Afghanistan + 4 more

Central Asia Region - Complex Emergency Situation Report #32 (FY 2002)

Situation Report
Originally published



Note: this Situation Report updates previous Central Asia Task Force Situation Reports and Fact Sheets. New information is italicized.


Two decades of war in Afghanistan, including a decade-long Soviet occupation and ensuing civil strife, left Afghanistan impoverished and mired in an extended humanitarian crisis. Government infrastructure, including the ability to deliver the most basic health, education, and other social services, collapsed. Severe restrictions by the Taliban, including a restriction on women working outside the home, added to the impact of poverty, particularly on the many households lacking able-bodied adult men. A devastating regional drought compounded the crisis, drying up wells, parching agricultural land, killing off livestock, collapsing rural economies, and eventually exhausting the coping mechanisms of many ordinary Afghans, forcing them to leave their homes in search of food and water.

International relief agencies, with support from the United States (U.S.), have long been active in providing humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, even during the restrictive years of the Taliban. On October 7, 2001, a Coalition-led military campaign against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces began, and by December 2001, the Taliban had collapsed. The new Afghan Interim Authority (AIA) was sworn in on December 22, 2001, increasing humanitarian access to the country and beginning the process of reconstruction. Tens of thousands of refugee and internally displaced families have started to return to their homes to assist in the rebuilding. The U.S. Agency for International Development's Disaster Assistance Response Team (USAID/DART), which began its emergency coordination work in response to the regional drought in June 2001, continues to assess the humanitarian needs of vulnerable Afghans, and to monitor the relief programs of its implementing partners.

Afghanistan: Numbers at a Glance

Total population (CIA Factbook):26,813,057

Refugees Since January 1, 2002 (UNHCR)

Pakistan: 60,000
Iran: unknown

Old Caseload Refugees (UNHCR)

Pakistan: 2,000,000
Iran: 1,500,000

Refugee Returns Since January 1, 2002 (UNHCR)

Pakistan (voluntary assisted since March 1): 480,000
Pakistan (spontaneous): 180,000
Iran (voluntary assisted since April 9): 34,000
Iran (spontaneous): 61,000
Tajikistan: Pyandj River (voluntary assisted): 8,918
Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan: 1,000

Internally Displaced (UNDP/OCHA)

Total as of February 20, 2002: 920,000
- north and northeast: 500,000
- south and west: 420,000

Internally Displaced Returns Since January 1, 2002 (IOM)

To Kabul (spontaneous) : 64,750
To northeast (spontaneous): 117,000
To Shomali Plain
- from Panjshir Valley (voluntary assisted): 8,000
- from Kabul (voluntary assisted): 14,625
To Bamiyan (voluntary assisted): 1,300
From Herat (voluntary assisted): 55,000
From Mazar-e-Sharif (voluntary assisted): 48,000
From Bamiyan (voluntary assisted): 8,200
From Jalalabad (voluntary assisted): 13,000
From Spin Boldak (voluntary assisted): 585

FY 2001/2002 U.S. Government (USG) Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan*: $563,388,360
FY 2001/2002 USG Humanitarian Assistance to Tajikistan: $88,208,180

Current Situation

Overview. More than one quarter of the country's 381 districts have completed the first phase of the Loya Jirga process. The factions fighting in the north around Mazar-e-Sharif have reached a truce. Factional fighting and Coalition operations continue in the east. The effort to eradicate locusts in the northern provinces accelerated as pesticides were dispersed in some areas by helicopter. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced the pending suspension of some of its programs for internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to lack of funding. The Milak-Zaranj border crossing with Iran in the south re-opened for returning refugees. The World Health Organization (WHO) is working to control the epidemic spread of leishmaniasis, a skin disease transmitted by sand flies.

Political/Military. The first phase of the Loya Jirga process continued this week, bringing to 98 the number of assemblies (shuras) convened to select district representatives. Over the coming weeks, each of the county's 381 districts will hold shuras. These representatives will in turn meet at the end of May in nine regional centers across the country to select their district's delegation to the Loya Jirga, to be held June 10-16 in Kabul. Eventually, 1,051 Afghans will be chosen to attend the Loya Jirga, with an additional 450 seats reserved for various Afghan institutions and groups. Under the Bonn Agreement, the Loya Jirga will determine a two-year transitional government until elections are held.

