Winter returns to Kabul’s ill-prepared refugee camps

By Rod Nordland
New York Times

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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN: The snow that fell on a refugee camp in Kabul last week left thick powder piled voluptuously on the sagging roofs of huts and skinny tree branches, turning the squalor into a winter wonderland. The mistake of a toddler named Janan was to play in it.

By nightfall Thursday, Janan, 3, was sick. On Friday, he never woke up.

He became the first known victim to freeze to death this winter in the mud and tarpaulin warrens of Kabul’s 44 refugee camps, where more than 100 children died of cold last winter.

His father, Taj Mohammad, 32, fears Janan may not be the last. “I am worried that more of my children will die,” he said.

When the children died here last winter, the question was, how could this happen in the capital city, home to 2,000 aid groups, recipient of $58 billion in development aid and at least $3.5 billion in humanitarian aid over the past 10 years?

The question this winter is, how could it happen again?

The answer appears to be a combination of stubbornness by the Afghan government and the refugees themselves; inadequate deliveries of aid as winter sets in; and, in some cases, desperate families who sold their winter clothes and blankets in the summer to get food.

Last winter, after news reports drew attention to the deaths, aid groups, individuals and the U.S. military rushed in with blankets and warm clothing, charcoal and firewood.

The United Nations organized aid this year to try to get supplies where they were needed most.

In a report in November, the organization’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that distribution of fuel, cold-weather clothing, blankets and tarpaulins would begin Dec. 9, and continue through this month and next.

Despite the preparations, matters rapidly took a turn for the worse the first time that protracted subfreezing temperatures set in with a snowstorm on Thursday and Friday.

United Nations officials could not immediately be reached to discuss why supplies are apparently still so short in the camps.


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