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U.N. launches Afghan aid appeal

UNITED NATIONS -- An emergency appeal for $584 million aid to help tackle the Afghan refugee and drought crisis has been launched by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The new six-month U.N. plan is aimed at helping Afghans still in the country -- where up to 7.5 million people face starvation -- and those fleeing Afghanistan amid fears of U.S.-led military strikes on the ruling Taliban.

Annan launched the appeal for what the U.N. is calling the world's worst humanitarian crisis on Thursday.

Earlier on Thursday, an emergency meeting of donor countries and aid agencies discussed how best to tackle the worsening refugee crisis.

Outside aid was vital to millions of Afghans before the crisis sparked by the attacks on the U.S. on September 11 -- and the threat of action against Afghanistan has worsened the situation with thousands of people seeking to leave the country.

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International aid workers have left Afghanistan, while the Taliban has virtually shut down the aid distribution network in the country, closing the U.N. communications network and seizing 1,400 tonnes of emergency food stored in a U.N. warehouse.

"As we meet today, Afghanistan is the site of the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Hunger and displacement in Afghanistan are worse than anywhere else in the world," U.N. emergency relief coordinator Kenzo Oshima said as the emergency meeting began in Berlin on Thursday.

"The already dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is reaching a crisis point after the events of the last few weeks," he said.

Annan said decades of war, severe drought and the "oppressive" Taliban regime had left more than five million Afghans dependent on international humanitarian relief out of a total population of about 26 million.

"The world is united against terrorism. Let it be equally united in protecting and assisting the innocent victims of emergencies and disasters," the U.N. leader said.

The UNHCR -- the U.N.'s body for refugees -- says it expects more than 1.5 million Afghans to leave and join the 3.5 million already in camps in Iran and Pakistan, the biggest refugee group in the world.

The Afghanistan Support Group, which is made up of donor nations and the International Red Cross as well as the European Union and UNHCR, met in Berlin under the chairmanship of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

It discussed the mounting humanitarian and refugee crisis in Afghanistan, hoping to reach a common assessment of the situation and co-ordinate a possible aid programme for the region.

Fischer accused the Taliban of taking its people hostage and said the world would not turn its back.

"Now is the time to show that our feelings of humanity and sympathy know no religious or regional boundaries," he said, pledging up to 30 million marks ($14 million) in new aid for the region.

Afghanistan has become a target of the U.S. "war against terror" because it has so far refused to hand over bin Laden, who the Taliban say is a guest in their country.

Washington has accused bin Laden of masterminding the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon and caused another plane to crash during a fourth suicide mission which failed to reach its target.

UNHCR spokesman Robert Colville told CNN: "The potential is there for an absolutely massive crisis."

The $584 million appeal announced on Thursday will encompass a $252 million emergency appeal launched by the UNHCR on Wednesday.

That part of the appeal will go towards covering the cost of constructing and maintaining refugee camps, the delivery of 80,000 tents, hundreds of thousands of health and hygiene kits and huge amounts of other relief items.

The UNHCR operation for Afghanistan is the biggest since the 1999 refugee crisis in Kosovo when hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians were driven from their homes by Serb forces.

Germany has said it has increased its aid to the region and is making an immediate grant of six million marks ($2.8 million) for the UNHCR and the Red Cross.

Iran and Pakistan have attempted to close their borders to prevent more refugees crossing their borders.

Donor nations attending the meeting include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Britain, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, and the EU Commission.

Other aid bodies taking part in the talks include the children's agency UNICEF, the World Food Programme, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation.


• Aid agencies brace for Afghan exodus
September 26, 2001
• Afghan refugee crisis worsens
September 17, 2001
• U.N. bolsters Afghan refugee aid
September 19, 2001
• Flood of Afghan refugees feared
September 23, 2001
• Afghan refugee crisis spreads
September 20, 2001

• World Food Programme

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