- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

U.N. officials are warning of a severe humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, with a growing security concern increasing pressure on donor countries and international relief agencies to withdraw.

"If the security situation worsens, causing donor nations and U.N. agencies to pull out, the current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan could rapidly spin out of control," said Oliver Ulich, a spokesman for U.N. relief efforts.

A decision made over the weekend by Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai to replace his security guards with American troops underscored the peril facing the nation of warlords with competing private armies.

For weeks, however, Afghanistan specialists in the United Nations, other international agencies and private relief groups have cautioned of a pending tragedy.

"In the north, for example, the situation has seriously deteriorated in recent weeks, culminating in the tragic gang rape of a female aid worker," Lakhdar Brahimi, a U.N. representative to Afghanistan, said in a statement on Friday.

The statement was part of a plea to the U.N. Security Council to expand the international peacekeeping forces outside the Afghanistan capital of Kabul a proposal opposed by the United States.

After 23 years of war and neglect, "a real security void exists in the country, leaving many Afghans feeling vulnerable and uncertain about their own and their country's future," Mr. Brahimi said.

Mr. Brahimi told the council, "We must assume that [al Qaeda and Taliban terrorist] groups can still pose a threat."

He warned that the international community needed to keep its promises to the Afghan people.

"We know all too well that instability in that remote part of the world can have grave repercussions far beyond the borders of Afghanistan," Mr. Brahimi said.

Mr. Karzai in February requested that international peacekeeping troops be placed throughout the country.

When Mr. Brahimi made his appeal Friday, the Security Council reiterated its opposition.

Ross Mountain, a U.N. relief coordinator, last week told reporters in Washington, "Security is still a problem particularly in the north."

Fighting among warlords in Afghanistan, he said, "has [caused] a number of our partners to pull out."

Calling Afghanistan "one of the largest humanitarian crises we deal with," Mr. Mountain emphasized the nation's "enormous food needs."

The United Nations is feeding 9 million Afghans, Mr. Mountain said.

Olara Otunna, another U.N. representative to Afghanistan, said on Sunday that the situation has victimized children in particular.

Mrs. Otunna cited Afghanistan's child mortality rate, the fourth highest in the world, in an effort to "bring to light a major human tragedy which could threaten the peace and stability of Afghanistan if not addressed."

Shelter for Life International, a leading Christian aid group, said last week said that returning Afghan refugees face a winter of hunger unless the West rethinks its strategy of distributing food and other supplies to rural areas.

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