According to press reports, tribal leaders from seven of Afghanistan's southern and eastern provinces stated in a petition to the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Special Independent Loya Jirga Commission their intention to boycott the Loya Jirga meeting in June. The tribal leaders were reported to be asking that the Loya Jirga be postponed for 18 months, as the process in their opinion has failed to keep out warlords and others who have committed atrocities. They also claim that the formula for the creation of the Loya Jirga is undemocratic, is being convened without heed to traditional guidelines, and is not based on the country's 1964 constitution as the Bonn Agreement had stipulated.

Reports indicate that some Afghan citizens in the northern provinces participating in the first phase delegate selection process for the Loya Jirga have experienced intimidation, threats, and bribery.

The U.N. team investigating possible mass graves in Bamiyan Province also visited two sites near Mazar-e-Sharif in Balkh Province. According to the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the team photographed the sites, uncovered a number of bodies, recorded details, and recommended measures for protection until further investigation can be undertaken. Initial observations reported by UNAMA indicate the collective burial within the past few months of an unidentified number of male corpses, apparently of Pashtun origin, whose likely cause of death was suffocation.

Security. On May 9, several missiles were fired at the Jalalabad airport, the first such incident to occur in that area this year. The missiles landed in a deserted portion of the airport and caused no injuries. Local officials attributed the attack to a new outbreak of factional fighting.

On May 5, UNAMA and the AIA brokered a truce between fighters loyal to Abdul Rashid Dostum and fighters loyal to Atta Mohammed. The factions had engaged in clashes since April 30 in the northern Balkh and Sar-e-Pul provinces. The factions agreed to establish a Joint Security Commission and to create a 600-person multi-ethnic police force for the provincial capital Mazar-e-Sharif, to prohibit the carrying of weapons in Mazar-e-Sharif, and to withdraw tanks, armored personnel carriers, and artillery from the city within 24 hours. On May 8, Dostum and Atta met and reported satisfaction with the ongoing implementation of the agreement. However, on the same day there were reports of clashes in Shulgareh, Balkh Province, a previous flashpoint in the conflict.

On May 7, in Paktia Province, the Gardez tribal council and the governor Taj Muhammad Wardak issued a seven-day ultimatum to warlord Padshah Khan Zadran to surrender his forces or face war. On April 27, Zadran fired hundreds of rockets on Gardez in an attempt to reclaim the governorship, after AIA Chairman Hamid Karzai replaced Zadran with Wardak as governor last month.

A new governor appointed by Karzai arrived in Khost Province last week, but has been unable to assume leadership due to the occupation of the governor's office by warlord Kamal Khan. Khan is the brother of warlord Padshah Khan Zadran in Paktia Province. Zadran has reportedly instructed his brother to drive the new governor away.

On May 6, unidentified assailants fired three rockets in the direction of U.S. forces in Khost Province, but no injuries were reported. Coalition and Afghan military forces seized four truckloads of ammunition from the area where the shots were fired.

According to the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), incidents of fighting have impacted their operations. Bombing prevented food aid monitors from working in Khost Province, and an evaluation mission to certain districts in Balkh Province was cancelled due to insecurity.

The U.N. is reportedly considering increased security measures for its staff in Afghanistan, including the relocation of some staff in the north and the use of police escorts for convoys in Jalalabad, Kabul, Gardez, and Khandahar.

Locust. UNAMA reports that the most severe case of locust infestation in 30 years is threatening crops in northern Afghanistan. The provinces most affected are Kunduz, Sar-e-Pul, Baghlan, Samangan, Faryab, Jowzjan, and Badghis. UNAMA estimates that farmers in northern Baghlan Province have lost up to 40 percent of their crop, while in some parts of Samangan Province there has been complete destruction of crops. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), with USAID/OFDA and British Department for International Development (DFID) support, and in cooperation with the AIA, local authorities, and international organizations, has been coordinating a program of manual and chemical eradication since the early spring to minimize damage to crops. On May 9, helicopters began releasing pesticides to control locust infestations in Badghis and Faryab provinces. FAO reports that it has an adequate stock of pesticide for its eradication requirements.

Food Aid and Logistics. Since October 2001, WFP, with support from USAID, has delivered 449,673 MT of food into Afghanistan, of which 358,969 MT has been distributed throughout the country, assisting some 6.6 million Afghans. WFP has conducted more than 60 rapid assessment missions in Afghanistan over the past few weeks. The findings indicate an increased need for food aid in the pre-harvest hunger period of April, May and June. WFP reported that malnutrition persists, the sale of household assets continues, and more children are being pushed into the labor market to support their families. WFP's target is to provide 275,000 MT of food assistance to an estimated nine million people until the harvest in July.

