16. Afghanistan Region
17. Bhutanese Refugees in Nepal
18. Refugees from Rakhine State, Myanmar in Bangladesh
19. Southern Iraq
20. Sri Lanka
The most recent overview of the numbers of refugees and displaced people in Asia (as of the end of 1995) is as follows. There were an estimated 4.5 million refugees in Asia, of whom over 800,000 were Afghans in Pakistan and in Iran (1.5 million). There were reported to be 600,000 Iraqis in Iran. Other large groups were refugees from Myanmar in Bangladesh (36,000), Vietnamese in China (286,000), and Bhutanese in Nepal (90,000). No comprehensive data were available on the numbers of internally displaced populations in Asia, but they were certainly in the millions (UNHCR, 1995 'Populations of Concern to UNHCR').
This section of the report aims to give updated information on some of these situations. The current situation for the Afghan refugees/displaced populations, the largest single group in Asia with approximately three million affected people, is described. Available information on the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal and refugees from Myanmar in Bangladesh are included because of previous reports of micronutrient deficiencies. As in the past, we also include information on Southern Iraqi refugees in Iran.
(see Map 16)
The fifteen year long conflict in Afghanistan continues and approximately 2.1 million people are affected regionally. This includes at least 1.5 million people in Afghanistan, 300,000 of whom are in Kabul, 330,000 people in Pakistan, and 322,000 refugees in Iran who require assistance.
The Taliban have made major advances in northern Afghanistan and now control two thirds of the country. Fighting is continuing in northern and central areas of Afghanistan, in particular in the Badghis region and is leading to population displacements. For example, there are at least 34,000 displaced people in Herat. There are also reports of increasing opposition in some parts of the eastern region with an increase in military activity in the area. While this fighting is reported to be intense, some areas of the country are relatively calm so that plans for reconstruction and rehabilitation are being made [DHA 15/04/97, DHA 30/04/97, ICRC 09/04/97].
A nutritional survey conducted in Kabul during the second half of December 1996 found 5.1% wasting with 0.8% severe wasting and/or oedema (see Annex I (16a)). Since that time, food shortages have been acute and food security is generally reported to be deteriorating throughout the country. The price of wheat, the staple of the Afghani diet, has increased dramatically and the price of bread in Kabul had shot up by 350% over the last year. Signs of hardship have been increasing with the number of people begging on the streets for bread rising. Many households have now sold everything that can be sold in order to purchase food [ACF 30/12/96, DHA 15/04/97, 30/04/97, ICRC 09/04/97, WFP 11/04/97].
Shortages are mainly due to two factors. First, a shortage of wheat in Pakistan has reduced imports and led to the closure of the border in March and second, this is traditionally the lean season just before the June harvest. It was hoped that the coming wheat harvest would improve matters, but a combination of factors like flooding in western and northern areas, a shortfall of rain and snowfall in Mazar-i-Sharif and widespread displacement of farmers due to fighting north of Kabul, will lead to a greater deficit in the harvest than last year [DHA 15/04/97, 30/04/97, ICRC 09/04/97, WFP 11/04/97].
In the meantime, WFP will continue to expand its bakery subsidy programme aimed at providing low cost bread to the poorest people in Kabul and Jalalabad, where it already feeds 450,000 people every day. Authorities in the Taliban controlled areas have requested WFP's help in dealing with the situation to prevent starvation among the most vulnerable parts of the population. However, WFP's own stocks, if not replenished will run out by early summer [DHA 15/04/97, 30/04/97, ICRC 09/04/97, WFP 11/04/97].
Pakistan There are a total of 330,000 Afghani refugees in Pakistan requiring assistance. Most of these (300,000 people) receive assistance through a "safely net" rehabilitation programme. Thirty thousand newer arrivals receive emergency food assistance. There has been a serious shortfall of wheat due to failure of rains and delays in import shipments [WFP 11/04/97].
Iran There are no reports of change to the generally adequate nutritional status of the approximately 322,000 Afghani refugees in Iran.
Overall, the affected population in Afghanistan can be considered to be at moderate nutritional risk (category IIb in Table 1) due to problems with food security. The refugees in Iran and Pakistan are not currently thought to be at heightened nutritional risk (category IIc in Table 1).
How could external agencies help? As detailed in a recently launched Consolidated Appeal for Afghanistan, there is scope for much rehabilitation work to be carried out in the country, as many areas are now relatively calm. A widespread problem throughout the country is inadequate supplies of safe water, and rebuilding the water and sanitation systems in the country should be a priority. The health care system is also barely functioning, and there is an increase of communicable diseases throughout the country. Rebuilding and restocking medicines and vaccines in the health care system would be likely to have a profoundly positive effect on the Afghani population.
