Aid workers prepare for possible exodus of hundreds of thousands of Afghans
GENEVA, Oct. 4 (UNHCR) - The number of Afghans entering Pakistan since early September has been relatively modest, but relief workers Thursday were racing against the clock to prepare for a possibly much larger exodus.
Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States enveloped Afghanistan and surrounding states in a new crisis, thousands of Afghan civilians have slipped across the officially closed border with neighbouring Pakistan. No new arrivals have been officially reported in another adjoining state, Iran.
But aid officials in the region said the situation could change dramatically if and when the U.S. and its allies launch military operations in Afghanistan. The current modest flows of refugees could, they said, turn into a massive exodus of hundreds of thousands of people, and agencies are struggling to prepare for this potential human tide.
An estimated 28 refugee campsites have been identified in Pakistan's rugged north-western tribal areas. Thursday, tractors began preparatory work at Malkano, 20 kilometres from the city of Peshawar, at a site expected to be ready for refugees within 10 days.
In south-western Baluchistan Province, UNHCR and partner agencies began rehabilitating wells and crumbling water systems in an area where the arrival of large numbers of refugees could overwhelm the fragile semi-desert environment.
The U.N. Refugee Agency has positioned more than 8,000 tents in Pakistan, but at least 12,000 more are needed to accommodate an expected first wave of fleeing civilians. An estimated 73,000 tents for 400,000 people are scheduled to be delivered by the end of November.
The agency has thus far received $36 million in direct donations and pledges in response to an appeal for $268 million for the Afghan crisis. Most of these initial funds have already been spent for food and shelter supplies, but aid officials said they were concerned that a sudden large-scale exodus from Afghanistan in the immediate future could overwhelm the current reception capacities of surrounding states.