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U.N. warns of aid 'catastrophe'

UNITED NATIONS -- A United Nations humanitarian official has warned of a pending catastrophe in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Kenzo Oshima says U.N. food supplies have run out in the city -- where thousands of people had been receiving aid -- which is situated "among the most vulnerable areas," of the country.

In Kandahar, the Taliban's southern stronghold and a focus for U.S-led bombing, a breakdown in law and order has prevented U.N. officials from delivering or distributing badly needed food for several weeks.

Getting humanitarian aid to the city of Mazar-e-Sharif has become increasingly difficult due to its strategic position for both the ruling Taliban militia and the Northern Alliance opposition.

The city stands on the main route to the capital Kabul and commands supply routes to the south and to a large airfield.

Currently Taliban troops hold Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province bordering the Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan.

Oshima, U. N. Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, told the Associated Press that officials were working with the Taliban and adjoining nations in order to secure supplies here because "winter is approaching fast."

The area has seen the worst drought in living memory, one that still threatens nearly half a million people around the northern city with starvation.

Even before the terrorist attacks on the United States, some one million Afghans were displaced, with high concentrations in this area, Oshima told AP.

"We are extremely concerned about their ability to survive the next few months. Many of them have no shelter and are running out of food," he said.

Access remains limited

The job of the U.N. now is to open up new corridors from Central Asian nations such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, something Oshima has been able to secure, as well as two logistical offices near the border in Turkmenistan.

British International Development Secretary Clare Short earlier told Reuters, "access remains limited" after the U.N World Food Program pledged to move in 9,000 tonnes of food aid into northeast Afghanistan over the next two months.

Shipments should start within two weeks, with local drivers negotiating the "difficult and dangerous" route, according to Reuters.

Trucks are due to leave Kyrgyzstan and travel through Tajikistan across the Afghan border.

Oshima told AP his main concern is that the U.N. is not getting food to the more than six million people in Afghanistan who need it.

The U.N. World Food Program estimates that about 1,870 tons of food needs to be delivered to Afghanistan and distributed every day.

The United Nations has only been able to distribute one-third of the food that was delivered in October, Oshima told AP.


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