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Dorian de Wind

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Help Arrives for Afghan Children Freezing to Death

Posted: 02/14/2012 4:36 pm

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 civilians 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 The Huffington Post -- 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.

Reuters reported Monday that NATO-led forces in Afghanistan had indeed found the bodies of dead children after a coalition air strike. Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson, a NATO spokesman said, "At this point in our assessment we can neither confirm nor deny, with reasonable assurance, a direct link to the engagement. Nonetheless, any death of innocents not associated with armed conflict is a tragedy," according to Reuters.

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 offended 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.

 
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