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Friday, 14 September, 2001, 17:29 GMT 18:29 UK
Aid agencies warn of Afghan crisis
A grandmother holds a sick child
War and drought have battered Afghanistan's people
Aid agencies which have had to leave Afghanistan have said their absence will cause more internally displaced people and more refugees to pour out of Afghanistan.

The agencies had to withdraw with the United Nations amid fears that the US would unleash military strikes in retaliation for Tuesday's attacks on New York and Washington..

The interruption of these programmes at this time could mean that the number becomes much greater with a lot of suffering this winter

Christian Aid's Olive Burch

Osama Bin Laden, the main suspect for masterminding the attacks, has lived for years in Afghanistan protected by the ruling Islamic Taleban as a "guest".

Olive Burch, of Christian Aid, had to flee from the Afghan town of Herat to Peshawar in Pakistan.

He told News Online the interruption of aid programmes is a serious blow to thousands of Afghan people.

"There are several hundred thousand people living in camps around Herat city, in very bad conditions.

"The interruption of these programmes at this time could mean that the number becomes much greater with a lot of suffering this winter."

UN famine figures
One in four Afghans will be reliant on food aid by November

Afghanistan has already suffered more than 20 years of war, and is suffering the worst drought in decades.

The World Food Programme on Friday warned that about 1.5 million Afghans could flood out of the country in search of food following the withdrawal of aid workers.

Impossible task

Mr Burch told News Online his agency had been trying to help extremely poor farmers remain in their homes over the winter, but that this now was becoming almost impossible.

"If that can't be done, this will mean a lot more internally displaced people, and possibly refugees outside Afghanistan."

The war between the ruling Taleban and opposition forces is raging in 17 out of 32 provinces and the country already has 900,000 internally displaced people.

There are more than three million Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan alone.

Afghan fighters
Afghanistan has suffered more than 20 years of war
Thousands of Afghans are reported to be preparing to flee the capital Kabul in fear of a US retaliatory attack.

But outside the capital people don't seem to be concerned over this apparent danger, says Mr Burch.

"In the province I was working in, few people have radios. And there's a civil war going on, so the main concern was of the action between the military forces there and their problem getting enough food out of their harvest this year."

Population 'held to ransom'

Dominic Nutt is another Christian Aid worker who has just returned from Afghanistan. He told BBC Radio Four's Today programme the situation was desperate.

"According to the UN, a quarter of the population - 5.5 million people - are going to be reliant on food aid to stay alive by November.

Waiting for food in a camp
Afghan aid camps are already overcrowded

"This threat of military action is holding a quarter of the population to ransom.

"There's no food coming in, or very little. Farmers have found that their crops are down by 90% - and that's for three years, not just this year."

Mr Nutt urged President Bush not to add to the toll of innocent victims.

"Thousands of innocent people have already died in New York and Washington. We'll be looking at thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of deaths if we don't take action now.

"I just pray that I'm not the one sent back in spring after the winter snow's have thawed and have to walk through the ghost villages and possibly see piles of corpses in the villages in the mountains."

The BBC's Jim Fish
"Aid workers fear that many Afghans will not survive"
Rupert Colville, UNHCR
"Around 50% of the population of Kandahar may have left"
See also:

13 Sep 01 | South Asia
Kabul braces for US attack
12 Sep 01 | South Asia
Taleban tense as US seeks targets
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