Afghanistan + 4 more

Central Asia Region - Complex Emergency Situation Report #33 (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): 550,000
Pakistan (spontaneous): 180,000
Iran (voluntary assisted since April 9): 44,000
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): 1,255

FY 2001/2002 U.S. Government (USG) Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan*: $582,487,072
FY 2001/2002 USG Humanitarian Assistance to Tajikistan: $88,208,180

Current Situation

Overview. Loya Jirga preparations continued, with nearly half of the country's 381 districts completing the first phase of assembly meetings. U.S. soldiers began training the first group of Afghan soldiers for the Afghan national army. Coalition forces seized numerous large weapons caches. Missile attacks were directed at Coalition forces, while factional fighting disrupted humanitarian operations in the north. Aid groups continued to battle a locust infestation in northern Afghanistan. In the northeast, heavy rains caused floods and landslides. Food assessments in central Afghanistan revealed increasingly drastic coping mechanisms in communities dependent on farming. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began returns of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees from the Chaman and Spin Boldak sites along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Political/Military. The first phase of the Loya Jirga process continued this week, bringing to 181 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.

On May 14, U.S. troops began training the first 240 enlisted Afghan soldiers who will comprise the Afghan national army. The final size of the army has not yet been determined. The first phase of the training will take two and a half months.

British forces brought the two-week Operation Snipe in eastern Afghanistan to a close on May 10. The operation destroyed several caves between the cities of Khost and Gardez that contained large al-Qaeda or Taliban ammunition stores. Over the weekend, U.S. forces found two large caches of weapons near Herat and Gardez. The cache near Gardez included 1.8 million rounds of ammunition, 600 rounds of rocket-propelled grenades, more than 700 mortar rounds, and five tanks. The cache near Herat contained 1,500 mortar rounds and more than 600 rounds of howitzer ammunition. A portion of the ammunition will be used by the Afghan army for training, and the rest will be destroyed.

A new Coalition operation, Operation Condor, was launched on May 16 following an attack on an Australian patrol in the mountains of Paktia Province.

Security. On May 14, Hamid Karzai warned warlord Padshah Khan that a large military force was poised to capture him if he did not comply with an ultimatum issued by Paktia Governor Wardak to surrender. The ultimatum expired on May 15. Khan fired hundreds of rockets on Gardez on April 27 in an attempt to reclaim the governorship after Karzai replaced Khan with Governor Wardak last month.

On May 12, two rockets were fired near U.S. military positions at an airport in Khost. There were no injuries in the attack. A similar attack was carried out last week with the firing of three rockets in the direction of U.S. forces in Khost.

Also on May 12, two Chinese-made rockets connected to crude timers were discovered four miles from a supply and refueling base for British troops in Paktia Province. The rockets were dismantled, and there was no information about the potential attackers.

A convoy of seven buses carrying 400 Afghan refugees was fired on and robbed in Shikarpur District, Sindh Province in Pakistan. The buses, which were transporting spontaneous returnees, were accompanied by the non-governmental organization FOCUS. Injured passengers were treated and released at a nearby hospital, and the buses continued to the border in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. UNHCR is encouraging daytime travel on this route due to the threat of robberies.

Following the resumption of inter-factional fighting in the northern region, particularly in Sar-e-Pul Province, several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have evacuated their staff and suspended their programs until the security situation improves. The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) distributions in Chiras, Kohistanat District, Sar-e-Pul Province were disrupted following the recent security developments. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) was also forced to temporarily suspend IDP operations in Mazar-e-Sharif due to the security situation, which is reportedly improving.

Locust. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (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. 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. 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.

Floods and Landslides. Heavy rain caused flooding in the northeastern province of Badakshan and claimed 30 lives in the northern province of Takhar. Three days of continuous rain damaged nearly 100 homes in the Teshkan, Khash, and Argu districts of Badakshan. U.N. officials warned that continuing rain could cause significant damage. The May rains follow record setting rains in April, when Afghanistan experienced the highest monthly precipitation in three decades.

The U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), in partnership with GOAL, dispatched 160 cooking sets, 160 basic hygiene kits, and a supply of soap to Khulm District, Samangan Province to assist an estimated 600 families in five villages displaced by landslides that followed heavy rains.

A landslide in Rostaq District, Takhar Province destroyed approximately 562 hectares of cultivated land and killed 2,000 head of cattle. More than 100 families moved to the districts of Yangi Qala and Deshta Qala, while NGOs in the area are providing the remaining 280 families with food and non-food items. Flooding has also impacted Bilkashan village, where 40 houses were destroyed.

