Red Cross, UNICEF plan aid while war, winter ravage Afghan people

Brad Ellingson

After Sunday’s bombings in Afghanistan and with winter approaching, humanitarian organizations are heightening relief efforts for Afghanistan’s refugees.

The push to send more food and supplies to Afghanistan has intensified, but the refugee problem will still get worse, said David Morgan, professor of history and religious history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Bush administration has taken a two-pronged approach: launch military strikes while aiding the people of Afghanistan.

“The Afghanistan people don’t necessarily care about the Taliban or bin Laden because they are just so concerned about surviving day to day,” Morgan said.

The majority of ordinary people in Afghanistan are not aware of what the full extent of this war means, Morgan said.

“These folks don’t know that we aren’t targeting them. They just want to get away,” said Morgan. “The Taliban isn’t going to tell these people that the U.S. isn’t after them and only after the government.”

He said the country has been dealing with war for 22 years straight, plus a three-year drought.

Afghanistan has suffered from poverty and widespread starvation since the Soviet invasion in 1979.

With winter and war approaching, organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UNICEF will provide food and medical supplies to refugees.

“Afghanistan is on its knees already,” said Darcy Christen, Red Cross spokesman.

“The winter is coming and it’s going to be very harsh,” he said.

Currently, ICRC is focusing on aiding hospitals with medical supplies, Christen said. “Mainly the activities we are doing are focusing first on medical and surgical relief … assisting the main hospitals in Afghanistan.”

He added, “We were in a position to carry out two main distributions recently in the northern parts, first in Mazar-e Sharif and also in Badakhshan.”

In a statement last week, UNICEF officials said four large convoys left Peshawar, Pakistan, last week for four cities in Afghanistan.

After traveling by truck, cargo will be carried by mules through the Shah Saleem pass at a peak of around 4,600 meters, UNICEF officials said.

These convoys are headed for Kabul, Herat, Jalalabad and Kandahar in Afghanistan.

Blankets, medicines, winter clothing, high-protein food mix for children, shelter items and water purification materials will be provided to Afghanistan’s refugees, UNICEF officials said.

“It’s going to take a lot to keep Afghan children alive through the next several months,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy in a statement released last week.

The conditions for women are worse than most can imagine; they are deprived of medical assistance even during childbirth, Morgan said.

“It’s really appalling how they treat women,” Morgan said. “There is nothing in the world to parallel it to.”

Pakistan has been clearing sites for these refugees, but it’s been much harder for the refugees with Pakistan closing borders, Morgan said.

“I’m sure Pakistan is doing what they can,” he said. “But there are just so many people trying to get out of Afghanistan.”


Brad Ellingson welcomes comments at [email protected] and Elizabeth Putnam welcomes comments at [email protected]