack shelter from the cold
The US relief effort has been welcomed by the Taleban authorities in Afghanistan.

"We value the US assistance. This is a good step," Taleban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakel was quoted as saying by the Afghan Islamic Press.

In the past, the Taleban authorities have blamed the US for causing the suffering, because of United Nations sanctions aimed at forcing the hand over of the Saudi dissident, Osama bin Laden.

Washington says the sanctions are targeted at the Taleban leadership and not ordinary Afghans.

US ambassador to Pakistan, William Milam, said the airlift was an effort to reduce the suffering of the refugees and not a publicity stunt.

Mr Milam was visiting one of the oldest refugee camps, Jalozai, in the border town of Peshawar.

A BBC correspondent says millions of Afghans whose harvests failed have been left struggling to survive the bitter winter, with temperatures dropping as low as -25 Celsius.

Response to suffering

It is estimated that as many as one million people could face starvation across the country by the end of winter.

Emergency supplies
500 tents
5,000 blankets
100 plastic rolls
Many are likely to follow their countrymen across the border into Pakistan and also Iran, already home to one million Afghans.

The US Agency for International Development is co-ordinating the airlift, which will provide the refugeees with tents, blankets and medical supplies.

It is airlifting 500 tents, 5,000 blankets and 100 rolls of plastic sheeting to the area.

It is also donating money for supplies to be bought locally.

Another airlift is expected next week.

USAID said the move was "in response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan that has resulted in extraordinary suffering in Afghanistan and an influx of refugees into Pakistan."

The emergency supplies will also be sent to the western Afghan city of Herat, near the Iranian border.

Last week, more than a hundred refugees died in freezing temperatures in Herat - many of them women, children and elderly people.

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See also:

06 Feb 01 | South Asia
Afghan refugees' plight under scrutiny
03 Feb 01 | South Asia
Afghan factions reject ceasefire
31 Jan 01 | South Asia
Cold snap kills Afghan refugees
11 Jan 01 | South Asia
Afghan refugees' unending plight
09 Jan 01 | South Asia
UN moves to save Afghan refugees
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