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Pakistan: conditions for Afghans worsen, children dying

Briefing notes

Pakistan: conditions for Afghans worsen, children dying

3 April 2001

Conditions facing tens of thousands of Afghans who are encamped in the open at the Jalozai site near the north-west Pakistan border city of Peshawar have further deteriorated with the onset of heavy rains. More than 18,000 people in Jalozai have been severely affected by torrential rains and wind that swept through the makeshift camp last week, destroying more than 3,150 shelters and flooding sections of the already squalid site where up to 70,000 Afghans are encamped.

Children are suffering and dying unnecessarily at Jalozai, where deaths are recorded daily. Authorities have permitted agencies like UNHCR and MSF to deliver only a minimum of services and assistance to the Afghans. Paths in the camp have been reduced to cesspools, with flies breeding among the flimsy shelters and the smell of human excrement pervasive throughout the site.

Despite repeated appeals from UNHCR, and an apparent agreement reached two weeks ago between U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Pakistan's Gen. Pervez Musharraf that agencies would help Afghans fleeing the war and famine both inside Afghanistan as well as those who have recently arrived in Pakistan, the Islamabad government has yet to facilitate the delivery of adequate assistance by relief agencies to meet all the needs in Jalozai.

Overcrowded conditions at Jalozai and the site's severely overstretched sanitation facilities, combined with the start of the rains, are raising the danger of epidemics.

UNHCR and its partners are today distributing plastic sheeting, jerry cans and soap to more than 18,000 Afghans severely affected by the recent rains.

Basic facilities like water, sanitation and health centres in Jalozai have been improved by UNHCR and its partners. Three health centres are now operating, vulnerable children are receiving supplementary food and tanker trucks are now delivering more than 400,000 litres of water a day. Despite these efforts, however, living conditions remain poor at Jalozai. Many aid workers say that conditions are among the worst that they have ever seen.

Early this year UNHCR was permitted to move some 50,000 Afghans from Jalozai to the New Shamshatoo site.

More than 170,000 Afghans have fled to Pakistan since last September, adding to the more than 1.2 Afghans already in the country.

The humanitarian situation inside Afghanistan is desperate, with up to 1 million Afghans affected by famine while others flee the civil war that still rages in parts of the country. Aid workers say that conditions inside Afghanistan are worse now than at any time since the country's decade-long civil war.