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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 15:27 GMT
Desperation in Bamiyan
Hazara refugees
Winter can only make life worse for the Hazaras
The BBC's Paul Welsh visits Bamiyan where people have resorted to living in caves.

The first warm sunlight of a new day creeps slowly across the rock face at Bamiyan, ending another night far below freezing.

The Bamiyan Buddhas which stood for thousands of years, are in ruins now, destroyed by the Taleban as images of a false God.

Statue in bamiyan
The destruction of Bamiyan's Buddhas shocked the world
The remains of the ancient sculpture lies strewn at the foot of the cliff mixed up with rocket launchers and ammunition cases, the reason for their destruction.

Beside them, people are now living in the ancient caves cut into the rock.

Nasrullah's family returned to the area one week ago and see no way out. Their house is destroyed and they have no resources or money to rebuild it.

Precarious life

The five members of the his family live together in a cramped room open to the region's harsh winter.

Little remains of their old life and they barely have enough food to feed themselves. But this proud family are making the best of a precarious life.

"Living in these caves is very difficult," said Nasrullah. "We have lots of problems. We've been living as refugees in many places and our biggest problem is no fuel or food.

Aid unloaded in Turkmenistan
Aid cannot be distributed fast enough
"We have no doors or windows and we can't afford to buy anything."

Bamiyan is the spiritual home of the Hazaras, a predominantly Shia community said to be descended from Genghis Khan.

This community is a world apart from Afghanistan's urban centres. There are no burqas to be seen.

Instead Hazara women wear brightly coloured head scarves and though times are hard, their identity remains strong.

Inadequate supplies

Aid has finally begun to arrive in the region. There are 12,000 families in the town and most are in need of help.

A food distribution by Norwegian Church Aid was assisting 200 families but this is not enough. Sacks of rice, sugar and lentils are being handed out but it is only enough to keep an average family for two months.

But many other families have returned since the assessment was carried out and they face receiving no help at all.

There will need to be more distributions like this through the winter all over Afghanistan, and the aid agencies hope they can cope.

"We're expecting more help from those who sent this food and there are other charities who will bring supplies, said Mohammad Ali, the manager of the aid distribution.

"Our next distribution will be wheat. The people are expecting more food aid to come soon. They need help because they don't have anything and there is no work here at all."

Natural enemy

In conditions like this there is need for more than just food aid if these people are to survive this winter in these mountains.

When the harshness of winter finally arrives these people will be in desperate need, yet it will be even more difficult to get aid to them

The doctor, Ali Khan Sharifi, is running his hospital on his own but he has very little equipment.

The Taleban looted this place, taking with them everything, including the light bulbs.

The medicine cupboards in the pharmacy are bare, yet without medical supplies the town's doctor will not be able to treat the many cases of pneumonia, colds and malnutrition.

Life may be miserable for the people in these caves now but it will soon get worse. Snow is falling on the mountains surrounding the town and the winter is closing in.

And when the harshness of winter finally arrives these people will be in desperate need, yet it will be even more difficult to get aid to them.

Although reaching Bamiyan is not easy, other parts of this country are far more inaccessible.

The BBC's Paul Welsh in Bamiyan
"When the harshness of winter finally arrives these people will be in desperate need"
See also:

21 Nov 01 | South Asia
Hazaras demand to be heard
19 Oct 01 | South Asia
Hazara people's long suffering
13 Nov 01 | South Asia
Bamiyan destroyed by Taleban
05 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Buddha rises again
25 Mar 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka to 'build' Bamiyan Buddhas
12 Mar 01 | South Asia
Outcry as Buddhas are destroyed
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