According to WFP, most of its sub-offices across the country are reporting pipeline breaks since early May due to a lack of donations. As a result, WFP indicates it has been forced to scale down some of its operations, suspending food assistance to some communities engaged in food for asset creation, food for work projects, food for education, and food for civil servants programs.

IDPs and Refugees. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the AIA, and the non-governmental organization (NGO) community are preparing for the anticipated return this summer of more than 1.2 million Afghan refugees and IDPs. According to UNHCR, more than 531,000 Afghan refugees have been assisted in returning home in the ten weeks since UNHCR and the AIA began their voluntary repatriation program in coordination with neighboring governments. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports more than 150,00 IDPs have also been assisted in returning home.

UNHCR reported that 32 repatriation centers will eventually be open across Afghanistan to provide start-up packages of assistance to returnees, with 18 currently operating. Although these centers were designed to serve the voluntary repatriation program, spontaneous returnees are also permitted to receive start-up packages from the centers.

UNHCR reports that more than 450,000 Afghans have returned from Pakistan since its program began March 1, exceeding in just two months UNHCR's planning figure for returns for the whole year. Ninety percent of the returnees pass through the Takhtabaig voluntary repatriation center near Peshawar, Pakistan. An estimated 40 percent are destined for urban centers in Afghanistan, with roughly three in every four returnees going back to Nangarhar and Kabul provinces.

According to UNHCR, more than 34,000 Afghans have returned home from Iran since its program began on April 9. The majority of these returns have been through the northern Islam Qala crossing point at Dogharun. The Milak-Zaranj border crossing in the south, which had been closed due to factional fighting since the voluntary repatriation began, reopened on May 5. Afghan refugees are registering to return home from Iran at the rate of 2,000-5,000 per day, exceeding the current capacity of the voluntary repatriation operation, which had planned to handle only 1,600 returns per day. UNHCR estimates that 80 percent of returnees coming from Iran through the Islam Qala border crossing are heading to areas outside Herat Province, mainly to Kabul and other urban centers. This runs contrary to UNHCR's initial expectation that most returnees would remain in Herat.

UNHCR reports that approximately 10,000 Afghans have been assisted in returning home from the northern Central Asia states, including Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Several road accidents involving refugees were reported this week. On May 9, a rented IOM truck carrying 23 returnees from Iran overturned near Katakan in Faryab Province, killing six people and injuring 13 more. The four families involved were being assisted in returning to Bamiyan Province. On May 5, two vehicles carrying returnees from Pakistan were involved in two separate accidents on the Torkham-Jalalabad road. In the first, six people lost their lives and 15 sustained serious injuries when a truck overturned five kilometers inside of the border. In the second incident, a bus went off the road about 20 kilometers from the border, injuring an unknown number of passengers.

On May 4, IOM announced that it may be forced to suspend some of its IDP care and maintenance and IDP transport programs due to a lack of funding. Following IOM's announcement, UNHCR is considering increasing the travel grant it provides to IDPs and refugees to compensate for reduced IOM support.

UNHCR, in cooperation with IOM, has assisted 1,300 IDPs from Kabul to return home to Bamiyan Province. Returnees to the central Bamiyan highlands receive a winterization package, as the weather is still cold and many houses were damaged or destroyed by war.

In Herat, IOM has assisted more than 55,000 IDPs from Maslakh, Shaidayee, Rawzabagh, and Minarets IDP camps to return to their homes in Herat and Badghis provinces.

In Mazar-e-Sharif, IOM has assisted 48,000 persons to return to their homes in several provinces across northern Afghanistan. Returns to some districts were temporarily suspended this week due to factional fighting in the area.

From the central Bamiyan Province, some 8,200 mostly ethnic Hazara Afghans have returned to 13 villages in the Shaighan Valley, Baghlan Province since April 22.

Near Jalalabad, UNHCR and IOM have assisted more than 13,000 IDPs from Hesar Shahi camp to return to their villages in Nangarhar, Laghman, and Kabul provinces. A survey in Hesar Shahi camp last month found some 17,000 people out of the 24,000 camp residents wanted to return home.

