Afghan Winter Even Crueler Than First Reported ; Aid Agency Finds the Cold Killed at Least 100 Refugee Children in the Camps

By Nordland, Rod | International Herald Tribune, May 11, 2012 | Go to article overview

Afghan Winter Even Crueler Than First Reported ; Aid Agency Finds the Cold Killed at Least 100 Refugee Children in the Camps


Nordland, Rod, International Herald Tribune


A study by a French aid group found at least 100 children were claimed by the cold in camps in and around Kabul.

After a harsh winter killed children in refugee camps around the Afghan capital and brought attention to poor conditions there, a new study by a French aid agency has found the disaster was more extensive than originally thought, with at least 100 young children claimed by the cold.

The study, carried out in March by the French aid group Solidarites International, sought to collect information from families at all of the 45 camps in or near Kabul, according to Julie Bara, who conducted the survey for the group, one of the few international relief agencies that have long been active in the camps.

The group's survey came to light Wednesday, as a result of a visit by Valerie Amos, the United Nations' humanitarian coordinator, who toured one of the camps, officially known as the Kabul Informal Settlements. In all, they shelter more than 35,000 people, mostly refugees from rural areas hard-hit by the war.

Visits to the camps during February by The New York Times found 28 cases of children younger than 5 whose parents said they had died of exposure to the cold in the previous month, when unusually severe weather and heavy snows saw nighttime temperatures plummet far below freezing. Since residents typically bury their dead quickly, in line with Afghan custom and Islamic practice, precise details on the deaths have been difficult to compile. In addition, most do not take their children to hospitals because they cannot afford the cost.

At the end of the winter, Solidarites went from camp to camp, asking parents who had lost children to sign declarations giving details of the loss, including apparent causes of death, Ms. Bara said.

While the data from the survey is still being compiled, Ms. Bara said, she expects the number of children under 5 who died to total 120.

"I would say 100 of them for sure were due to cold weather -- despite our help," she said. "Nobody saw it coming."

That worked out to a mortality rate of 2.5 per 10,000 children per day, establishing it as a full-fledged humanitarian disaster, she said.

An example was the Parwan-e-Se camp, not far from central Kabul, where camp leaders last February reported the deaths of two children from the cold, but on Wednesday said the final total had been eight, according to Abdul Samad, the camp representative. …

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