Afghanistan: race against winter, again
As of Wednesday, 1,720,664 Afghans had returned from neighbouring countries to Afghanistan in one of the world's largest and fastest refugee repatriation movements. A total of 1,500,667 have returned from Pakistan since 1 March, when UNHCR and the Afghan government started a programme to help Afghans who have decided to go back on their own after two decades of civil conflict and a severe drought in recent years.
From Iran, 210,448 have repatriated under a similar assistance programme begun on 9 April. The rest of the returns were from the Central Asian countries.
With winter approaching and insecurity continuing in some parts of the country, the rate of returns has dropped to around 4,000 per day from a peak of 20,000 daily in May. There have been reports of snow falling in some parts of Afghanistan. As temperatures continue to drop, UNHCR is stepping up its programme to provide shelters to Afghan returnees. We hope to build 40,000 housing units that will benefit around 300,000 Afghans. We have signed contracts with our NGO partners for the implementation of 97 percent of the programme. So far, around 22,000 housing units have either been completed or are in various stages of construction, mainly in Central Afghanistan.
Obviously the shelter needs are enormous. Our programme is mainly intended for the most vulnerable Afghan returnees - the poorest of the poor - recommended by their communities. Around 40 percent of the returnees, roughly 680,000, are estimated to be in dire need of shelter assistance. Other NGOs and agencies, in coordination with the government, have their own shelter programmes. UNHCR is also involved in the rehabilitation and construction of water and sanitation facilities, some schools and clinics.