Some 15,000 families displaced by fighting in southern Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan, October 3 (UNHCR) - Fighting pitting government and NATO troops against Taliban combatants has forced some 15,000 families to flee their homes in three southern Afghanistan provinces since July.
UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday that the refugee agency was concerned about this displacement - amounting to approximately 80,000-90,000 people - in Kandahar, Uruzgan and Helmand. She said it had added "new hardship to a population already hosting 116,400 people earlier uprooted by conflict and drought."
The Taliban have been waging a relentless and costly summer campaign in the south against government troops and forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), with British and Canadian soldiers bearing the brunt of attacks.
The Afghan government has created a Disaster Management Committee in Kandahar to coordinate relief efforts. The committee is working in coordination with the United Nations, led by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
"UNHCR, as part of a joint UN effort, is providing the recently displaced Afghans in the province of Kandahar with non-food items. Together with UNICEF, distribution of jerry cans, plastic sheeting, floor mats, lanterns, family kits and blankets is under way," said Edmond Kamina, a UNHCR official in Kandahar. These have been issued to some 3,200 families in Panjwai and Zhare Dasht districts. World Food Programme is providing food aid.
The government is currently assessing the needs of the displaced in the three southern provinces. "We are working very closely with tribal and IDP [internally displaced people] elders in order to assist the conflict-affected people, but they need more assistance to rebuild their lives," said Rahmatullah Safi of the Afghan Department of Refugees and Repatriation.
"People have lost everything, their vineyards, orchards, schools and clinics. Some assistance has already reached them, but more needs to be done," he said, adding that some 5,000 of the displaced families had received aid.
When the fighting escalated, Haji Abdul Majeed, 48, fled to Kandahar with his family from their home in Panjwai. "I will not return my family from Kandahar city until security has been restored," he said.
Meanwhile, UNHCR has said it is ready to assist when it is clear what is required. "We expect further displacement may take place until conditions are safe for the population to return to their homes," Pagonis said. Some families were reported to have left Kandahar city and returned to Panjwai and Zhare Dasht during daylight, but returned to Kandahar at night for safety reasons. UNHCR has no information on population movements to other districts.
By Mohammad Nader Farhad in Kabul, Afghanistan