Bitter cold kills 110 Afghan refugees in one night

The Associated Press, 31 January 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- At least 110 people died in just one night because of freezing conditions in refugee camps in western Afghanistan, the United Nations said Wednesday.

The victims of Monday night's cold snap were mostly children and the elderly, said Erick de Mul, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator. They only had plastic sheets to keep them warm as temperatures plunged to minus 13 Fahrenheit.

The refugees in the Herat region began arriving last July, driven from their homes in search of food and water, their crops and livestock decimated by the worst drought in 30 years.

An emergency U.N. appeal for $3.5 million to house and clothe an estimated 80,000 Afghans seems to have been largely ignored. According to a U.N. statement issued in neighboring Afghanistan, barely $200,000 has been pledged.

The United Nations says 5,000 families are sharing 1,700 tents, with each tent meant to house just one family. Most families in Afghanistan have at least four children, many much more.

The outlook remained bleak, with temperatures only edging up to minus 3 on Tuesday.

Millions of people in the war-ruined Central Asian nation have been hit by drought as well as a protracted civil war. The drought has virtually wiped out most crops in the south, west and central regions of the country and devastated 75 percent of the livestock.

In the last five months, 155,000 Afghans have fled their homeland for Pakistan, where they are living in squalor in refugee camps in the northwestern region. The United Nations says it is struggling to find the resources to house and clothe them, while Pakistan, itself a poor country, is barely able to feed its own population of 140 million.

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