Donors should now come forward to provide food commodities for monetization to markets in Afghanistan, either directly or through traders. Given the deteriorating food security currently being seen in many parts of the country and reflected in massive food price inflation, nutritional surveys should be carried out in large urban centres such as Kabul and Jalalabad where so much of the population depends on markets. Furthermore, WFP food stocks for vulnerable group feeding programmes urgently need to be replenished.
(see Map 17)
There are approximately 92,000 Bhutanese refugees and asylum-seekers who sought refuge in Nepal in the early 1990s. Results of recent Food Economy Assessment and Food Assessment missions are expected to be released shortly.
(see Map 18)
There are approximately 21,000 refugees from Rakhine State, Myanmar remaining in two camps in Bangladesh. This decrease in total number is due to repatriation [UNHCR 06/06/97].
Under Security Council Resolution 986, the Government of Iraq is authorised to sell oil to procure essential humanitarian goods, including food and medicines. Food distributions are meant to ensure a daily ration of 2,030 kcals/person/day. The World Food Programme is responsible for distributions in the north and the Government is responsible for distributions in the central and southern regions. WFP is however, responsible for observing the equity, efficiency and adequacy of distributions throughout the country [UNECOSOC 21/02/97, WFP 28/03/97].
The first distribution of wheat flour was undertaken on the 2nd of April 1997 in the central and southern areas of Iraq [WFP 18/04/97].
It is hoped that these food distributions will allow for access to the Marsh Arabs, and could be the opportunity for assessment of this population. Anecdotal information on the desperate state of this population has been filtering out over the past few years. There have been continual reports, of destruction of habitats, arbitrary arrests and torture but due to inaccessibility, no surveys or assessments have been carried out.
Overall, the population remaining in the marshes is likely to remain at high risk, while the population in Iran is not thought to be at heightened risk as the assistance they receive is likely to be adequate (category IIc in Table 1).
(see Map 20)
Apart from some notable periods of calm, the conflict in Sri Lanka has been ongoing in the north of the country for the past 14 years. The fighting has led to the displacement of large numbers of people, many of whom have been displaced several times. At least 135,000-210,000 people sought refuge in India, and those who are in government run camps are being assisted by the Government of India.
However, an escalation in fighting in the Jaffna peninsula which began in 1996 led to fresh waves of population displacement. The most recent upsurge in May 1997 is due to a government offensive. Although the numbers change rapidly as areas of intense fighting move, it is estimated that approximately 410,000 people are internally displaced. Most of those displaced within. Sri Lanka are living with relatives or friends and while some assistance is needed, little food aid is necessary. There are approximately 150,000 people who live in "welfare centres" which are similar to open refugee camps. These people receive food distributions from either the government or WFP although they are not believed to be fully dependent on these distributions for all their food needs [FAO 09/04/97, WFP 10/02/97].
There has also been about 8,000 new arrivals who have fled to India as a result of renewed fighting. This population joined the existing 92,000 refugees already in India and is the first exodus in recent years. Approximately 56,000 people are housed in camps, while 36,000 people live outside the camps [UNHCR 01/11/96].
A survey carried out in a welfare centre in April 1996 showed 16.4% wasting with 0.6% severe wasting. Oedema was measured at 0.4% (see Annex I (20a)). These results compare with those seen in December 1995 when wasting was measured at 12.6%. It was felt at the time that the ration provided by the government was not adequate and although it was not meant to be a complete ration there is a growing sense that the population was becoming increasingly dependent on this as it's main source of food. In addition, ongoing fighting at that time was leading to a continuous stream of newly arrived displaced people [MSF-H 06/04/96].
In April of 1997, a nutritional survey was carried out in two open relief centres (ORC) in Mannar district in response to a general impression that the nutritional status had deteriorated and due to concerns about the quality and regularity of food distributions. Wasting among this displaced population was measured at 14.6% with 0.8% severe wasting. No cases of oedema were seen (see Annex I (20b)). Anaemia which was suspected to be a problem was seen in 0.8% of the children although assessment of this condition was "rather subjective". These results are comparable to nutritional conditions amongst the local population [MSF-F 07/04/97].
Reports of the return of people from the Wanni district to Jaffna at the end of April have been received. These people cited a lack of medical care, schooling, and insufficient water as reasons for their return. Many areas in the north are reporting stable food prices and adequate availability of food commodities on the markets [CARE 23/04/97. However, an upsurge in fighting in May could disrupt this apparent return to stability.
Overall, these people are not currently thought to be at heightened nutritional risk (category IIc in Table 1).
How could external agencies help? Although levels of wasting are in line with those expected in the local population, they are still somewhat high and efforts to decrease this, including expanding supplementary feeding programmes, and improving the quality and timing of the food distributions, would be useful.