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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 14:00 GMT
'Cautious' UN optimism on Afghan aid
Afghan children
The humanitarian situation: good news and bad news
The United Nations has expressed tentative hopes that the massive aid operation in Afghanistan will cope with the desperate humanitarian crisis.


The picture is somewhat mixed. In some areas our ability to deliver assistance has improved, in other areas it has deteriorated

UN aid official Kevin Kennedy
Thousands of relief workers and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food aid have poured into the country since the Taleban were driven from the capital Kabul.

But fighting around other major cities, banditry along key supply routes, the continuing impact of drought and the race against the onset of winter are still posing grave challenges.

"Overall, we're very cautiously optimistic that we'll be able to deliver," senior UN aid official Kevin Kennedy was quoted as saying by the AP news agency.

"But I would not want to leave the impression that the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is resolved," he added.

Winter looming

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday it had met its target for delivering aid to Afghanistan during November.

Loading WFP wheat
The food is getting through, but huge obstacles remain
Spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume said the agency had aimed to get 52,000 tonnes of food into the country in November - enough to feed six million people for a month - and with one day to go it had already delivered 53,000 tonnes.

But with winter looming, those six million people will still need feeding - and some are dramatically more at risk than others.

"The picture is somewhat mixed. In some areas our ability to deliver assistance has improved, in other areas it has deteriorated," Mr Kennedy said.

Click here for a map of aid supply routes into Afghanistan

Some 500,000 people in the central highland areas of Bamiyan province stand to be cut off without supplies of any kind if aid does not reach them before the first snows of winter, due in a matter of weeks.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is also keeping a close eye on Ghor province, east of the western city of Herat, where 300,000 need assistance.

Spokeswoman Macarena Aguilar told BBC News Online that the ICRC had put 2,000 metric tonnes of food stocks on standby in Herat to be moved in when the situation allowed.

Obstacles and breakthroughs

Further food stocks were already in place, she said, but distribution was complicated by the shifting power struggles between local commanders, all of whom have now changed since the overthrow of the Taleban.

Increasing banditry along supply routes was also hampering operations.

"The security situation on access roads still very critical," she said.

US marine near Kandahar
The area around Kandahar is still a no-go area for aid agencies
UN aid convoys have been ambushed and robbed, agency offices have been looted, and several journalists have been killed in apparent robberies.

Aside from the impact of lawlessness, continuing fighting in the south is becoming of major concern.

The UN believes that some 230,000 people are facing possible starvation around the southern Taleban stronghold of Kandahar, which has become a no-go zone for aid supplies.

But back in the north, there has been breakthrough in UN access to vulnerable drought-stricken areas.

Correspondents say the government of Tajikistan has decided to let foreign aid workers pass freely between Tajik and Afghan territory.

The government's decision means the process of ferrying aid across the border should now be much faster and easier.


The security situation on access roads is still very critical

ICRC spokeswoman Macarena Aguilar
The deputy UN coordinator for Afghanistan, Antonio Donini, said last week the overall situation around the northern city in Mazar-e-Sharif was still fragile, but there was a sense that it was improving.

But he still described the humanitarian situation in northern Afghanistan as a crisis of stunning proportions, with some refugee camps yet to receive any humanitarian aid whatsoever.

Meanwhile, the executive director of the United Nation's children's agency Unicef said support for women and children was an immediate priority in the country's recovery.

Speaking at the start of a five-day tour of Pakistan and Afghanistan, she told the BBC that education was a key challenge now, for both Afghan girls and boys.

"Education, education, education, that's our view in Unicef," she said.



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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jacky Rowland
"The UN is stepping in with a massive aid program"
The BBC's Paul Welsh
"Even before the bombing the UN were concerned"
See also:

27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Herat leader warns of relief crisis
26 Nov 01 | South Asia
Thousands face hunger in Kandahar
25 Nov 01 | South Asia
Dangers hamper Afghan aid effort
24 Nov 01 | South Asia
Aid reaches Kabul despite ambush
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan renewal 'will come from within'
21 Nov 01 | South Asia
Agencies call for Afghan peace force
20 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan's huge rebuilding task
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