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UNHCR calls for urgent assistance for thousands of Helmand residents

Although the exact number of displaced people is not known, local authorities estimate more than 5,000 families – about 40,000 people – have fled in the 10 days since clashes started. 

UNHCR said in a statement “Many ran for their lives with no belongings.”

‘’This latest eruption of violence and displacement reflects the multitude of challenges Afghanistan is facing today,’’ said Caroline Van Buren, UNHCR Representative for Afghanistan. 

“More support is urgently needed as the country grapples with insecurity in some parts, on top of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.

UNHCR, as part of the government-led joint humanitarian response, is helping affected people in Helmand. Initial assessments have identified more than 5,000 displaced people in need of immediate assistance. The number is expected to rise as teams continue assessments, the agency said.

“In the last few days, UNHCR has dispatched emergency shelter kits and essential household items such as blankets, plastic sheets, water buckets, cooking utensils and hygiene kits. In addition, UNHCR is providing cash assistance for particularly vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly, children and women at risk, people with disabilities, and those with serious medical conditions. 

The refugee agency however said their initial assessment found that many displaced families urgently need food, water, shelter, hygiene kits, latrines, and cash for rent and other purposes.

‘’Humanitarians are working with limited access to the majority of displaced civilians,’’ said Van Buren. 

“Disruptions in telecommunications, the threat of improvised explosive devices and the continued closure of the highway between Kandahar and Helmand following the destruction of several bridges are adding to the challenges.”

The agency said mobile health teams are delivering services to displaced people in Lashkargah city, where the majority of displaced Afghans are currently staying. 

“Living conditions are poor with many living in open spaces, in rented accommodation shared with several families, or in shops in the vegetable market.”

More than 220,000 Afghans have been newly displaced by conflict so far this year while another 456,000 people were forced to flee their homes in 2019, adding to an overall figure of around 4.1 million people displaced in Afghanistan since 2012. Conflict and poverty have prevented most of them from returning to their areas of origin.