Food Aid and Logistics. Since September 11, 2001, WFP, with support from USAID, has delivered 455,257 MT of food into Afghanistan, of which 364,337 MT has been distributed throughout the country, assisting some 6.6 million Afghans.

The Rapid Emergency Food Needs Assessment (REFNA) finished evaluations of 12 villages in Day Kundi, Bamiyan Province. Next week, assessments will focus on 10 to 15 villages in Sharistan District in Uruzgan Province. Both areas, located in the center of the country, have a total estimated population of 308,000 people, 60 percent of whom are considered vulnerable.

Preliminary REFNA findings indicate that residents of Day Kundi and Sharistan Districts have slowly exhausted coping mechanisms over the last three years, during which time the scarcity of agricultural production has threatened the livelihoods of these farming communities. In order to survive, residents have sold livestock, become increasingly reliant on food from outside sources, and have supplemented their diets with wild grass grains and roots. Men in the villages have migrated in search of work in the larger urban areas or in Iran and Pakistan. The coming months leading up to the harvest are expected to be especially difficult, particularly in remote areas that did not receive food aid. WFP is working to provide 275,000 MT of food assistance to an estimated nine million people in Afghanistan until the July harvest.

WFP and FAO are planning a crop assessment that will be completed before the July harvest. The assessment will provide an overview of the food and agriculture situation, summarize the food production forecast for 2001/2002, and summarize the cereal supply and demand and food aid requirements for 2002/2003.

IDPs and Refugees. UNHCR, the AIA, and the 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 616,000 Afghan refugees have been assisted in returning home in the eleven weeks since UNHCR and the AIA began their voluntary repatriation program in coordination with neighboring governments. IOM reports more than 160,00 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 550,000 Afghans have returned from Pakistan since its program began March 1. UNHCR originally planned for 400,000 returnees from Pakistan this year, a number that was exceeded in the first two months of the program. UNHCR has now more than doubled planning figures to 850,000 returns for the 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 44,000 Afghans have returned home from Iran since its program began on April 9. The majority of Afghans returning from Iran have crossed at the northern Islam Qala border at Dogharun, and have gone on to areas outside Herat Province, mainly to Kabul and other urban centers. The Milak-Zaranj border crossing in the south, closed due to factional fighting since the voluntary repatriation began, reopened on May 5.

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

UNHCR this week noted the strain that the hundreds of thousands of returnees are putting on collapsed infrastructure and the generally unstable security situation, and asked host countries like Australia to not pressure the large number of Afghans living there to return home.

UNHCR began voluntary return operations this week for the 80,000 displaced persons at the Chaman and Spin Boldak sites near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Only a portion of the population is expected to take part in the returns. Drought-affected nomads and farmers, along with ethnic Pashtuns who fled persecution in the north, are not yet willing to leave the border area to return to their homes. UNHCR assisted 670 Afghans in Spin Boldak return to their homes in Kandahar Province in the first three days of the program. In recent weeks, more that 1,500 refugees left the Chaman site just inside Pakistan for Afghanistan. UNHCR is advising the displaced population at both border sites about return options, conditions, and assistance. IDPs returning from Spin Boldak receive a transport allowance, a UNHCR family kit, and three months of food aid from WFP.

IOM announced that it would have to suspend all of its Internal Transport Network operations for IDPs in Afghanistan on May 27 if it does not receive pledges of $10 million. Most of IOM's IDP operations were suspended last week due to a funding shortage.

Since late February, IOM has transported thousands of IDPs to their home provinces in cooperation with UNHCR. IOM-assisted returns have included 1,300 IDPs from Kabul to Bamiyan Province; 55,000 IDPs from Herat IDP camps to Herat and Badghis provinces; 48,000 IDPs in Mazar-e-Sharif to several provinces in northern Afghanistan; 8,200 IDPS from Bamiyan Province to the Shaigan Valley, Baghlan Province; and 13,000 IDPs from the Hesar Shahi camp near Jalalabad to their villages in Nangarhar, Laghman, and Kabul provinces.

Health. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warned of an increase in the spread of infectious diseases as the number of returning Afghans grows. Health experts have witnessed a rise in cases of diarrhea and in the overall number of patients treated since large-scale returns started. The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed concern about crowded living conditions that encourage the spread of tuberculosis, a disease affecting 80,000 Afghans every year. Only an estimated 20 percent of the Afghan population has access to proper treatment for tuberculosis.

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.

OTHER USG Assistance

New Actions. On May 3, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) contributed 43,300 MT of wheat valued at $19,098,712 to WFP.

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Bernd McConnell
Director, Central Asia Task Force

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