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UN, Charity Groups Flee Kunduz Amid Continued Fighting

The MSF hospital after it was hit by an air strike.
The MSF hospital after it was hit by an air strike.

All international aid organizations have left the embattled Afghan city of Kunduz amid continued heavy fighting and the accidental bombing of a hospital there, the United Nations said on October 6.

"There are presently no humanitarian agencies left inside Kunduz city," said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency. "Two UN entities, four national [nongovernmental organizations], and 10 international NGOs have been temporarily relocated due to the ongoing conflict and unstable and fluid security situation in Kunduz."

The exodus of charity groups comes amid renewed attacks by the Taliban, which staged assaults on the police headquarters and other government buildings overnight, only days after the government claimed control over the city.

Some Taliban fighters have pushed their way close to the city center for brief but fierce gunbattles with security forces before retreating, in what residents described as hit-and-run attacks.

The humanitarian situation has deteriorated after an accidental air strike by the U.S. military on a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital last week prompted the group to leave Kunduz.

The UN's Laerke said the MSF hospital had been "the only facility of its kind in the entire northeastern region of the country, serving some 300,000 people in Kunduz alone."

Now, he said, "the international aid agencies have been forced out of the city for the time being, so there is essentially no proper health care, no proper trauma care for those left inside the city."

Afghanistan's Ministry of Public Health said the destruction of the hospital has jeopardized "vital health, medical, and surgical work of international and local health personnel" working throughout Afghanistan.

"Staff no longer feel safe in any health facility anywhere in the country. And some international health organizations are questioning whether the risks of staying in the country are just too high after such an attack."

In Kunduz, Laerke said water and electricity reportedly remained cut off across much of the city, and most food markets and other shops remained closed.

Deliveries of food and other basic essentials have not been able to enter Kunduz since the September 28 Taliban assault, said Aslim Sayas, a deputy head of the Afghan disaster management agency.

With the airport closed, he said it was still too dangerous and unpredictable for supplies to be trucked into Kunduz. Instead, he said authorities were helping residents who had fled the city.

"Right now, we are providing food and nonfood items to refugees and displaced people in Takhar, Badakhshan, and Balkh," he said, referring to northern provinces to the east and west of Kunduz.

Laerke said thousands of people have fled Kunduz and an estimated 8,500 families have been displaced in the northeast as a result of the fighting. Aid agencies are scrambling to gain access to the area so they can assess and address the needs.

"Preliminary needs are expected to include food, emergency shelter, water, and emergency health services...and family tracing and reunification after the increased displacement," Laerke said.

Some of the organizations that had been present in Kunduz, including the World Food Program, had stocks of aid items in the region and were providing aid "sporadically to where access allows," he said.

The World Health Organization, meanwhile, announced that it was working with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health to get needed medical equipment and supplies into Kunduz and planned to establish a temporary health facility.

It said a medical team of doctors, nurses, anaesthesiologists, and surgeons had arrived at the military hospital in Kunduz on October 5 and were providing services there.

The WHO said it was sending a trauma kit containing drugs and materials to meet the needs of 100 patients requiring surgical care, but that it had been stranded in Puli Kumri due to a roadblock.

"WHO is looking for alternative routes or support from the military to get the kits through to Kunduz regional hospital," it said.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and AP
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