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Mercy Corps Country Director: Afghanistan situation 'bleak'

Afghanistan, October 4, 2001

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    Mercy Corps Country Director Afghanistan/Pakistan Mark Pont. Photo: Simon Taylor/Mercy Corps Photo:

Twenty years of violence, four years of severe drought and the possibility of an impending refugee crisis is making life extraordinarily difficult for the citizens that remain inside of Afghanistan and with winter fast approaching the numbers of those suffering is sure to rise.

That is the assessment of Mark Pont, Mercy Corps Country Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan, speaking in a telephone interview earlier today from Islamabad, Pakistan where Mercy Corps’ international staff has relocated due to the heightened tensions in the region.

“The conditions are actually quite bleak at the moment and even in a normal winter the people find things considerably harder,” Pont said.

“The winter is always a problem for feeding. The families have to store food to make it through the winter. The refugees and displaced persons living in open tents are the ones that are particularly hard hit as the temperatures fall, sometimes well below zero degree Celsius.”

Pont said that Mercy Corps is working closely with the United Nations and other relief agencies to plan for the distribution of fuel, shelter and blankets for families that remain inside Afghanistan as well as for refugees as the winter months approach.

Members of the Mercy Corps staff have also been to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border to evaluate the refugee situation, which Pont said at the present, varies greatly from location to location.

The Mercy Corps Global Emergency Operations team is in Islamabad, drafting contingency plans for the creation of new refugee camps in Pakistan in the event that refugee numbers increase in the days and weeks ahead. Mercy Corps staff members in the neighboring countries of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are also preparing for the possibility of increased refugees.

At the moment, many of Mercy Corps’ drought-related programs inside of Afghanistan have been suspended or are working at a limited capacity due to security and communication issues. Pont did report, however, that the network of health care facilities Mercy Corps operates in Afghanistan is still open for the more than 370,000 Afghans it serves.

Still, Pont fears for the families that remain in Afghanistan.

“These people themselves prior to our starting our work four years ago were in a very desperate situation which is why we selected them,” Pont said. “Now that our work is not continuing fully they will have quite a degree of hardship, especially this winter.”