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Afghan returnees step up house building as temperatures dip

Afghan returnees step up house building as temperatures dip

The UN refugee agency plans to fund the construction of 52,000 basic homes for needy returnees across Afghanistan this year. But progress has been hampered by security problems, poor road conditions and long-distance delivery delays.
24 October 2003
Afghan returnees transporting a door for their new home in the Shomali Plain.

KABUL, Afghanistan, Oct 24 (UNHCR) - As temperatures drop in Afghanistan, returnees have intensified efforts to rebuild their homes under a UNHCR-funded initiative that has so far provided shelter to hundreds of thousands of families in their first winter back home.

This year, the UN refugee agency is funding the construction of 52,000 basic homes across Afghanistan. So far, 13,000 shelters have been completed, with another 27,000 under construction. These include 1,500 individual units in Kabul, as well as the emergency rehabilitation of 24 public buildings in the capital that could house more than 270,000 needy returnees upon completion.

Returnees wishing to join the shelter programme are screened by UNHCR's non-governmental organisation (NGO) partners, who identify the families in greatest need of housing. Those selected are required to build walls for their homes before receiving beams for the roof and frames for the door and windows. They are also given cash grants between $50 and $100 to compensate for the loss of income during the construction period, or to allow them to pay for skilled labour or materials like bricks.

Shelter construction usually intensifies around this time of the year, when Afghans have harvested most of their crops and fruits. But the task has become more urgent as the weather gets colder towards winter.

Progress, however, has been slowed down by security problems and the poor condition of roads and bridges. Some of the materials are not available locally, and UNHCR has had to order roof beams and frames from environmentally-friendly suppliers from Austria and South Africa. The long distances and port delays have complicated the delivery process.

Last year, more than 40,000 shelters were built under the UNHCR initiative, helping more than 200,000 Afghan families through their first winter back home in decades.

More than 541,000 Afghan refugees have returned to Afghanistan so far this year, most of them from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

Rebuilding a house in Bamyan.

Meanwhile in Pakistan, UNHCR on Thursday paid tribute to its NGO partner, Save the Children, Sweden, for 20 years of untiring efforts for children's rights in Afghan refugee camps.

"UNHCR is grateful to the organisation for the relentless efforts made towards the cause of Afghan refugees, particularly refugee children," said Masti Notz, who heads the refugee agency's office in Peshawar.

In addition to helping refugee children, Save the Children, Sweden has also contributed to the welfare of refugee women, worked closely with UNHCR in emergency situations, and helped repatriation to Afghanistan.