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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
Race to deliver Afghan aid
An Afghan prays in front of a  WFP truck in Peshawar
Agencies say the next six weeks will be crucial
The emergency operation to provide humanitarian aid for millions of Afghans is getting into full swing.

For nearly three weeks after the attacks on New York and Washington, the United Nations was unable to get any aid in at all because of the security risk and transport problems.

We want to get in as much aid as possible over the next six weeks

WFP spokesman Khaled Mansour
But on Monday a first shipment of 200 tonnes of wheat reached the Afghan capital, Kabul. Two more convoys of trucks are on their way, carrying five times that amount.

In addition, shipments of Russian relief supplies are expected to arrive in opposition-held parts of northern Afghanistan later on Tuesday, where it is feared 300,000 people could run out of food by the end of the week.

Clothing, blankets, tents and sugar are being flown to Tajikistan, from where they will be ferried across the border in helicopters.

The World Food Programme too is pouring aid in from Tajikistan and Turkmenistan before an eruption of hostilities and the onset of winter.

Click here for map of refugee movements

"This is our game plan for now," said WFP spokesman Khaled Mansour. "We want to get in as much aid as possible over the next six weeks."

Afghan refugee in Islamabad
Many have already fled Afghanistan
Drought and conflict have left an estimated eight million Afghans needing emergency assistance and the shipments are just a fraction of the food brought in each month before the attacks.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan last week appealed for nearly $600m in emergency aid for Afghans.

Agencies are gearing up for what they expect to be a massive flight of Afghans into neighbouring countries.

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Afghanistan’s neighbours: Regional fears

One million are expected to go to Pakistan, 400,000 to Iran and 100,000 to neighbouring central Asian republics in the event of American military action.

But in any event, agencies fear the bitter winter conditions will force huge numbers of hungry Afghans from their country.

The UN's refugee agency is flying plastic sheeting and blankets to the Pakistani city of Peshawar, in case more camps need to be set up there.

Afghan woman carrying UN supplied bread
UN bakeries support huge numbers of Afghans
Thousands of blankets, bars of soap and cooking utensils and fuel are being ordered locally.

Emergency shelters are also being airlifted to Mashhad in eastern Iran, some of it provided by the United Kingdom.

"It's essentially 40 tonnes of winterised tents - about 1,300 tents in total, rolls of plastic sheeting, canvas tarpaulin," a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said.

Further flights carrying UK aid were expected to leave later in the week for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Food and shelter have also been promised by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, who say they will not abandon fellow Muslims.

The oil-rich Gulf states broke off ties with Afghanistan's Taleban authorities for refusing to hand over Saudi-born militant Osama Bin Laden, Washington's prime suspect in the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

The UN's Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Kanzo Oshima, says he is still waiting for a response after offering to send UN staff back into Afghanistan if the Taleban will guarantee their safety.

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The BBC's Matt Frei
"The UN believes there may be as many as 8m people taking part in this mass migration"
Chris Johnson, Strategic Monitoring Unit
"Not enough attention is being given to people inside Afghanistan"
Chris Janovski, UNHCR spokesman
"People are becoming increasingly displaced"
See also:

01 Oct 01 | South Asia
How Afghans became aid dependent
30 Sep 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Afghanistan's refugees
27 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Afghanistan's future
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
27 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Blair calls for aid alliance
27 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghans brace for US strike
11 Jan 01 | South Asia
Afghan refugees' unending plight
22 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan's fear of refugee flood
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan warns of Afghan instability
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
The wild border town of Quetta
26 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghans place hopes in UN
29 Sep 01 | Americas
UN backs anti-terrorism moves
01 Oct 01 | World
Afghanistan's missing millions
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