The United Nations refugee agency says the first of three emergency airlifts of relief supplies for Afghanistan that landed in Termez, Uzbekistan, Friday will be followed by two more flights this week.

With Afghan airports closed to commercial traffic, the U.N. refugee agency has diverted flights to the Uzbekistan border town of Termez, which will act as the epicenter of a massive Afghan relief operation.

UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said the three planes together are delivering more than 100 metric tons of shelter materials, blankets, plastic sheeting, and other supplies to help Afghans withstand the rigors of winter.

He said the supplies will be trucked from Termez to Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan and distributed to 126,000 people in the country. He said more supplies will be needed, as his agency hopes to aid some half a million Afghans.

“We need Kabul to resume activities as soon as possible. I mean so many things depend on it. And, also, we hope to fly in special flights into Kabul as well with our relief items and bringing in more aid. … So, if supplies are available anywhere, we will be moving them to Afghanistan,” said Baloch.

The United Nations estimates 18 million people, half of Afghanistan’s population, needs humanitarian aid. More than 3.5 million Afghans are internally displaced, including more than half a million newly displaced this year.

Baloch said people are living on a knife’s edge. A few days ago, he said he visited a distribution center 15 to 20 kilometers outside Kabul, where he witnessed the desperation of people lining up for aid.

“When I was standing there, we saw an old mother collapsing in front of our eyes. So, when colleagues attended to her, the reason was she has not eaten for days. And she is the one who is heading the household because of what has happened to her. You have grandfathers, you have children, you have little girls who should be in school, and they are queueing up or they are being in the aid distribution queue,” he said.

Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in mid-August, girls have not been allowed to go to school and women have been prohibited from working.

Baloch said it is a race against time to provide aid to millions of Afghans before winter sets in and access to many will be cut off. He warns the blistering cold weather can kill anyone caught out in the cold without any help.

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