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March 12, 2002, NEW YORK CITY - As Afghanistan moves toward reconstruction, it "needs the international community much more today than ever," said Marvin Parvez, director of the Church World Service Pakistan/Afghanistan Office, visiting the United States through March 17.
"In a population of 20 million, six million Afghans are living in famine-like conditions, four million of them are refugees, 1.2 million of them are internally displaced," said Parvez, a Methodist. "More than 25 percent of all Afghan children die before they reach age 5. There are 700,000 widows in Afghanistan, 30,000 of them in Kabul alone -- as a result, Kabul is known as the widows' capital."
Afghan refugees from southeastern Afghanistan are beginning to return home from Pakistan, but refugees from around Kandahar, Afghanistan, are still moving into Pakistan. "The big need is security," Parvez said. "People are anxious to go back and rebuild their homes and their livelihoods."
That will require more presence by peacekeeping forces and a clear mandate. "If security holds, large numbers of people will move back this spring from Iran and Pakistan," he said, emphasizing the urgency for the U.S. government and others to release the money theyve pledged for reconstruction.
Parvez, whose office is based in Karachi, is on a February 27-March 17 multi-state "thank you mission" to U.S. churches and others who have supported CWS work in Afghanistan these past 20 years and work in Pakistan for nearly 50 years.
When the Taliban came in, many governmental and non-governmental aid groups pulled out of Afghanistan, but a number of faith-based organizations never left, and the people of Afghanistan recognize that, he said.
Just since October, CWS has helped 17,000 Afghan families - some 100,000 refugees and internally displaced people -- with emergency food and shelter. In addition, more than 400 Afghan refugee women in Quetta, Pakistan, participated in a CWS Quilt Program, making 50,000 to 60,000 quilts for CWS and other shelter programs and earning income for their families.
Currently CWS is sending more than $1 million of school kits, health supplies and sewing materials to CWS Pakistan/Afghanistan to assist Afghans affected by war and drought. This shipment will include 19,750 school kits, 37,500 sewing kits and 14,105 health kits. Due to the magnitude of this shipment, CWS is now asking congregations and other groups to help replenish the supply, making it possible for CWS to ship additional shipments of kits to a number of locales later this year.
CWS is looking to duplicate the Quetta quilt project in Kabul -- this time to employ 1,400 women to make 160,000 quilts for shelter programs. This work will be a collaboration with the interim governments Ministry of Women's Affairs, headed by Dr. Sima Samar, who ran a women's health care ministry that's been part of CWS for 15 years.
Other plans include a shelter for street children in Kabul; assistance to 50,000 or more students in the Central Highlands with tables, chairs, desks and school kits; an expansion of CWS-supported health programs, and construction of permanent shelter for 2,000 families, especially in the Shomali Valley, 40 kilometres north of Kabul, an area "that was the frontline, where the Taliban destroyed everything."
"A lot of news out of Afghanistan is bad news" Parvez said, "but there is good news, too, about how churches, CROP WALKS and others are helping people in need."
It's tragic, he said, that "it took Sept. 11 for people to focus back on Afghanistan and the problems of 23 years. If we don't do the whole journey with the Afghans this time we will end up at the same place as in the 1980s."
The need, he said, is "humongous. Lives, livelihoods and infrastructure have been destroyed." Yet, Parvez said: "Now, I'm hopeful. That comes from the people of Afghanistan. They are happy, laughing, listening to music, sick of poverty and fighting, they want things to improve."
Parvez first U.S. stop was Michigan, to brief the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and the CWS regional CROP office on the current situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan and CWS work under way there.
Parvez was also in New York to brief CWS cross-program staff, denominational, ecumenical and secular media and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) on the current status of CWS relief efforts in Afghanistan/Pakistan, as well as discussing and planning the transition from emergency aid to long-term recovery. After New York, Parvez headed to the United Church of Christ (UCC) headquarters in Cleveland, and on to CWS regional CROP office in Charlotte, N.C., and staff meetings in Florida.
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