Aid reaches winter-affected families as deaths top 500
KABUL, 29 January 2008 (IRIN) – Food and non-food humanitarian relief supplies have been delivered to hundreds of vulnerable families affected by heavy snow and extremely cold weather in western and central-western provinces of Afghanistan, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Latest figures from Afghanistan’s National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA) indicate that 503 people – mostly children and the elderly – have lost their lives due to cold weather and heavy snow since December 2007. The UN has confirmed at least 329 deaths in Herat, Badghis, Ghor and Farah provinces.
Some parts of Afghanistan are facing their harshest winter in 30 years, with temperatures falling to minus 25, aid agencies say.
UN agencies, Afghan and foreign aid organisations, NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams and local residents have separately delivered relief items in Herat, Badghis and other affected provinces, OCHA said in a situation report.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed over 65 metric tonnes (mt) of mixed food aid to 6,000 families in five districts in Herat Province, western Afghanistan. Additionally, 12,797 mt of food items have been delivered to neighbouring Ghor Province where tens of thousands are “high risk” in terms of food-insecurity. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has also stocked 1,000 blankets, 500 plastic mats, heaters and personal hygiene items in Ghor Province.
Meanwhile, the Afghan Red Crescent Society has earmarked about US$1 million to ensure that every vulnerable, affected family receives a cash voucher of up to $70, the organisation said.
IDP camps affected
Thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in several camps and settlements in Herat, Helmand and Kandahar provinces are feared to have been severely affected by the winter weather.
“[IDPs] living in camps near Herat [city] have suffered greatly from the recent snowfall and intense cold,” OCHA’s report said.
Aid agencies have agreed to assist 2,500 families in Maslakh, Shaidai and Minaret IDP camps in Herat Province.
However, it is still unclear whether similar aid will be offered to thousands of other IDPs in Mukhtar and Zherai camps in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where UN agencies suspended their relief operations in March 2006.
Needs assessments, coordination
Blocked roads, rugged terrain and insecurity have hindered access to remote areas. This has prevented reliable humanitarian needs assessments from being carried out, and has to some extent affected coordinated relief delivery, some aid agencies said. Consequently, there are confusing numbers regarding casualties and aid needs.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WFP conducted a joint assessment of some areas in Ghor Province by air, which was followed by talks with officials in the provincial capital, Chaghcharan, on 24 January.
“There is a need to improve information collection and management and also strengthen coordination which will help humanitarian actors to respond effectively and promptly,” Ingrid Macdonald, a regional advocacy adviser with the Norwegian Refugee Council in Kabul, told IRIN.
Meanwhile, dozens of people in Jowzjan Province, northern Afghanistan, demonstrated on 27 January calling on the government and aid organisations to provide urgent humanitarian assistance.
In Daykundi Province, central Afghanistan, where a convoy of commercial trucks could not deliver about 800 mt of WFP food aid due to extremely cold weather – people are waiting for aid to be delivered by two military helicopters, officials said.