Help on the Way for Afghan Children Dying of Cold

It is a tragic fact that in every war the civilian population pays a very high price.

Afghanistan is no exception.

According to the UN mission in Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) annual report, a total of 3,021 civilian died in 2011 in Afghanistan — an eight percent increase in the number of civilians (2,790) who died in 2010.

According to the same grim report — “Afghanistan Annual Report 2011: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict” — a total of 11,864 civilian lives have been claimed by the Afghanistan “conflict” since 2007 when the U.N. started keeping detailed records of civilian casualties, and last year was the deadliest on record.

Abhorrent as those numbers are, it is even sadder that these figures include a significant number of the most vulnerable and innocent — the children.

The Report states that in 2011, “women and children again increasingly bore the brunt of the armed conflict…UNAMA documented the deaths of 166 women and 306 children, representing 30 percent of all civilian deaths between July and December 2011. Compared with the same span in 2010 … the number of children killed [grew] by 51 percent in the last half of 2011.”

And it is not only improvised explosive devices (IEDs), mines, suicide attacks, aerial attacks or bullets that kill these children.

Ten days ago, somber headlines — including here at TMV – announced the inexcusable deaths of dozens of children, frozen to death in the squalor of so-called refugee camps located in the nation’s capital, Kabul.

The New York Times wrote extensively about this tragedy, first including the details of how four of at least 22 children froze to death in those refugee camps near Kabul. Of the four, the youngest reached the “age” of 30 days, the “oldest” a mere 1 ½ years old.

Late last week, again the Times reported: — Dateline KABUL, Afghanistan — “The war refugee Sayid Mohammad lost his last son on Wednesday, 3-month-old Khan, who became the 24th child to die of exposure in camps here in the past month.”

The Times adds:

Even by the standards of destitution in these camps, Mr. Mohammad’s story is a hard-luck one; Khan was the eighth of his nine children to die. Back home in the Gereshk district of Helmand Province, six died of disease, he said. Three years ago they fled the fighting in that area for the Nasaji Bagrami Camp here, where a 3-year-old son froze to death last winter, he said. Like most of Kabul’s 35,000 internal refugees, he fled the country’s war zones only to find a life of squalor sometimes as deadly, even in the capital of a country that has received more than $60 billion in nonmilitary aid over 10 years.

In all, The New York Times has confirmed the deaths of 28 children in the camps since mid-January.

Solidarités International, a French group that has had a limited program of emergency food aid and sanitation in the camps, surveyed mortality rates in recent months and came to the harrowing conclusion that, among children under 5, the camps’ death rate is 144 per 1,000 children.

As if these tragedies were not sufficient, Afghan President Hamid Karzai last Thursday claimed that an “international coalition” airstrike killed eight children in eastern Afghanistan.

“The coalition confirmed only that there was a ‘situation in Najrab district’ that was being assessed by a team to determine what had happened. More information would be released when the assessment is completed, the coalition said in a statement” according to the Army Times.

Afghan officials have expressed skepticism that all the children could have died of cold, but at the same time are blaming international organizations for not providing sufficient and timely aid and are pleading them to provide emergency aid.

Perhaps the publicity surrounding this tragedy is resulting in some good.

This past Saturday, American troops delivered 1,000 blankets for the 6,000 refugees in the Kabul Charahi Qambar camp — the same camp where several children have already died from the cold — and the day before, an Afghan aid group, Aschiana, also delivered blankets, “and was planning to come back on Sunday with clothing — at least the third such donation in a few days, the others coming from businessmen,” according to the Times.

On Sunday, “two Afghan aid groups financed by the German government brought about $187,000 worth of charcoal, milk and hot water bottles … while the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees planned to give each family three more blankets on Thursday.”

The Times:

** Relief agencies that had previously not been involved rushed out winter emergency programs, including the United States….

