Afghanistan

Red Crescent helps Afghans survive bleak winter months

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by Ketevan Khurtsia in Kabul
As the bitterly cold Afghan winter sets in, many Afghans, already weakened by years of war, drought and poverty, are facing sub-zero temperatures without so much as a blanket to keep their children warm. The walls of their tiny mud huts offer little protection from strong winds and snow.

"We are chilled to the bone. All the children are sick and there is no money to warm the house," says Abdul Rakhman. His elderly father, Abdul Kadir, tries to wrap himself in a Patu, an all-enveloping traditional Afghan shawl, to protect himself from the biting wind.

They live with their family of 11 in a small mud house in the village of Zarvan Shahar in Mahmad Agha district, in Logar province. There are 27 more families in this village. All are suffering the same hardships - isolation, hunger, a lack of shelter and poverty.

Like many Aghan villages, Zarvan Shahar lacks essential services such as health care, electricity, gas, a supply of clean water and sanitation facilities.

"This will not be the easiest winter to get through," admits Ali Hasssan Quoreshi, head of Federation's delegation in Afghanistan. "The needs in the country are enormous. Despite the best efforts of the government and aid agencies, little infrastructure exists."

Afghanistan has been devastated by war and poverty. Millions have been traumatised by the ordeals of the past 23 years, making the road to recovery long and tortuous.

"If it snows or rains, it's horrible," weeps Abdul Kadir, "we came back home with a hope for a better future, but where is it?"

The Afghan government estimates that up to 2.2 million people may be at risk as a result of the lack of food and shelter during the winter.

With night time temperatures falling to well below freezing, the Afghan Red Crescent, supported by the International Federation, is helping those ill-equipped to cope with the bitter cold, by providing them with coal, blankets, plastic sheeting and a stove. The Red Crescent is supporting 18,000 vulnerable families in this way, after being given responsibility for four central provinces - Kapisa, Logar, Parwan and Wardark.

Working with the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA), the Afghan government, other UN agencies and NGOs, the Afghan Red Crescent is a part of a wider humanitarian effort to help Afghans survive the freezing winter months.

"Each beneficiary family will be supplied with 200 kg of coal, two blankets, 16 square metres of transparent plastic sheeting and one dual-purpose mineral coal stove - for heating and cooking," says George Gigiberia, of the International Federation in Afghanistan.

So far, the distribution of blankets and plastic sheeting has been completed in the provinces of Wardak and Logar. The distribution of the remainder of these life-saving relief items is continuing.

"We hope these initiatives will reduce the impact of harsh winter conditions on the vulnerable communities by alleviating at least some of the hardships they encounter," says Jawid Qanee, of the Afghan Red Crescent for its central region.