Emergency Services Collapse Under Bitter Cold
By Tahir Qadiry
MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Feb 2 (IPS) – An unprecedented cold wave sweeping parts of Asia has been especially tragic in Afghanistan where emergency services have failed completely.
At least 3,000 people poured on to the streets on Jan. 27 in the northern border province of Jowzjan, asking the government for emergency aid in the wake of the severe weather, which has claimed at least 500 lives countrywide, mostly children.
Heavy snowfall over the past month in Afghanistan’s northern provinces has cut off most villages from the capital cities. People have run out of essential supplies because food and fuel supplies are not getting through, according to reports.
IPS visited Faizabad district in the southeast of Jowzjan. Families huddled together in dark, airless rooms, trying to survive the cold.
“I am a widow. I have four children. We do not have wood to light a fire. As you can see, my children are sick,” said a helpless Shokriya, 32, whose husband killed himself because of poverty a year ago.
Her barefoot 14-year-old son Jawid, his face red from the cold, said he could not sleep at night because of the intense cold. “I shout, ask my mother to heat the room. She puts blankets on me, but I still feel the cold. I cry all night. My toes are cold,” he said.
Anisa, 41, said her 2-year-old son died in the bitter cold a week ago. “He was sick and I could not take him to the hospital. The roads were cut off. I asked my neighbours for wood, but they did not have either. My son died,” she cried, inconsolably.
According to Gawhar Khan Babori, Faizabad district chief, at least 22 people, mainly children, have died of the cold weather over the past one month.
When asked what the government was doing to prevent the death toll, he said: “The roads have been cut off. People come to me for help and I do not have anything to assist them. A German organisation gave some families some assistance, but that is not enough.”
Meanwhile, provincial officials in northern Sar-e-Pol Province, south of Jowzjan, said at least 53 people have been killed over the past month. Speaking to IPS, Sayed Iqbal Monib, governor, said they were scared to see the death toll rising.
He said: “At least 53 people have died. Most of the roads are cut off. People do not have access to health clinics. They do not have bread or drinkable water in most villages”.
Meanwhile, Akbar Wahdat, senator from Faryab Province told the Afghan Wolesi Jirga, lower house of parliament, Jan. 28, that at least 50 people had died in the province as a result of the cold weather.
He said: “We ask the government and other aid organisations for emergency aid. The casualties could rise if the aid is not assisted on time”.
In Jawzjan, the German Agro Action and Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority have announced plans to distribute edibles and warm clothing worth 300,000 Afghanis (6,000 US dollars) to 3,000 families. In addition, 1,600 families in neighbouring Takhar province are to receive 5.5 million Afghanis (110,000 dollars) in cash, according to director, Ghulam Farooq.
According to officials and people, the winter this year has been unusually severe in Afghanistan.
Rohullah Amin Amani, secretary of the provincial council of Badakhshan Province, Afghanistan’s northern-most, said all roads to the districts from the capital city, Faizabad, have been blocked.
Reports from adjoining Takhar Province also claim that at least 10 people have succumbed to the cold. Speaking to IPS, governor Abdul Latif Ibrahimi, said two children and two women were amongst the dead.
Meanwhile, Sayed Ariq, representative of nomads in Balkh (Mazar-e-Sharif is the capital), said 15 people have died in the province. Nearly 18,000 heads of cattle have perished here, and in other cattle-rearing communities in the northern provinces.
Everywhere there are complaints of soaring food prices. Mawlawi Lotfollah Azizi, chief of Takhar provincial council, told IPS there was an acute shortage of essential items.
Sayed Faroq, who lives with his four children and wife in Rostaq District of Faryab Province, northwest Afghanistan, said many people do not even have access to bread.
Speaking on the phone, he said: “We are badly affected by the snow. We ask the government to send us emergency aid before we starve. It is a catastrophe.”
Mahjabin Gul Andam, resident of Jowzjan Province, has moved to Balkh Province to live with her relatives. “It is a disaster. We did not have bread or water. People are starving. Why isn’t the government taking steps to prevent this natural disaster?” she lamented.
Provincial government officials who IPS spoke to said they did not have the money to provide relief. Yet, Public Health Minister Dr. Syed Muhamad Amin Fatemi told a press conference in Kabul that health centres were stocked with emergency supplies six months ago, according to the independent Pajhwok Afghan News (PAN).