A plane chartered by the U.N. refugee agency carrying desperately needed winter relief for thousands of displaced people landed in the Afghan capital, Kabul, Tuesday.

This is the first of three mercy flights scheduled to take off from UNHCR’s warehouse in Dubai for Kabul this week. The planeload of 33 tons of winterization kits will be distributed to thousands of families living under precarious conditions.

Conflict and insecurity have displaced 3.5 million Afghans inside the country, including some 700,000 newly displaced this year. U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo says her agency aims to aid half a million of this large number of displaced.

She says aid is prioritized based on needs and vulnerabilities. She says the UNHCR is rushing to provide critical aid to the Afghans before the rigors of winter set in and access is cut off.

“Already, they are feeling the onset of the cold, with temperatures dipping to even zero degrees Celsius overnight,” Mantoo said. “So, quite cold. People have very rudimentary or basic setup, especially those that have just been displaced. It is quite critical, and that is why there is an urgency to get this winter assistance in. In the highlands and the upper parts of the country, we are expecting even more temperatures to zip even more.”  

Mantoo says the winter relief supplies include emergency shelter kits, items to improve tent insulation against the cold and heat resistant protection to enable the installation of a stove. She says humanitarian aid, including food rations, blankets, kitchen sets and solar panels, also are being distributed.  

“We are using land, sea and air routes to bring humanitarian relief into Afghanistan and other countries in the region so we can respond to increasing needs,” Mantoo said. “Further relief supplies have also been prepositioned in Termez, Uzbekistan, ready to be trucked into Afghanistan as needed.”  

The UNHCR is appealing for greater international support. It says more resources are urgently needed as it scales up its humanitarian response to reach all who will need help to survive the harsh winter ahead.

So far, the agency’s $388 million appeal remains 42% underfunded.

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