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Saturday, 22 September, 2001, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Oxfam shipment arrives in Afghanistan
Afghan refugees near the Tajik-Afghan border
Hunger is said to threaten millions of Afghans
Oxfam workers say an emergency shipment of food aid is being distributed among refugees fleeing Afghanistan in anticipation of military strikes.

But the British charity warns the 1,500-tonne consignment will not prevent a humanitarian disaster in the region.

Oxfam wants the resumption of food supplies into Afghanistan, and a promise from world leaders that civilians will not be targeted in any military action.

The United Nations estimates suggest three million Afghans are dependent on food aid.

In the face of the level of need this is a drop in the ocean

Alex Renton
Oxfam spokesman Alex Renton said the shipment, which was brought by truck across the border with Uzbekistan, would only help a lucky few.

He said: "This food is urgently needed, but in the face of the level of need this is a drop in the ocean.

"Three million people need the food aid pipeline re-started now."

Local aid workers are distributing the supplies at the Mazar-i-Sharif refugee camp in northern Afghanistan.

Oxfam workers left the camp 11 days ago, when the UN and its World Food Programme pulled out of Afghanistan.

Speaking from Islamabad in neighbouring Pakistan, Mr Renton said: "This food will help sustain a few lucky people for a short time.

"Afghanistan hasn't been totally shut off. Why is the world waiting? There is no need to wait. Aid can be got in now."

The charity hopes to organise another shipment as quickly as possible.

A spokesman said: "We know that there are going to be people starving. It's just a question of what we can do to minimise the impact."

'Dire situation'

Earlier, Oxfam warned hunger was a bigger threat to thousands of Afghans than US military retaliation.

The charity has written to Tony Blair saying the international community must take responsibility for those in danger.

It believes aid should be resumed to prevent refugees besieging Afghanistan's borders.

Oxfam's Barbara Stocking called for the re-opening of the borders around Afghanistan to allow refugees to escape to safety.

Macedonia reminder

She told the BBC: "We don't want the situation that people remember in Macedonia where hundreds of people were queued up at the border."

With food supplies desperately low, it is difficult to know how they will survive the winter

British aid worker, Chris Johnson

British aid worker Chris Johnson told BBC News that Friday's decision by the ruling Taleban's to forbid the use of UN radio and telephone communications equipment in Afghanistan would make it "almost impossible" to organise relief supplies.

Ms Johnson, who has spent the last six years in the country, added: "With food supplies desperately low, it is difficult to know how they will survive the winter."

On Wednesday, 14 charities called for restraint by the US and other western governments to avoid a "descent into a spiral of violence".

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19 Sep 01 | UK
Aid workers urge restraint
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