Cold-snap deaths top 300

The number of people killed by cold weather and heavy snow in several Afghan provinces over the past four weeks has risen to over 300, and dozens of others have been injured, the Afghanistan National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA) said on 22 January.

The main victims are children and elderly people as they are particularly vulnerable to winter diseases such as pneumonia and other respiratory infections.

Of the 25 provinces affected (out of 34 in all), Herat Province, western Afghanistan, has been hit hardest - with over 137 deaths and more than 41,000 livestock lost.

In the neighbouring provinces of Farah, Badghis and Ghor about 125 people have died and many others have contracted winter diseases, provincial officials and ANDMA said.

“We are in the middle of a harsh winter and there is a strong possibility the death toll may increase,” said Abdul Matin Edrak, head of ANDMA in Kabul.

Relief operations

Backed by UN agencies and several other international aid organisations, the government has dispatched relief supplies to many affected communities. The army and police have helped several evacuation and aid distribution operations in the country.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has distributed warm clothes, coal and blankets to a number of vulnerable families in Balkh, Jowzjan and Takhar provinces, according to a statement issued by ISAF.

However, many affected families and officials in remote provinces (Daykundi, Ghor, Farah, Faryab, Samangan, Badghis and Helmand) have complained about the lack of a humanitarian response and demanded urgent assistance.

Livelihoods affected

Reports received from across the country by ANDMA in Kabul indicate that over 83,000 farm animals have died over the past month, suggesting that nearly 1,000 rural families could be affected, according to Ghulam Jailani Rasoli, a specialist on farm animals at the Ministry of Irrigation, Agriculture and Livestock.

Farm animals - chiefly sheep, cows and poultry - represent the main sources of livelihood for thousands of Afghan families in rural areas. The livestock deaths will further push already poor rural families that rely on animal husbandry into acute food-insecurity and vulnerability, Rasoli said.