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Coming winter spells grave danger for Afghan civilians, UN warns

Coming winter spells grave danger for Afghan civilians, UN warns

As United Nations aid agencies rush relief supplies to war-torn and drought-stricken Afghanistan, Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other UN officials are warning that the coming winter could spell even greater danger for the country's beleaguered civilians.

"It's a major logistical nightmare because the snow will be coming soon," Mr. Annan said today in an interview on "Good Morning America," a television show on the ABC network in the United States. "We are talking about 7.5 million people who will depend on sustained assistance for their survival."

Echoing this concern, a spokesman for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) told reporters in Islamabad today that winter "comes quickly in this part of the world, and in this part of the world, it kills many children." Spokesman Eric Laroche recalled that last year in one area alone, more than 100 children froze to death during a cold spell in Afghanistan.

"One of UNICEF's young staff members witnessed a family in Herat of three children and their parents, locked in an embrace and frozen to death," he said. "A mother waking in the morning with her child dead in her arms was not an uncommon occurrence."

According to Mr. Laroche, Afghan children were now weaker than ever. One in every two was malnourished, one in four is destined to die before the age of five from preventable causes, and every 30 minutes or so an Afghan mother dies giving birth. Within camps for internally displaced Afghans, the death rate among the young rises to one in three, he added, noting that the graveyards around the camps "are full of small mounds of earth: children who died of disease, sickness, and malnutrition."

Responding to this urgent crisis, UNICEF today dispatched four large humanitarian convoys to Afghanistan, each carrying hundreds of tonnes of blankets, medicines, winter clothes, high-protein food, shelter items, water purification materials and other supplies.

"Waiting just isn't an option," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said in New York. "Winter is coming and conditions will only worsen."

Meanwhile, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Kenzo Oshima, met today with officials in Pakistan and Iran. This morning Mr. Oshima, who was dispatched to the region by the Secretary-General, held discussions with Pakistani officials in Quetta. He then headed to Mashad, Iran, where there is a large concentration of Afghan refugees. From there, he is scheduled to travel to Tehran.