Relief effort at risk from bandit attacks

War on Terrorism: Aid
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The relief efforts for the six million Afghans who depend on aid to survive are at risk from growing lawlessness in the country and bureaucratic hurdles in the neighbouring states, the United Nations and other aid agencies have warned.

The position in many of the refugee camps in the country is alarming. "The people here are absolutely not ready for winter," said Nico Heijenberg, a medical co-ordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières, speaking from the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Aid agencies are especially worried about the plight of those in the remote northern provinces and in the central highlands. Doris Knöchel, a German official of the World Vision group who toured the northwestern Badghis province, was shocked by the conditions there. "I saw hunger. It was an absolute lack of food. It's a disaster, and I see an urgent, immediate need for food," she said.

The Western allies fear a humanitarian catastrophe when the snow and the cold sets in next month. Kenton Keith, spokesman for the US-led coalition, based in Islamabad, said: "The protection of aid shipments cannot yet be guaranteed all over Afghanistan."

In recent days, UN premises in Jalalabad and Mazar-i-Sharif have been looted and a UN World Food Programme (WFP) convoy was robbed of 185 tons of food on the road to Herat. Christiane Berthiaume, a WFP spokeswoman, said: "There is a lot of banditry right now, people who try to take advantage of the fact that there is a kind of vacuum."

Even on the borders, the efforts of the NGOs are frustrated. Aid groups operating in Tajikistan claim that red tape, corruption and lack of co-ordination between Tajik and Afghan authorities has held up shipments, sometimes for weeks.