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Monday, 30 April, 2001, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Afghanistan's civil war 'insane'
Taleban fighters on tanks
Taleban fighters on their way to the frontline
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, has described the current conflict in Afghanistan as "insane" given the massive humanitarian crisis in the country.

Mr Lubbers, who is making his first official visit to the Afghanistan, was speaking in the western town of Islam Qila to which he drove from Iran.


We think it is really insane when you see the drought and the miserable conditions to go on fighting

Ruud Lubbers

He will go on to Herat before visiting Kabul, Kandahar and the opposition-held town of Faizabad.

Continuing fighting and a widespread drought have forced more than half a million people to leave their homes in the past eight months to search for help in other areas of Afghanistan - others have crossed into neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

Drought

Mr Lubbers said he was not visiting Afghanistan in a political role, but a humanitarian one.

However, he said he would call on the ruling Taleban movement and their opponents in the Northern Alliance to stop fighting.

The Taleban control most of Afghanistan, but are battling to wrest control of an area in the north from the opposition.

During his four-day visit, Mr Lubbers will go to a vast camp for internally displaced people near Herat in western Afghanistan.

The UN says 1,500 desperate people arrive at the camp each day, and there is a shortage of tents, latrines and sanitation facilities.


The approaching summer is expected to lead to cases of cholera and diarrhoea that aid agencies warn could be devastating.

While fighting continues sporadically, the main reason for people moving to Herat is the widespread drought.

Local residents say last year's drought was the worst in living memory - but this year's could be even worse.

The UN's regional co-ordinator for western Afghanistan, Hans Christian Poulsen, said many people realised there would be no wheat crop this year and had decided to leave.

Others have already eaten the seed meant for planting.

At risk

The UN and other agencies are trying to bring emergency food supplies to villages, especially in the northern provinces of Badghis and Ghor, to stop people leaving, but they are finding the numbers are overwhelming.

The UN is extremely short of funds for Afghanistan.

One official said the crisis had been building up slowly and many felt such situations were normal here.

It is thought half a million people are at risk in the areas around Herat.

Many of them are remaining in their remote villages because they simply cannot afford to travel anywhere else.

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See also:

14 Feb 01 | South Asia
UN warns of Afghan catastrophe
15 Feb 01 | South Asia
Afghan executions condemned
17 Feb 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Tea with the Taleban
30 Jan 01 | South Asia
Concern grows for Herat refugees
29 Nov 00 | South Asia
Urgent UN appeal for Afghanistan
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