Several new Mercy Corps activities have been initiated this week as part of the agency' s ongoing commitment to provide life-saving operations and services to people in Afghanistan and neighboring countries. Mercy Corps' overriding goal at this time is to identify any and all ways the agency can help ease the suffering of innocent people. The actions taken this week will help the agency respond quickly and efficiently to the growing humanitarian crisis in that region.
Agency Deploys Food Aid Expert to Uzbekistan to Plot Transportation Lines into Afghanistan for Aid Distribution
Based in the agency's international headquarters in Portland, OR, Mercy Corps' Director of Food Resources, Tom Ewert, leaves Saturday for Uzbekistan, the country that shares Afghanistan's northern border. He may also visit nearby Turkmenistan. From Uzbekistan, Ewert will conduct a major assessment of aid delivery options that will facilitate Mercy Corps' entry into Afghanistan when borders re-open. Ewert's task is to identify
transportation routes that will help bring food and other aid to the Afghan interior. This area is strategically positioned because of its proximity to a Soviet railroad and also to the major road through Herat, which intersects Afghanistan's interior. Mercy Corps has been operational in Uzbekistan since 1994 and in Turkmenistan since 1999. Both countries may
figure prominently in future rebuilding efforts in the region.
Global Emergency Operations Team Leader Travels to Islamabad
Mercy Corps deployed the leader of its Global Emergency Operations (GEO) team, George Devendorf, to Islamabad, Pakistan this week, where he joins other members of Mercy Corps' GEO team, Mercy Corps Country Director for Afghanistan/Pakistan, and other expatriate staff who relocated out of Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 tragedy. Devendorf will focus on logistics and setting up systems to deliver food and water to refugee camps.
Mercy Corps Opens New Office in Panjsheer Valley in Northeastern Afghanistan
Based on internal reports of an immediate crisis in the Panjsheer Valley, Mercy Corps is in the process of opening a new office to assist growing numbers of refugees who are fleeing Kabul. Approximately 70-100 families are arriving daily and 4000 families have taken residence in the Panjsheer Valley with another 2500 reported to be just outside the entrance to the
valley. Some reports project that several hundred thousand more refugees may be heading in that direction and this Mercy Corps office will be critical in positioning the agency to expand its reach in that area. Due to the severe weather in this valley, the timeframe for action is short.
Plans are in Place for Refugee Camps in Pakistan
Mercy Corps is working in the Baluchistan Province in Pakistan in conjunction with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the World Food Program to plan the establishment of new refugee camps to house and feed 200,000 new Afghan refugees. Mercy Corps is also coordinating the purchase and distribution of 10,000 basic "necessity packages" for distribution in refugee camps. All items in the package will be purchased locally and include: blankets, water containers, floor mats, cooking utensils, tents, and soap.
Mercy Corps is also preparing to provide assistance (food, sanitation, and shelter) in bordering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Both countries could host refugee communities of approximately 25,000 each in the near future.
Assessment Team Heading to Iran to Develop Contingency Plans for Refugee Camps
Mercy Corp's Regional Director for the Middle East is leading a team of five Mercy Corps staff from the region to Iran later this week to develop plans for opening a humanitarian aid channel from Iran into Afghanistan. Contingency plans will be worked out with the Iranian government and the United Nations to establish additional refugee camps in Iran to prepare for an anticipated arrival of 400,000 more refugees. Iran already has approximately 1.5 million Afghan refugees within its borders, some are in refugee villages and some have been allowed to integrate.