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The Killid Group
Children die from cold but government says NoWritten by Noor Agha Sultanzoi
Saturday, 18 February 2012 14:55
What happened to the government's contingency plans for the homeless in the winter? At least eight children have died in the makeshift camps of the internally displaced in Kabul.
Refugee camps dot the Afghan capital. With temperatures plunging to minus 16 degrees centigrade in January, the conditions in the camp are shocking even though millions of dollars in international aid have been spent here and tens of agencies exist at least on paper.
The plight of refugees in Qambar Square and Karte Parwan area is heart-breaking. Mohammad Nabi from the Qambar Square camp says his makeshift home collapsed in the heavy snow. The family was buried under snow for one hour. "Before winter set in no one helped us to strengthen our shelter. Who can we hold responsible? Who will take care of us?" he pleads.
Sakhidad begs for help. "For the sake of god bring something so we can stay alive. We don't have anything to eat, and no firewood."
Sakhidad says the government is to blame. The government offices are only a few kilometres from the camp, but they are ignoring the refugees, he says. The anger against the authorities is palpable in Karte Parwan. Ahmadullah who was shaking from the cold says his children have asthma. "There is no medicine."
Shapirai invites me into her tent. The internally displaced person (IDP) from Kunduz says, "Come inside and see we don't have oil, we don't have wood and we don't have flour." She begins to weep. "A few nights ago my lovely 2-year-old daughter died. Who can we hold responsible? We are finished."
Government officials continue to deny the deaths of children due to the intense cold wave. No one has visited the homes of the deceased or offered condolences.
Islamudeen Jurat, spokesman of the Ministry of Refugees and Returnees, says he heard of the deaths in a report by Noor Aqa Sultanzoy, Killid Radio reporter. "It is said some children of refugee families have lost their lives but I reject the claim because the mission sent by the minister of refugees and returnees did not find any loss of lives in the refugees camps located in different part of Kabul city."
Meanwhile, Dr Dayem Kakar, who heads the Afghanistan Natural Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA) told Killid that winter assistance including clothes were distributed to 700 refugee families. According to UNHCR estimates, half a million IDPs live in the Charman-e-Babrak refugee camp. At least 200,000 are very vulnerable.
Kakar says he has discussed the problems faced by refugees with the Ministry of Public Health and necessary measures have been taken. It is not clear if these were before or after the eight deaths of children were reported from refugee camps.
The unprecedented cold wave has caused widespread damage in other provinces. The districts in Ghor province have been cut off from the capital Chaghcharan. An estimated 28,000 families need emergency aid.
Hajee Nader of Dawlatyar district says, "People are hungry; they don't have firewood and food. The authorities are sitting by warm stoves and claiming they are doing their best. We need immediate assistance to prevent a terrible tragedy."
Abdulsalam from Ghor's Pasawand district says snowstorms have disrupted communication systems. "Every year the people are faced with this problem. The government just watches the situation."
Passing the buck
Hamedullah Dadfar, the provincial director of ANDMA, acknowledges the complaints against the authorities but he pleads helplessness, and blames the central government for not giving aid.
In late January, heavy snowfall destroyed a village in Eshkashem district, Badakhshan province. More than 50 villagers died.
Abdul Maroof Rasekh, the spokesman of the governor of Badakhshan, passes the responsibility to the ANDMA. He says the governor's office submitted a proposal in the summer for the protection of villagers in the winter weather but nothing came of it.
On Jan. 22 two students who were on their way to write the matriculation exam were buried alive in the snow. Governor of Badakshan Shah Waliullah Adeeb said 12 students coming from Sheghnan district to Faizabad, the capital, were caught in a snowstorm. Two died and the rest were critically injured.
The authorities in Khedeer district of Daikundi province say three children died due to snowfall 20 days ago.
According to Abdul Qader Haidari, the district governor of Khedeer, "Roads from the districts to the capital were blocked for two days by heavy snow. Three children died because their families could not get them to the district clinics."
Fawzea Kofee, MP from Badakhshan, says the government has failed to provide emergency assistance despite promises to a parliamentary committee for emergency preparedness on Dec. 1, 2011. Asef Rahimi, minister of agriculture, and member of the committee, had said there was a separate fund for meeting emergencies in the winter. Abdul Qudoos Hamidi, minister of public works, confirmed this. Engineer Mohammad Aslam Syas, deputy director of ANDMA, told Mursal weekly preparations were complete. "Emergency food rations have been transported for 20 provinces." But when the temperatures plummeted, the plans also collapsed. Trying to save the situation now is much like the Pashto proverb, "Put the henna on the wall when Eid passes."