UNHCR launches aid distribution to help poor Afghans survive winter

1 Dec 2009

UNHCR launches aid distribution to help poor Afghans survive winter

KABUL - The UN’s Refugee Agency began distributing blankets, warm clothes, charcoal and other winter supplies to 1,500 poor returned refugees and internally displaced people in Kabul today as part of a countrywide initiative to help some 200,000 vulnerable Afghans survive the harsh winter.

UNHCR has pre-positioned winter supplies throughout Afghanistan based on earlier needs assessments of tens of thousands of families across the country.

Over 177,000 blankets, 60,000 plastic sheets, 60,000 jerry cans and 620,000 items of warm clothing including shawls, sweaters, shoes, and socks have been purchased and sent to UNHCR’s regional offices for countrywide distribution.

“The beneficiaries of our winter aid programme in Afghanistan are a mix of vulnerable recently returned refugees and internally displaced people, as well as others at particular risk in the cold winter weather such as the disabled, the elderly and single mothers,” said UNHCR’s Afghanistan Representative Ewen Macleod.

“Since 2007 our winter assistance strategy has emphasised preparedness rather than emergency response. By giving out warm clothes, shoes and other winter relief items early in the season, we hope to prevent illness and hardship for the most vulnerable people,” he said.

Among the poor families to receive UNHCR’s winter aid in Kabul, are returned refugees unable to stay in or return to their home villages because of lack of jobs, services, personal enmities, or because their families have grown so large during years in exile that there is not enough land or shelter for them at home.

Sixty-year-old Agha Mohammad returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan in 2002 with high hopes to live a normal life in his homeland.

But he cannot stay in his home village in Baghlan province in the country’s north-eastern region where there are no jobs, services or plots of land for him and his family of 11 people.

He is facing his eighth harsh winter in Kabul since his return, where temperatures can plummet to -20 degrees Celsius in January.

His family live in a tiny room inside an abandoned kindergarten, with gaping holes for windows and no running water or electricity, alongside another 59 returnee families who cannot return to their villages.

Mohammad’s only concern is to feed his family, heat the house and to arrange an education for his children in a nearby school.

“I am happy to have received winter supplies, particularly these shoes, socks, sweater and blankets as our children really need these items in this cold weather,” he said.

Other vulnerable Afghans to receive UNHCR’s help this winter have more recently returned to Afghanistan such as those who now live in the Chamtala settlement, 26 km from Jalalabad city in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

They returned to Afghanistan in early May 2008 after the closure of the Jalozai camp in neighbouring Pakistan by local authorities.

Formerly an empty patch of desert, the area is now an official land allocation site for landless returnees.

But while house construction is well underway, many returnees are still living in tents or makeshift shelters.

UNHCR is helping some 16,000 of the most vulnerable people (in 2,640 families) in the Chamtala settlement with blankets, sweaters, socks and shawls, and gas stoves and cylinders.

Returnees in other settlements of Nangarhar, Laghaman and Kunar provinces in the east will also be helped.

The majority of UNHCR’s winter aid will be delivered in regional areas where the agency has teamed up with the government and local partners to ensure relief can reach less accessible areas.

Supplies are pre-positioned in remote places such as the western region where heavy snow would otherwise impede access.

In the western region, 8,000 families of returnees and internally displaced people will receive help this winter in Herat, Badghis, Farah, Ghor and Nimroz provinces.

In the south, 4,000 families will be helped in Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and Urzugan.

In the south-eastern region, 3,000 mainly returnee families in Paktya and Khost will receive winter packages.

In the eastern region, where 30 per cent of last year’s returnees now reside, 4,100 families are receiving winter aid.

In the central region, 4,650 families, including those in Kabul city, will receive winter packages with distribution continuing in Parwan, Kapisa, Logar and Ghazni provinces in the coming days.

In the Central Highlands, one of the coldest regions, UNHCR will deliver aid to 750 families in Bamyan and, through the Department of Refugees and Repatriation, in Dai Kundi province.

In the north and north-eastern region, UNHCR will next week start providing blankets, clothes, plastic sheets and charcoal to 3,500 families in Balkh, Faryab, Samangan, Jawzjan and Sari-i-Pul provinces.

At the same time, distribution will start to 1,500 families in Kunduz, Baghlan and Takhar provinces.

The ‘winterization’ programme is a coordinated effort between UNHCR, its partners and the Afghan government.

It will continue over the coming weeks and is expected to be complete by the end of December.

In addition to the assistance delivered by UNHCR, many more Afghans will receive help from other agencies and private donors this winter due to the agency’s advocacy efforts.

UNHCR is urging donors to direct their assistance to outlying communities such as the internally displaced people in Ghazni and newly returned refugees in Logar and Wardak, some of whom are still landless and homeless.

More than 52,000 Afghans returned home from Pakistan and Iran under the UNHCR assisted voluntary return operation this year, some 30 per cent of them to the eastern region.

In all, over 4.4 million Afghans have been assisted home since 2002.

Website: UNHCR Afghanistan