Villagers bombed in August still living with relatives

Mullah Gol Ahmad lost several members of his extended family when US forces dropped bombs on Azizabad village, Shindand District, Herat Province on 22 August. His house was destroyed and he and four members of his family have lived with relatives ever since.

He said he needed to rebuild his home but had no money to do so: "We cannot live with relatives for ever. We have to rebuild our own house and move there."

Akhtar Mohammad, whose house was also damaged in the incident, voiced similar concerns. "For several months we have been accommodated by our relatives and now they expect us to leave, but we have nowhere to go".

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghan government said some 90 civilians - 60 children, 15 women and 15 men - were killed when the bombs hit Azizabad. Up to 35 houses were either destroyed or damaged and dozens of families were displaced. About 900 people were affected, UNAMA said.

US forces have repudiated these figures, saying about 30 civilians died as a result of the bombing, the New York Times reported on 7 October.

Inadequate aid?

Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Azizabad on 4 September and gave assurances that people would be given shelter as well as access to basic services such as water, education and health; he also promised financial aid.

The government has paid US$2,000 to the family of each killed civilian and $1,000 to every wounded civilian, Sadiq Modaber, head of the Secretariat of the Ministers' Council, told IRIN on 7 December, adding: "Thirty-nine members of the martyrs' families have been sent [to Saudi Arabia] for Haj [pilgrimage]."

UNAMA said UN agencies delivered "life-saving assistance" to hundreds of affected people in late August, but local people said the one-time financial and food aid package was too little to enable them re-establish a normal life.

"Our biggest problem is lack of shelter. The money the government paid us barely covered our immediate needs," said Haji Golalai, a local resident, adding that he had no money to repair his damaged house.

Some said they had used the government money for "mourning rituals" and had nothing left to repair their damaged properties or pay for other needs. Others sounded a note of despair: "Money cannot return to us what we have lost," one elderly man told IRIN.

As the conflict intensifies, civilians are increasingly in the firing line. Over 1,400 non-combatants were killed January-August 2008, according to UNAMA.

Tens of thousands have also been displaced due to the conflict, and humanitarian access to almost half the country has been impeded due to the growing number of attacks on aid workers, aid agencies say.