Afghans Face Massive Humanitarian Disaster as Dire Winter Conditions Set In

Internally displaced Afghan children wait for winter relief assistance from the UN refugee agency at a camp in Kabul. (Photo: Musadeq Sadeq/AP)

Afghans Face Massive Humanitarian Disaster as Dire Winter Conditions Set In

Fears of a repeat of last winter's deadly toll leaves displaced Afghans saying, 'We are again fighting for our life.'

Humanitarian assistance is failing the dire needs of tens of thousands of internally displaced persons in Afghanistan who have fled one life-threatening situation to find another as cold temperatures leave them struggling to survive.

Last winter over 100 children died from the cold in the many makeshift camps around the Afghan capital.

"This winter, we are again fighting for our life. Every night is a nightmare for me. I am very afraid of winter," Haji Dost Mohammad, who lives with his family among other displaced Afghans in the Charahi Qamber area of Kabul, told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur news agency.

Another Kabul refugee camp resident Taj Mohammad, whose three-year-old son Janan already died this winter, told the New York Times, "I am worried that more of my children will die."

"Every night is a nightmare for me."The assessment from Mark Bowden, the UN's deputy envoy and humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan, is equally grim.

"It is, I think, going to get worse. We do need to have stronger support," the Guardian reports Bowden as stating. "Essentially, what you are dealing with is a very vulnerable population. When you add on that it's also at greater risk of natural hazards such as cold and floods and drought, it does require a far stronger humanitarian response capacity than we have at the moment."

The Norwegian Refugee Council, a non-governmental organization that works globally to help refugees and internally displaced persons, recently estimated that the number of internally displaced persons due to conflict in Afghanistan is at least 460,000, with 166,000 of them recorded in 2012 alone.

"I am worried that more of my children will die."The NRC's Secretary General Elisabeth Rasmusson warned, "The rising trend of conflict-induced displacement is extremely worrying."

Prasant Naik, NRC Afghanistan Country Director, stated, "The sheer scale of the growing displacement crisis currently underway in Afghanistan has caught the Afghan Government and the humanitarian community by surprise and appropriate response is falling far short of the level of need faced by displaced people across the country."

The Guardian adds:

Bowden estimates that only a tiny percentage of aid money coming into Afghanistan, perhaps just single figures, goes to supporting urgent humanitarian needs. Donors stumped up less than half the cash the UN sought for Afghanistan's emergency response fund this year, and at one point it was completely empty.

Efforts to build up the Afghan government have not focused on its ability to provide emergency relief. "All the money that has gone here has not prioritised the safety nets and social services that are required, and the institutions associated with that," Bowden said.

Nor are the challenges of surviving the winter confined to Kabul; many in remote villages or travelling on exposed roads are also vulnerable but struggle to get attention or support without the government and media at hand. Up to 10 people froze to death waiting to cross into Pakistan last week, local officials said, when the border closed temporarily over a haulage dispute.

We need a far stronger humanitarian response capacity than we have at the moment.Islamuddin Jurat, a spokesman for the Afghan government's Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, echoed the sentiment that the aid provided fell short, the New York Times adds.

"We have never claimed that we provided the internally displaced Afghans with sufficient food items, clothing or means of heat. We admit this. What the internally displaced people have received so far is not adequate at all."

"Before the arrival of harsh winter," Jurat said, "we asked the international community and donor countries to help the internally displaced people, and luckily today U.N.H.C.R. provided them with some humanitarian assistance. But again we believe it's not sufficient at all."

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