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Afghanistan: Shelter programme in full swing ahead of winter

Briefing notes

Afghanistan: Shelter programme in full swing ahead of winter

24 October 2003

In Afghanistan, returning refugees participating in our shelter programme are working to construct tens of thousands of homes as temperatures start to drop across the mountainous country.

UNHCR is funding the construction of 52,000 basic homes across Afghanistan this year, including 1,500 individual units in Kabul, as well as the emergency rehabilitation of 24 public buildings in the Afghan capital which are currently sheltering squatters. This massive project should be enough to house more than 270,000 returning refugees who have been identified by our NGO partners as particularly in need of housing.

To date, 13,000 shelters have been completed, while another 27,000 are under construction. At this time of year, with most of the crops and fruit harvested, Afghans usually throw themselves into finishing their shelters. The poor condition of Afghan roads and bridges, local availability of building material and security problems in some rural areas that have hindered access and progress in certain parts of the country.

Long supply lines and port delays have also played a part in the delivery problems. In an effort to purchase items like roofing timbers, door and window frames and other supplies from environment-friendly suppliers, we ordered items from Austria and South Africa, with the long distances complicating deliveries.

Afghans seeking to participate in the shelter programme are screened by our NGO partners working throughout Afghanistan. Families selected for the initiative must construct the walls of their homes. They then receive the timber for the roof and frames for the windows and doors. They also get a cash stipend (between $50-100) to assist them to build the shelters. This allows them to compensate for loss of income during construction or to pay for skilled labour or material, for example bricks. In the case of returnee families who may not be able to erect their shelter themselves, the grant allows them to mobilize community help.

More than 541,000 Afghans have returned to their homeland so far this year, with Pakistan (332,000) and Iran (208,000) seeing the repatriation of the lion's share of Afghan refugees.

Last year, returning refugees built more than 40,000 shelters under UNHCR's 2002 reconstruction programme that helped over 200,000 families through their first Afghan winter back in decades.