The safe return of eight Shelter Now workers closes one tortured chapter in Afghanistan's recent history. But workers providing food, shelter, and medicine in Afghanistan are not at all certain the nation's next chapter will end as happily.
Relief officials say 1.5 million Afghans will starve by winter's end if they do not receive immediate assistance. At least one dozen Christian aid agencies have entered Afghanistan or wait at the border to help 2 million displaced people in the nation. Officials say another 3 million needy Afghans reside in bordering countries.
"We're scrambling to get shelters in place before people start dying," says Cael Coleman of Shelter Now International (SNI). This aid agency, based in Wisconsin, is not affiliated with the German organization Shelter Now, whose workers were held on charges of proselytism in August.
SNI is constructing shelters at a camp in Herat, northwestern Afghanistan. "There are 200,000 people squatting in the dirt with nothing," Coleman says.
Also in Herat, World Vision International is distributing $1 million worth of food, at the request of the United Nations World Food Program. UNICEF also has asked World Vision to manage a $3.7 million children's nutrition program in four western provinces. Meanwhile, MAP International collected $2.5 million worth of drugs and medical supplies.
In November, Afghan Northern Alliance diplomat Humayun Tandar told reporters that Western aid is welcome as long as Christian and other humanitarian organizations refrain from promoting Christianity. "Proselytism creates tension," Tandar says.
The country of 26 million is 98 percent Muslim. Small communities of Hindus, Sikhs, and Parsees also exist. The country has 48,000 mosques. ...1