Call for food aid from conflict-hit Helmand Province

A provincial emergency response commission in insurgency-torn Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, has asked UN agencies and international aid organisations to provide food and non-food humanitarian relief to 4,200 families displaced by military operations in Garmsir District since the end of April.

The commission - comprised of several government bodies, the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) - has demanded relief supplies as "a matter of urgency".

"We are looking forward to receiving the requested aid from the UN and other donors," Assadullah Mayar, president of the ARCS in Helmand and a member of the commission, told IRIN on the phone.

Over 6,000 families - about 30,000 individuals, mostly women and children - are estimated to have abandoned their homes in Garmsir and flocked to various locations across the province, according to Mayar.

"Food items and tents are needed urgently," he said.

Garmsir, about 75km southwest of Lashkargah city, the provincial capital, was the most populated and greenest of Helmand’s 13 districts, and borders on Balochistan Province in Pakistan.

Due to problems of access there has been no reliable information about civilian casualties resulting from the conflict.

However, Mohammad Anwar Khan, head of the provincial council, said many civilians had died and some had been wounded in the crossfire.

UN ready to respond

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it was concerned about reports of civilian displacement in Garmsir District and was doing everything it could to respond to the needs of affected people.

UN agencies do not have a presence in Helmand Province owing to security restrictions, but often deliver relief supplies through local NGOs and government bodies.

"We are concerned about this issue and the good thing about such displacements is that they are temporary and the people will be able to return to their homes soon," said Nilab Mobarez, a spokeswoman for UNAMA in Kabul, adding that the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) was ready to provide non-food assistance.

Photo: Alex Guerra/US Military
About 2,400 US marines and hundreds of NATO-led troops are involved in the military operation in Garmsir District

Military operation

The military operation which kicked off on 28 April in Garmsir District is still going on, Capt Kelly Frushour, a US military spokesperson, told IRIN on 13 May.

About 2,400 US marines, backed by hundreds of NATO-led troops, are involved in the operation which aims to extend the writ of the Afghan government, Furshour said.

"The insurgents have demonstrated a persistent and concerted effort to resist the advancement of troops and to hold ground in Garmsir," said a US military press release on 9 May, adding that coalition forces had encountered "disorganized resistance in the form of small arms, indirect fire, and rocket propelled grenades".

No Taliban spokesperson was immediately available to comment on the clashes in Garmsir.

Aid agencies have increasingly raised concerns about the impact of armed conflict on civilians and repeatedly called on all warring parties to do more to minimise the impact of war on civilians.