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Major relief set for Afghanistan

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | April 16, 2002

As humanitarian needs grow with each new disaster that hits Afghanistan or Pakistan, relief workers are planning ahead.

After six months of providing emergency assistance to thousands of Afghan people in refugee camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Church World Service (CWS) and its partner denominations are developing a comprehensive rehabilitation program.

Humanitarian needs in the region remain huge, according to CWS Pakistan Director Marvin Parvez.

Of a population of 20 million people, 6 million live with food shortages. Another 5.2 million fled their homes because of external and internal war, drought, and repeated earthquakes.

More than 25 percent of Afghan children die before age 5, Parvez noted.

The new CWS rehabilitation initiative focuses on shelter reconstruction, an income-generating project for women, and an education program for children.

The shelter program will support construction of new homes for 1,500 Afghan families. Each family will receive a construction kit and participate in building the residence.

The income-generating project for women employs women making quilts for refugees. This latest effort will provide temporary jobs for 1,000 widows and other women. Each participant will make four quilts per week, 16 each month, and 96 quilts by the end of the program. Altogether 153,600 quilts will be made then distributed by CWS to hospitals and clinics in Afghanistan.

The education component will provide chairs, tables and "Gifts of the Heart" school kits for some 50,000 children and 400 teachers in 77 local schools in the central highlands region of the country. For details on "Gift of the Heart" kits, see the CWS emergency response program Web site at www.cwserp.org

Over the past six months CWS, with support from its member denominations and many faith-based disaster response groups, has been offering emergency relief. Family shelter kits and food parcels were distributed to some 9,000 families, or more than 63,000 people.

CWS also supported a quilt-making project in Quetta, Pakistan that employed more than 400 Afghan women who made some 50,000 quilts that CWS and other agencies distributed to refugees.

In addition, CWS has provided more than $1 million worth of school and health kits to Afghan families.

Last week an earthquake hit northern Afghanistan on the heels of two earlier earthquakes in the past several weeks. The inter-church emergency alliance Action by Churches Together (ACT) delivered enough tents, bedding, food, jerry cans, and plastic sheeting to help 3,500 families in the affected area. The goods were drawn from stocks already in Afghanistan for post-war aid work.

The recent series of earthquakes hit the Baghlan province in northern Afghanistan, leaving thousands of people homeless, and killing hundreds. Nahrin was the town that was worst hit. In the village of Koracha, which lies just above Nahrin, 300 of the 320 homes were destroyed.

ACT members immediately responded to needs in the wake of the quakes.

ACT member CWS Pakistan/Afghanistan distributed 7,000 quilts through its local partner Shuhada, as well as 2,000 tents, 8,000 blankets, 2,000 ground sheets, 2,000 plastic sheets, and 1,000 food packages.

ACT member Norwegian Church Aid sent 19 trucks, delivering 3,422 tents, 2,500 jerry cans, 1,300 blankets, and 4,500 quilts. Diakonie Emergency Aid, another ACT member, distributed clothes and food baskets.

All the distributed materials and food came from stocks available within Afghanistan and Pakistan.

ACT relief workers reported that the direct relief phase is over, and that there is a further need for reconstruction and longer-term rehabilitation in the earthquake affected area.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief, another ACT member, is also responding to needs in Afghanistan. An UMCOR staff person from Tajikistan traveled to the site of recent earthquakes in Afghanistan to assess damage and response.

After helping to meet emergency needs, UMCOR, too, found that there is an ongoing need for assistance with long-term recovery throughout the country from war, drought, and earthquakes. An additional UMCOR staff member recently returned from Kabul after spending several weeks assessing future opportunities for UMCOR involvement in recovery work. UMCOR is planning to establish an office in Kabul and is developing plans to work with a particular community in what the organization terms a "holistic" way. The goal is to reintegrate the refugees that are returning to the community and provide assistance with agriculture, education, youth work, and community development.

The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is also responding by contributing funds for relief goods and clean water in the earthquake-devastated Nahrin District in northern Afghanistan.

MCC's contribution will help to purchase relief supplies distributed by Help the Afghan Children Inc., a U.S.-based humanitarian agency, which will also provide well-drilling or water purification equipment in areas where the quakes destroyed water supplies. Four Help the Afghan Children Inc. staff live and work in Nahrin and are working with the Afghan Ministry of Health to determine the best locations for new wells.

Families in Nahrin have struggled to obtain clean water since the earthquakes struck, said Suraya Sadeed, director of Help the Afghan Children Inc.

Many relief groups reported that residents in Nahrin were still in a state of shock over the devastation caused by the recent quakes.

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