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GENEVA - The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) today said it needed US $252 million to respond to a large-scale humanitarian emergency in and around Afghanistan.
In a funding appeal presented to donors today (Wednesday), UNHCR said it was preparing for an influx of up to 1 million refugees into Pakistan; 400,000 into Iran; 50,000 into Tajikistan; and 50,000 into Turkmenistan. It said it was also making additional contingency planning to supply aid to 500,000 people inside Afghanistan, if the necessity arises.
"These figures are based on the worst-case scenario, but then we simply must be prepared for the worst," said High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers.
UNHCR said it could deploy up to 700 international and local staff to deal with the looming crisis, in addition to more than 500 staff already working in countries neighbouring Afghanistan. Most would be deployed in Pakistan and Iran, while some would be sent to the Central Asian republics of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
The refugee agency says so far a relatively small number of people have tried to leave Afghanistan, mostly for Pakistan. But it says the anticipation of a possible punitive action against the Taliban has led to considerable new displacement within Afghanistan, which had nearly 1 million internally displaced people even before the current developments. UNHCR officials fear that any action in Afghanistan could send large numbers of people fleeing toward neighbouring countries.
"Today, we are witnessing an unprecedented global effort to combat terrorism. We need a similarly unique effort to deal with possible humanitarian consequences of whatever happens in Afghanistan. We count on the donors' generosity," said Lubbers.
The contingency plan outlines a massive relief effort which involves the construction and maintenance of refugee camps and the delivery of more than 80,000 tents, hundreds of thousands of health and hygiene kits, and a huge amount of other relief items. Much of it would have to be airlifted to Pakistan and Iran. The amount sought is supposed to cover the agency's needs over the next six months, and is part of a larger UN consolidated appeal which is being compiled by the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The contingency plan is the largest UNHCR emergency deployment plan since the 1999 Kosovo crisis, when hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians were driven from their homes by Serbian forces in the wake of NATO's air war against Yugoslavia.
UNHCR has already received pledges totalling US $6.5 million in response to an early appeal for start-up funds to get the relief operation off the ground.
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