Children most at risk in severe Afghan winter | Connect Asia

Children most at risk in severe Afghan winter

Children most at risk in severe Afghan winter

Updated 21 February 2012, 15:52 AEST

The charity Save the Children is warning that a predicted worsening of Afghanistan's already harsh winter weather will cause even more deaths among the country's most vulnerable.

It's estimated more than 260 children die each day in Afghanistan due to poor healthcare and malnutrition, and now the cold.

A major food crisis is also affecting 3,000,000 people, a third of them children.

More heavy snowfalls have been forecast with temperatures dropping as much as minus-25 degrees centigrade.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Mats Lignell, spokesman, Save the Children, Afghanistan

LIGNELL: In Kabul, the capital, we're talking about temperatures as low as minus-17 (degrees Celsius) - obviously, that's a very, very harsh winter in the country. But in other provinces, we're talking about temperatures close to minus 25-degrees Celsius.

LAM: That is very cold. So are there parts of the country worst affected than others? Are some children more vulnerable?

LIGNELL: There're parts of the country that are affected by the severe winter, and that would be of course Kabul, the capital, because this is an unusually cold winter for Kabul. Those other places which don't normally have very harsh winters, but this winter has proven to be even worse than normal, and that would be the central highlands of the country in the north, in the north-east of the country as well. When you talk about children being especially vulnerable, what you see all over the country, not only in places like Kabul but also in other bigger cities, is a lot of people moving to the cities - most of them for economic reasons, but also for security reasons. People are trying to get away from fighting, some are trying to get away from poverty and moving to bigger cities. So, the children of the internally-displaced people are of course extra vulnerable, because the internally-displaced families end up in settlements, informal settlements or other kinds of settlements. We're talking about large populations here. In Kabul alone, there are over forty informal settlements and that is basically camps for internally-displaced people. We're seeing children being weakened by not having enough food to eat. And children in this country are dying of preventable diseases - like pneumonia, diarrhoea, at an appalling rate.

LAM: Of course the humanitarian agencies, such as yourself, Save the Children. You have distributed thousands of knitted hats for the children. Do they go some way towards keeping the kids warm?

LIGNELL: Hats - as small as that might sound - a knitted hat helping a newborn child, in the first twenty-eight days, to keep warm, will definitely make a big change. We're not only distributing knitted hats, we're also distributing blankets, shoes, hygiene kits for families. So all of these interventions definitely do help. So with the warehouses, so what we did was a very quick assessment and then, sat down with other NGOs and with government, to identify the gaps.

LAM: Food prices of course, are going up in Afghanistan, as elsewhere in South Asia - the price of wheat has gone up 60 percent. Do you think this might undo some of the progress that has been made in reducing child mortality in Afghanistan?

LIGNELL: I think food prices is one of the contributing factors to malnutrition in the country. And malnutrition is the underlying cause for child mortality, so Yes, absolutely, that is something that kills children in this country. The improvement in child mortality rates that we have seen recently in the country has alot to do with the successful roll out of health services. There have been unprecedented levels of health services now. There is a lot of work that needs to be done, especially for newborn children, and we're talking about children in the first 28 days of their lives. So what I'm saying is, it's an improvement. (But) again, we still appalling numbers for Afghanistan - the recent figures now show 265 children die every day in this country before they reach their fifth birthday - 265 everyday and that's an appalling number, if you look at it from a western perspective.

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