Insecurity, mines and shifting population hamper efforts to bring aid to Afghans

Thursday, November 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Hopes that emergency aid to the Afghan population would get through quickly with the Taliban on the run have been dashed by lingering dangers on the roads and difficulty helping civilians who are on the move, the European Union said Thursday.

``With so many unexploded mines and bombs and so many people on the move, the risks have increased significantly,'' said EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Poul Nielson, who heads to Kabul next week to assess needs and meet with northern alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani.

In addition to land mines and risky roads, he said a major problem facing relief workers seeking to deliver food before winter sets in is uncertainty over where Afghans have fled and when they will return to their homes.

``Continuing insecurity and instability mean that the international donor community faces a massive challenge in the weeks and months to come,'' Nielson said. ``The security issue still is a very real problem.''

The problems have further compounded an already desperate situation, with millions of Afghans are facing the threat of famine because of years of drought and civil war.

``Both the numbers and needs of internally displaced people and refugees have increased'' since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, triggered a military response that has swept the Taliban from most of Afghanistan, he said.

Nielson said the areas around Mazar-e-Sharif in the north and Jalalabad in the east were still too unsafe for normal food transports, even through the Taliban no longer control the cities.

He insisted that road transport was still preferable to airdrops _ long criticized by the EU _ despite the dangers. The U.S. military said Thursday that an Afghani civilian was killed when a bundle of aid supplies dropped from a plane crushed her house.

``We have good reason not to do it like that,'' Nielson said.

Food has been reaching Kabul and Herat in the west by truck when security conditions permit, he said. But he acknowledged that it does not always make it to those who need it, an issue he said he would raise in his talks in Afghanistan next week.

``I will be stressing the impartiality and neutrality of humanitarian aid and the need for all parties to respect humanitarian space for delivering aid,'' he said.

In Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Russian border guards said Thursday that aid deliveries to an area in northeastern Afghanistan previously under Taliban control will soon resume.

Russian, Afghan and U.N. officials worked out a delivery schedule in a meeting at a border post Wednesday, the border guard press service said in a statement.

Starting within a few days, aid supplies will be transported across the Pyandzh River to the Afghan town of Sherkhan twice a day on three ferries, the press service said.

Aid is delivered over another part of the river near the Farkhor border post, but deliveries to Sherkhan were halted more than a year ago because the Taliban held the town.

Meanwhile, three Russian planes delivered a field hospital, 40 tons of food and 650 pounds of medical supplies to the Bagram air field near Kabul on Thursday, a Russian official said in Moscow.

The food and medication are for the Afghan people, while trucks delivered along with the supplies will be used by the staff of the Russian Humanitarian Center that has opened in Kabul, said Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Viktor Beltsov.