Freezing cold could kill thousands of Afghan kids - GulfToday

Freezing cold could kill thousands of Afghan kids


Internally displaced Afghan children stand outside their shelter during a snowfall in Kabul, Afghanistan. File/Reuters

Few children would be as hapless and vulnerable as the kids in Afghanistan. The years of conflict in that country has seen hundreds of thousands of lives lost and many more injured. Now children are at the receiving end, bearing the brunt of the impact.

More than 300,000 children in Afghanistan face freezing winter conditions that could lead to illness and death without proper winter clothing and heating, a humanitarian organisation said.

The bitter cold temperatures could be fatal for many children.

The ongoing military conflict in Afghanistan has destroyed many homes and forced thousands of children to shelter in camps for the homeless. There they are at risk of not only hunger and disease, including COVID-19, but also death from temperatures plummeting to sub-zero levels.

Chris Nyamandi, Afghanistan country director for Save the Children, said in a statement on Thursday that early snow in northern Afghanistan has impacted children particularly badly.

“The most vulnerable children are those whose schools have shut because of the worsening winter conditions,” he said. “Their families don’t have the money to buy winter clothing. Instead children are forced to huddle at home to escape the bitter cold.”

Schools are closed until March in the coldest parts of Afghanistan, where the temperature can plummet to as low as minus 27˚C.

Save the Children has provided winter kits to more than 100,000 families in 12 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. The kits include fuel and a heater, blankets and winter clothes for children including coats, socks, shoes, and hats.

“The situation is bleak for children forced to live in camps in places like Balkh province. It is already very cold in this northern province with overnight temperatures as low as minus ten. But it will get much colder before March,” Nyamandi said.

 Violence has been on the upswing in Afghanistan even as Taliban and Afghan government negotiators hold talks in Qatar, trying to hammer out a peace deal that could put an end to decades of war.

Twelve-year-old Rohina lives in a camp for people forced to flee their homes in northern Balkh province.

She attends community-based education classes backed by Save the Children. “We are poor and are living under an open sky,” she said. “Me and my siblings are not able to sleep for the night because of the cold. How can someone learn like this?”

At a camp in the northern part of the capital Kabul, there are more than 700 families, the majority of them displaced by violence in their hometowns. They and other families keep warm and cook by burning the rubbish that surrounds them.

It is a pitiable state that sees no letup. At least a quarter of Afghan children between the ages of five and 14 work to support themselves or their families, according to a 2016 Human Rights Watch report, and only about half of them attend school.

But with the coronavirus outbreak, children and their families are confined to their homes, raising concerns in families about to make up for this drop in earnings.

Militancy is also playing havoc with the children’s lives. A suspected rickshaw bomb killed at least 15 civilians, including 11 children, days ago at a Quran recitation ceremony in central Afghanistan, officials said.

A 2011 report says one Afghan child in ten will die before their fifth birthday, as the Ministry of Public Health launched its first report into mortality in a country that after years of conflict has some of the world’s worst rates of early death.

It is a two-edged sword. If militancy does not kill the children, the weather will. Unless the government steps in to do something for them.

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