UNHCR distributes winter supplies as first snow falls in Kabul

As temperatures drop across Afghanistan, UNHCR and its partners have started delivering winter supplies to the most desperate Afghan returnees and internally displaced families to help them get through winter.

An Afghan returnee receives UNHCR winter supplies in Kabul.   © and Courtesy of UNAMA/J.Jalali

KABUL, Afghanistan, December 29 (UNHCR) - As temperatures drop across Afghanistan, UNHCR and its partners have started delivering winter supplies to the most desperate Afghan returnees and internally displaced families to help them get through the cold season.

This winter, the UN refugee agency plans to assist a total of 31,897 Afghan families - numbering some 200,000 individuals - as part of a coordinated response to the harsh weather that also involves the Afghan authorities and other aid agencies. The non-food aid is targeted at recent returnees, internally displaced people (IDPs) and others at risk in the cold weather.

"We hope that inter-agency winterization assistance can be reoriented from emergency response to emergency prevention for vulnerable communities," said Maya Ameratunga, UNHCR's Acting Deputy Representative in Afghanistan.

In total, over 147,000 blankets, more than 80,000 plastic sheets, 32,000 jerry cans, 46,000 items of warm clothing including 18,000 pairs of shoes and 30,000 pairs of socks have been purchased and sent to UNHCR's regional offices for countrywide distribution.

The latest beneficiaries include 150 vulnerable families who are squatting in abandoned buildings in Kabul city. On Monday, as the first snow fell in the Afghan capital, they were given blankets, jackets, sweaters, shawls, rubber shoes and boots, socks and jerry cans.

"Given the harsh winter we are experiencing now, items such as blankets and warm clothes for our children will at least meet our partial needs," said Sayed Anwar, who returned from Pakistan a few years ago. He added that his needs were great and requested more food and heating assistance to help them get through the cold months ahead.

Kabul is part of the Central region, where UNHCR plans to assist 4,450 families. Distribution has already been completed in the provinces of Parwan, Kapisa and Panjshir, and is ongoing in Kabul, Logar, Wardak and Ghazni.

This year, many more families are receiving winterization assistance as a result of UNHCR's awareness raising and advocacy among agencies and private sectors. The agency is urging donors to direct their assistance to such outlying communities as IDPs in Ghazni and new returnees in Logar and Wardak, some of whom are still landless and homeless.

The refugee agency's own assistance is focused on less-visible and less-accessible rural areas, where conditions are worse for returnees and IDPs in isolated communities. Given the large number of returns to the cities, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have also agreed to fill in the heating gaps for winter assistance in urban centres.

In the Eastern region where the majority (61%) of this year's returnees have gone, around 11,000 returnee families will receive winterization assistance. The priority is given to Afghan returnees who are currently living in five spontaneous settlements in Nangarhar and Laghman. Distribution started last week and so far more than 5,000 families have benefited.

In the Western region, the overall plan is to help some 7,000 families including some 800 families in Nimroz and a total of 6,200 families in the provinces of Herat, Badghis, Ghor and Farah. UNHCR has already pre-positioned non-food items for 1,000 families each in Badghis and Ghor where access remains difficult due to heavy snow.

In the South, distribution to a total of 5,000 families will be finalised by the end of January. In addition, 3,000 mainly returnee families living in Paktya and Khost will receive winterization packages of non-food items as well as warm clothes.

In the Central Highlands, one of the regions most affected by winter, UNHCR will be delivering relief items to over 500 families both in Bamiyan and through the Department of Refugees and Repatriation (DoRR) in Daikundi province for further distribution.

In the North and North-Eastern region, UNHCR has started providing standard assistance package of blankets and plastic sheets to over 4,600 beneficiaries. Distribution has been completed in Balkh, Faryab, Samangan, Jawzjan, Sar-i-Pul and Baghlan provinces. Similar distributions are underway in Kunduz and Takhar.

By Mohammed Nadir Farhad in Kabul, Afghanistan