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Driven Away by a War, Now Stalked by Winter’s Cold
Posted by The Agonist on February 5th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Rod Norland | Kabul | Feb 5

NYT – The following children froze to death in Kabul over the past three weeks after their families had fled war zones in Afghanistan for refugee camps here:

Mirwais, son of Hayatullah Haideri. He was 1 ½ years old and had just started to learn how to walk, holding unsteadily to the poles of the family tent before flopping onto the frozen ridges of the muddy floor.

Abdul Hadi, son of Abdul Ghani. He was not even a year old and was already trying to stand, although his father said that during those last few days he seemed more shaky than normal.

Naghma and Nazia, the twin daughters of Musa Jan. They were only 3 months old and just starting to roll over.

Ismail, the son of Juma Gul. “He was never warm in his entire life,” Mr. Gul said. “Not once.”

It was a short life, 30 days long.

These children are among at least 22 who have died in the past month, a time of unseasonably fierce cold and snowstorms. The latest two victims died on Thursday.

The deaths, which government officials have sought to suppress or play down, have prompted some soul-searching among aid workers here.

After 10 years of a large international presence, comprising about 2,000 aid groups, at least $3.5 billion of humanitarian aid and $58 billion of development assistance, how could children be dying of something as predictable — and manageable — as the cold?

“The fact that every year there’s winter shouldn’t come as a surprise,” said Federico Motka, whose German aid group, Welthungerhilfe, is one of the few at work in these camps, which aid workers call the Kabul informal settlements — since describing what they actually are, camps for displaced persons or war refugees, is politically sensitive. The Afghan government insists that the residents should and could return to their original homes; the residents say it is too dangerous for them to do so.

The deaths occurred at two of the largest camps, Charahi Qambar (8 cold-related deaths), and Nasaji Bagrami (14 such deaths). Both camps are populated largely with refugees who fled the fighting in areas like Helmand Province in the south. Some people have been in the camps for as long as seven years; others arrived in the past year.

“There are 35,000 people in those camps in the middle of Kabul, with no heat or electricity in the middle of winter; that’s a humanitarian crisis,” said Michael Keating, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan. “I just don’t think the humanitarian story is sufficiently understood here. You’ve got a lot of people who really are in dire straits.”

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