Relief efforts for Afghanistan received a boost today as the United Nations and the Government of Uzbekistan agreed on measures to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to northern Afghanistan by UN agencies and international non-governmental organizations.
The agreement signed in Tashkent is expected to accelerate administrative procedures to ensure that aid gets to Afghanistan's under-supplied provinces, including delivery across the recently opened Friendship Bridge.
In news from the field, UN officials said there were some signs of stability and normalcy returning to parts of Afghanistan, including the return over the past week of more than 14,000 people to various parts of the country.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), however, was cautioning Afghans not to rush back. The agency also warned countries in the region not to hurry the return home of any of the more than 3.5 million refugees as the security situation in many parts of the country remained tense.
The agency also reported that refugees from the Kandahar area, mainly from the Pashtun ethnic group, continued to arrive in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that a private truck carrying WFP wheat slipped off an icy bridge in northeastern Afghanistan, killing the driver instantly and injuring his assistant.
WFP also said that Afghan "customs officers" were trying to collect the equivalent of $150 for each truck crossing with aid from Iran. Furthermore, transporters crossing the Turkmen-Afghan border were reporting that the Herat authorities were forcing them to move cargo south through Herat first before proceeding northeast to the final destination in Badghis.
"This is an entirely unnecessary, out-of-the way route which drives up our costs and slows down food delivery," said agency spokesman Jordan Day. "These bureaucratic impediments are wholly unacceptable given the extraordinary food needs in Badghis and Ghor."