** Charitable groups working in the camps confirmed a major increase in donations…

** The Afghan aid group Aschiana, which has the largest full-time presence in the camps, reported raising more than $17,000 in a few days from small donors in the United States through its American branch.

** Individual Afghans pitched in as well. Ramazan Bashardost, a member of Parliament and well-known gadfly, visited the Nasaji Bagrami Camp, where 16 children died of cold, and handed out 1,000 Afghanis (about $20) to each of the 250 families there…

There is, however, one discordant note.

According to the Times, S. Ken Yamashita, the agency’s director in Afghanistan, “confirmed that the aid was not being identified as coming from the United States, in case it might pose some risk or discomfort to the recipients.”

While a little miffed myself, I join those Americans who I am sure will say that saving one child from dying of cold makes up for a million manifestations of ingratitude.

  

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

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7 Comments

  1. Kabul is very much colder than other parts of Afghanistan. If they had to build a camp there, they should have taken that into consideration. What they need is adequate shelter, not just blankets and hot water bottles.

    Also, as the story mentions, this winter is a particularly cold one. Children are dying all over Eastern Europe. These children, of course, are there in part because of American military operations.

  2. @The_Ohioan

    Thanks for your comments.

    You’re right, the winter in Eastern Europe/Russia has been particularly severe this year. I have not been following too closely the deaths as a result of it, but all very regrettable.

    It is just that sometimes a sad story such as this one just grabs your attention, and emotions.

  3. This is the kind of stuff that one would expect to read in “Atlas Shrugged”. Lots of ‘aid’ sent AFTER the tragedy has occurred.

    I’m sorry to rant, but $60 billion should have gone a LONG, LONG way. Blankets cost what? Even delivered, I can’t imagine it being more than $50. Multiply that by the estimated population of the country (about 33.6 million) and you don’t come anywhere near the amount we have spent (1.7 billion for the nerds out there).

    It seems rather silly to me to build schools for children who are going to be allowed to freeze to death. Meanwhile, where are the residents of Kabul in all of this? I would share my home with as many people as could fit rather than have them freezing in a refugee camp!

  4. Rcoutme: I and probably millions of Americans share your frustrations.

    (The $60 billion reminds me of the $60 million prison we built there)

  5. Dorian

    And it’s right you should remind us of it even though no one likes the helpless feeling we have when we read it.

    There are children sleeping under bridges and in autos in this country and millions of kids go to bed hungry every day and that’s hard to think about, also.

    The Agriculture Department has new speak for hunger.

    Labeled as “food insecure” by the US Department of Agriculture, by definition these households are:

    …uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food. Food-insecure households include those with low food security and very low food security.

    From WomensIssues:

    [ Households with low food security often reduce the quality and variety of their diets in order to have enough to eat. They "make do" by buying cheaper, less nutritionally healthy and/or varied foods; relying on federal food assistance programs; or visiting food pantries.

    Households with very low food security (also known as "food insecure with hunger") often do not have enough to eat due to insufficient money or other government or community resources. Family members may cut back on meals, skip meals, or not eat for a whole day.
    .....

    In 2009, 50.2 million people lived in food-insecure households -- 14.7% of households in the US. This breaks down to 9% of households with low food security and 5.7% of households with very low food security, or 10.5 million and 6.8 million households respectively. That year, 9 million children or 12.1% of children lived in households with food insecurity among children.]

    This is no news to those of us that have worked in our church community food banks. We were being overwhelmed in 2009 with not only requests for food, but for clothing, housing, and utility bill help. I’ve moved and haven’t helped here, yet, but I doubt it’s changed much.

  6. Very sad statistics, Ohioan. Even the existence of a term like “food insecure households” is a shame — an oxymoron almost — in our country.

  7. How much of that aid money has been funneled into the pockets of Karzai and his cronies? More than enough to feed and cloth some refugees no doubt. And still we guard those corrupt bastards with our soldiers blood and our nations money. Let get out of there, and I hope the Taliban puts his head on a pike.

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