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The BBC's Matt Frei reports from Western Afghanistan
"After decades of warfare this is a humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions"
 real 56k

Friday, 16 February, 2001, 13:09 GMT
UN warns of Afghan catastrophe
Afghan refugee women in Herat
War, drought and freezing weather: the crisis is reaching biblical proportions
Afghanistan faces total disaster unless the international community acts fast, a senior United Nations envoy has warned.

"Afghanistan is one of the worst places in the world to try to live," said Kenzo Oshima, UN Under-secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs

Time is of the essence because the situation can get much much worse than it is already

UN envoy Kenzo Oshima

Mr Oshima issued the stark warning in Islamabad after a three-day visit to the country.

One-million people are threatened by famine in Afghanistan, and half a million have already fled their homes.

Real tragedy

Mr Oshima said a "real tragedy" was unfolding and neither the authorities nor the humanitarian agencies could cope.

UN Under-secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Kenzo Oshima
Oshima hopes to raise international awareness of the crisis
"I promise to raise awareness of the real enormity of the hardships faced by the Afghan people," Mr Oshima said.

His visit included the Taleban-controlled cities of Kabul and Herat as well as Faisabad, held by the opposition Northern Alliance.

UN workers in the western city of Herat say they expect the number of people in camps there to reach 100,000 once the snow melts.

Yet more worrying was the fate of the thousands who were unable to leave their homes and find assistance, Mr Oshima said.

Appeal for peace

The envoy repeated an appeal to both sides to end more than two decades of civil war.

His visit coincided with an escalation in fighting between the ruling Taleban militia and opposition forces in central Bamiyan province.

About 50,000 people are now stranded there.

Map of Afghanistan
One million people now threatened by famine
Mr Oshima said he hoped the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan would become personally involved.

"Time is of the essence in this situation because the situation can get much much worse than it is already," Mr Oshima said.

He labelled as unhelpful the threat by the Taleban authorities to close the UN political office in Kabul.

But he also played down the impact of sanctions imposed by the United Nations in retaliation for the Taleban's refusal to hand over Saudi militant Osama bin Laden.

The UN has received a little funding for this current Afghan crisis and Mr Oshima again called on the international community to act immediately to provide extra funding.

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See also:

15 Feb 01 | South Asia
UN envoy visits 'forgotten' Afghans
14 Feb 01 | South Asia
Taleban close UN office
15 Feb 01 | South Asia
Afghan executions condemned
14 Feb 01 | South Asia
Taleban lose key city
10 Feb 01 | Americas
Taleban shut down in US
14 Feb 01 | South Asia
UN warns of Afghan catastrophe
08 Feb 01 | South Asia
Taleban seek talks on bin Laden
20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Who is Osama bin Laden?
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