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Our Army fights Afghan winter

The Salvation Army began its winter relief program in Afghanistan by distributing blankets to refugee families living in derelict areas of Kabul. In the first week of December an International Emergency Services team worked with government personnel to distribute 500 thick blankets.

The fall of the Taliban regime in November 2001 and the stability of the new transitional authority in Kabul have encouraged around two million Afghan refugees to return home from neighboring countries. Six hundred thousand of these returnees are thought to have returned to Kabul. The city, already lacking in water, sanitation, health care facilities, schools and virtually every other public facility, has seen its population swell dramatically in recent months. Worse, these people are settling in areas that were destroyed by civil war in the mid 1990s.

While many international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) work to secure the long-term needs of these returnees, The Salvation Army has launched an emergency winter relief program to assist with their immediate needs. Around 2,000 people (300 families) sheltering in the derelict ruins of Kabul are being cared for.

A team of Salvation Army relief staff, under the leadership of UK Salvation Army officer Major Ivor Telfer, is setting up a base of operations in Kabul. Blankets and plastic sheeting will help to keep families warm and make the destroyed dwellings more resistant to rain and cold. Warm coats and boots will help as the winter weather deteriorates. Clean water and better sanitation, along with schemes to help provide for some daily income, are planned as part of this short-term ‘winterization’ program.

Salvation Army support to Afghan refugees dates back many years. During the 1980s, Telfer directed an extensive community health program for Afghan refugees in Pakistan. Major Evelyne Gosteli and her staff in the Aux Coeur des Grottes emergency refuge in Geneva, Switzerland, have been providing assistance to exiled Afghans in Switz-erland. More recently, our emergency feeding program in Peshawar, Pakistan, during 2002 helped create positive relationships.

In giving approval to this decision General John Larsson said: “For practical reasons, we normally concentrate our relief efforts to those areas where there is an established Salvation Army presence. However, it is clear that the Army has over some years developed a relationship with Afghan people that we cannot ignore. This has been born out of relief programs in North-Western Pakistan in the 1980s and more recently in Peshawar. Relationships have also grown with Afghan asylum seekers in Geneva. Even if this is a short-term winterization program it is another demonstration of the commitment of Salvationists to serve suffering humanity.”

Coordinated through The Salvation Army’s International Emergency Services Office, this new initiative builds on the organization’s previous ministry, extending its support during this new chapter in Afghanistan’s history.

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