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Oxfam withdrawal halts vital Afghan roads

News : Cover story

LAST WEEK'S terrorist attacks on the United States have forced engineers to abandon construction of a vital food transport roads in Afghanistan.

Aid agency Oxfam is constructing the roads which will enable vital supplies to reach isolated communities in the Shahr-I-Buzurg district in northern Afghanistan. The roads will also enable people to reach health clinics, and can be used in emergencies in an area that is seismically active.

But the projects are now at risk amid heightened security fears in the country which is accused of harbouring the terrorists responsible for last week's attacks in the US.

As a result of the uncertainty Oxfam has withdrawn its seven foreign staff and put in force stringent security measures for its 170 local staff.

The situation is critical, with winter fast approaching. Once winter snowfalls arrive, access to the Shahr-I-Buzurg region will become impossible without the improved roads. Villagers in the region are unwilling to move elsewhere, explained Oxfam programme manager John Fairhurst.

'They say they will not leave their villages because they feel they have nowhere to go and, even if they thought there was an escape, they feel they have no way of getting there. When asked what they would do, they said they expected to die, ' he said.

After 20 years of war Afghanistan, one of the world's poorest countries, is now enduring a severe drought.

The United Nations has predicted that as many as 5M people have little or no access to food and require international humanitarian food aid.

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