Afghanistan is experiencing its harshest winter for at least a decade. Over 100 children are believed to have died as a result of the severe sub-zero temperatures over the previous two months.
Displaced families living in tent camps are amongst the worst affected. These homeless people are refugees who returned from Pakistan or Iran, or who were displaced from other areas of Afghanistan by drought or disaster.
Many returnees found their homes had been destroyed in the conflict. They came to Kabul to find work, living in ruined buildings or makeshift camps. These makeshift homes however, provide little protection against the harsh winter.
Chaman Hazuri Camp in Kabul is home to over 400 families, including more than 1700 children. Shaheesta Gul, aged 54, lives there with his son, Ahmaduddin, and five grandchildren. Home is a plastic shelter which lets in the rain and the snow.
“Two children and a woman have died in the past 15 days due to the very cold weather and the damp tent,” reveals Ahmaduddin.
The impoverished families cannot afford the fuel they need to keep warm, dry and healthy in these harsh conditions.
“My daily income is normally about 100 Afghanis (around $2), and I have to provide my family with winter fuel. It is just not enough. Sometimes I have to buy a kilogram or two of coal for heating instead of buying the day’s food for my family,” Ahmaduddin explains.
Chaman Hazuri Camp in Kabul
Most of the camp children start their day with a search for bits of wood and paper from the garbage which they collect to take home for fuel. Often inadequately clothed and underfed, the children are vulnerable to disease.
Most of the children who have died so far suffered from respiratory infections such as pneumonia and whooping cough, complicated by the intense cold.
Islamic Relief Action
Islamic Relief’s office in Kabul distributed emergency winter fuel supplies to the residents of Chaman Hazuri Camp in early February. All 441 displaced families received a stove set and enough coal to last through the worst of the harsh weather.
IR staff were able to draw on their knowledge of the camp residents from an earlier Ramadhan food distribution that took place in November 2004. This timely emergency intervention should help prevent more deaths amongst the vulnerable families of Chaman Hazuri.