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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 23:47 GMT
Snow flurries in Kabul bring hope
Afghan girls run through Kabul streets as snow flakes fall
Snow could herald an end to the drought
Marcus George

The new chapter in Afghanistan's turbulent history is being heralded in by snow falls in and around Kabul, after years of drought which brought desperate families to the brink of non-existence.

Kabul was brought to a standstill as the heavens opened, bringing the heaviest snowfall in five years - a welcome gift to counteract the country's poor harvest in recent years.

It is a grim forecast for people trying to survive

Michael Kleiner
Red Cross
United Nations flights in and out of the city were cancelled leaving diplomats and journalists stranded.

But aid agencies fear that another year without snowfall would worsen the already severe drought problem in Afghanistan.

"There has been snow in Bamiyan and other highland areas, including Chaghcharan, and hopefully there will be some positive affect on agriculture in the spring," said Michael Kleiner, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"But the snowfall is so far only small.

Lack of water

"We were told that 10 years ago there used to be two or three metres. These two days of snow so far is insufficient to resume normal agricultural programmes in the spring.

An Afghan woman
Many Afghans are facing starvation
"This season should be the coldest and the snow is supposed to melt in the spring to provide water. But this is not happening. We are not seeing it happening this winter either. It is a grim forecast for people trying to survive.

"How far this will worry us in the future is very difficult to say. Climatic conditions may be changing in Afghanistan. This may mean a lasting desertification of the central highlands.

These areas, described as central "wastelands" by some, are home to hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need of food.

Aid delay

The Red Cross estimates there are over half a million vulnerable people in the central province of Ghor. But with the coming of the snow comes logistical problems in distributing aid in inaccessible regions.

Men carry food sacks in Afghanistan
Snow could be a mixed blessing by hampering delivery of aid
Aid trucks travelling to the area can be delayed by days, or weeks, forcing agencies to postpone vital aid distributions.

"Snow falls mean that relief convoys have problems going over mountain passes which are on the way to reach these areas and the people trying to survive.

"That is our main target for the relief effort, so that people do not have to leave the area.

"Snow makes roads very difficult to pass and it also covers tracks on mud roads. This means that you can't see where trucks have passed before and you could drive into a landmine field.

But to the population of Kabul, the snow was a welcome sight.

"We thank God that the snow has come," said shop keeper Mohammadullah.

"For the last five years there has been nothing and the fields, wells and irrigations systems were running dry."

Children came out in force to play and pelt snow-balls at each other as the snow flakes fell thick and fast.

After five years without snow, much of Afghanistan, fresh from five years under Taleban rule, are looking forward to a snow-filled future.

See also:

13 Jan 02 | South Asia
Rain raises Afghan crop hopes
08 Jan 02 | South Asia
In pictures: Afghans face starvation
09 Jan 02 | South Asia
Aid not reaching hungry Afghans
01 Feb 02 | South Asia
Picture gallery: Snow falls on Kabul
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