On May 13, UNHCR and the German Technical Cooperation agency (GTZ) will begin assisting the voluntary repatriation to their homes in Afghanistan of a portion of the 80,000 IDPs living in the Spin Boldak/Chaman border area with Pakistan. There are still 40,000 Afghans waiting in no man's land to enter Pakistan, some of whom are reportedly refusing what limited assistance is available in protest of their conditions. UNHCR is working with authorities on both sides of the border to resolve the crisis. A survey of families in no man's land revealed that nearly half are ethnic Pashtuns originating from northern Afghanistan, and about 30 percent of the total number would be willing to return to their homes if helped to do so. Meanwhile, for those Afghans who cannot or do not want to return home, UNHCR is considering relocation to several new sites in Kandahar.

On May 8, the Mahkaki and Mile-46 IDP camps in southern Afghanistan near the border with Iran were officially closed. The camps had emptied of Afghan IDPs, who returned to their places of origin. The Iranian government, which maintained a closed border during last fall's military campaign by Coalition forces, established the camps just inside Afghanistan in October 2001. The camps held up to 10,500 Afghans at their fullest, and were administered by the Iranian Red Crescent Society.

Health. WHO is working with local health officials to control the epidemic spread of leishmaniasis, a disfiguring skin disease caused by a parasite transmitted through the sting of a sand fly. It is estimated that 100,000 people have already been infected in Kabul, and 250,000 Afghans nationwide are expected to become infected this year. The disease, which spreads during the warmer months, is also endemic in Mazar-e-Sharif and Kandahar. The spread of the disease is linked to poor social conditions, especially a lack of hygiene and poor removal of waste material. The carrier sand fly is also found in the dried mud used in constructing houses. The recent movement of refugees and IDPs is expected to exacerbate the liklihood of the disease spreading. WHO has recommended that people sleep under mosquito nets at night to try to avoid being bitten by sand flies after dark, when the tiny insect is particularly active.

WHO is planning to rehabilitate local health facilities in Baghlan Province, the site of two earthquakes on March 25 and April 12 in Nahrin and Burkah districts that left more than six hundred people dead. The rehabilitated medical facilities will include specialized services for post-earthquake injuries and care of trauma victims.

USG Humanitarian Assistance

Background. On October 4, 2001, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina B. Rocca redeclared a complex humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan for FY 2002. To date, FY 2001 and FY 2002 USG humanitarian assistance for Afghans is provided by USAID/OFDA, Food for Peace (USAID/FFP), Democracy & Governance (USAID/DG), Office of Transition Initiatives (USAID/OTI), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (State/PRM), Department of State's Humanitarian Demining Program (State/HDP), the Department of State's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (State/INL), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The assistance is for displaced persons inside Afghanistan and Afghan refugees in neighboring countries.

On March 26, 2002, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Robert P. Finn issued a disaster declaration due to the earthquake in Baghlan Province. USAID/OFDA responded by providing an additional $25,000 in Disaster Assistance Authority to ACTED, one of many USAID-funded grantees that are providing humanitarian assistance to the affected population.

In Tajikistan, on October 10, 2001, U.S. Chargé d'Affaires James A. Boughner declared a disaster due to drought, and requested funds for a seed and fertilizer distribution program. USAID/OFDA responded by providing $998,180 through the U.S. Embassy to Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere (CARE) for the purchase and distribution of winter wheat seeds and fertilizer.

USAID/OFDA Assistance

Personnel. USAID/OFDA currently has one Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) based in Kabul to assess humanitarian activities and logistical capacity in the region. USAID/DART members coordinate with the humanitarian relief community and assess the humanitarian situation.

New Actions. USAID/OFDA is providing $38,500 to HOPE Worldwide in support of the rehabilitation of the Karte Seh Medical Hospital and its annex, the AIA Ministry of Public Health's Institute for Malaria and Leishmaniasis, in Kabul. This quick impact project will improve the provision of healthcare to Afghan men, women, and children nationwide, as the hospital and its annexes serve residents of Kabul and as well as distant provinces. This is the first full rehabilitation of a hospital in Afghanistan.

OTHER USG Assistance

New Actions. The U.S. Department of State's Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration (State/PRM) is providing $172,667 to Church World Service (CWS) in support of health services for Afghan refugees in Mansehra, Pakistan and returning refugees in Nangarhar, Afghanistan.

State/PRM is providing $2,157,662 to the Cooperative Housing Foundation (CHF) in support of programs to address the urgent humanitarian needs of vulnerable Afghan refugees and IDPs returning to Bamiyan and Kabul provinces.

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Bernd McConnell
Director, Central Asia Task Force

USAID/OFDA bulletins can be obtained from the USAID web site at