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High infant mortality rates recorded in northeast Afghanistan: UN aid coordinator

High infant mortality rates recorded in northeast Afghanistan: UN aid coordinator

Recent assessment missions by the Office of the United Nations Coordinator for Afghanistan have documented an "alarmingly high" number of infant deaths due to disease in the northeastern part of the country, an area plagued by drought and conflict.

In a statement issued today, the Islamabad-based Office said its teams had visited Shar-i-Buzurg and Ragh districts of Badakhshan Province in order to assess reports about famine deaths. Both districts rely almost exclusively on rainfed cereal cultivation and were badly affected by the drought.

The missions found no cases of outright starvation but recorded a disturbingly high level of infant mortality due primarily to measles and acute respiratory infections, as well as a varying degree of chronic malnutrition. Adult mortality was limited to mainly elderly people.

The assessment teams found that food stocks were nearing exhaustion. Most people were supplementing dwindling food stocks with wild pulses and animal fodder, including a variety called pattak, which contains human neurotoxins and has resulted in limb paralysis in some parts of Ragh. An estimated 70 per cent of the livestock assets from both areas have been liquidated either through sale or consumption. The Coordinator's Office estimates that all food stocks will be completely exhausted in a month at the latest.

Northeastern Afghanistan currently has about 100,000 people displaced by fighting in various locations. Overall, the economy in the area has continued to deteriorate. Agricultural production declined last year, causing a contraction of the economy, which made the region even more dependent on imports.

By the end of March, over 80,000 people displaced by conflict had received 100 kilos of wheat from the World Food Programme (WFP), the Office said, noting that non-governmental organizations had also distributed food.