The U.S. Agency for International Development says the airlift was in response to a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, which is displacing tens of thousands of Afghans and resulting in an influx of refugees into Pakistan.
USAID-charted airlift contains 500 tents, 5000 blankets and 100 rolls of plastic sheeting. The International Rescue Committee begins work Thursday to deliver the supplies to the nearby Jalozai and Shamshatoo refugee camps. In addition, USAID is providing the IRC with funding to purchase tents, blankets and water jugs locally.
Health kits, with supplies to treat 1,000 people for one month, will also be flown to Peshawar.
An estimated 150,000 Afghans have fled to Pakistan in recent months to escape Afghanistan's continuing civil war, as well as hunger brought on by one of the region's worst droughts in history. "New arrivals are living in squalid conditions with little more than old clothing to protect them from subzero temperatures at night," says Gerald Martone, IRC's director of emergency programs. The U.N. news service IRIN reports that hundreds of people have died from exposure.
The IRC has been working in Pakistan for 20 years, providing emergency and long-term aid for Afghan refugees. In recent months, the IRC has expanded its emergency programs along the border, to provide clean water, sanitation and shelter.
Conditions are just as dismal inside Afghanistan. Nearly 100,000 internally displaced Afghans have fled drought and war-affected areas and settled around the northwestern city of Herat, in search of humanitarian assistance and shelter. Through local staff in Herat, the IRC has been building sanitation facilities, providing emergency items such as blankets, tents and padded insulation and distributing high-protein porridge to malnourished children.
USAID says it plans to provide over $2 million to two other NGOs working in northern Afghanistan to provide primary health care, as well as basic heating, lighting and cooking supplies.
Last month, the World Food Program warned of impending food shortages in Afghanistan and said that as many as one million people could face starvation before the winter ends in April, without additional assistance. "Living conditions in the areas where new arrivals are settling in both Pakistan and Afghanistan are incredibly harsh and not fit for human habitation," says Sigurd Hanson, director of IRC programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "The situation is very grim and it's going to get a lot worse as the refugee and displaced populations increase. They urgently need assistance," he said.
Semir Tanovic, Program Assistant
Melissa Winkler, Director of Communications
Phone: (212) 551-0972