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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 10:34 GMT
UN warns of Afghan disaster
Afghan refugees at the Pakistan border ask for medical supplies
Drought has left many Afghans destitute
United Nations officials are warning of a humanitarian disaster among refugees from Afghanistan's civil war, amid reports that hundreds have died of cold in recent days.

UN co-ordinator for Afghanistan, Eric de Mul, said Afghans were facing total destitution.

Parents put their children to sleep in freezing tents and they do not know whether they will survive

Louis Arsenault of Unicef
''We are looking at an extremely difficult year,'' he said. ''We have to come to terms with the fact that we will see many people die.''

Officials of the ruling Taleban reported that more than 500 people had died of cold in refugee camps in western Afghanistan in the last three days alone.

Severe cold

UN officials said children were at particular risk because of the severe cold.

Afghan refugee children
Cold affecting children

They said that an additional 110 people, most of them women and children, had died as a result of the cold in western Herat province, where temperatures fell as low as minus 25 degrees Celsius after 20cm (8 inches) of snow.

''Parents put their children to sleep in freezing tents and they do not know whether they will survive until the next morning,'' said Louis Arsenault, the Unicef representative to Afghanistan.

Two-year drought

Up to 80,000 people have flocked to displacement camps near the city of Herat after leaving their drought-stricken villages.

Mr de Mul said that, even if it did rain, the impact of the two-year drought would take some time to reverse.

He said more funds were needed and called on the country's warring factions to stop fighting.


Some aid workers have said that UN sanctions against Afghanistan have disrupted the distribution of relief supplies - a view echoed by the UK International Development Secretary, Clare Short on Thursday.

Speaking at the UN headquarters in New York, she said she found the sanctions worrying because they amounted to politicisation of aid.

The sanctions are aimed at forcing the Taleban to hand over the Islamic militant, Osama bin Laden.

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31 Jan 01 | South Asia
Cold snap kills Afghan refugees
11 Jan 01 | South Asia
Afghan refugees' unending plight
09 Jan 01 | South Asia
UN moves to save Afghan refugees
20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
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