Photos from Jallozai camp

Afghan refugees eating grass, freezing temperature kills 18 children

The News: Jang, Jan.11, 2001

JALLOZAI, Pakistan: UN refugee officials appealed for urgent donor aid on Wednesday to help save the lives of thousands of Afghan refugees pouring into Pakistan, some of whom had been reduced to eating grass.

The UN High Commissioner for Rewfugees (UNHCR) is finding it hard to cope with the flow of refugees from Afghanistan where warfare, the worst drought in 30 years and a ruined economy have forced people to flee.

UN officials at Jallozai camp, 112 km (70 miles) west of Islamabad, said they expected 8,000 more families, or 40,000 people, to arrive in Pakistan over the next three months. "Jallozai is a makeshift site. It is an open place. People are exposed to the freezing weather. There is no proper shelter, no sanitation or (clean) water facilities," said Yusuf Hassan, UNHCR's senior regional external affairs officer for the southwest and central Asian region.

Cold, disease and malnutrition have killed several children at the camp, though nobody appears to know how many. UNHCR's emergency coordinator at the camp, Mohammad Abdi Adar, said there had been child deaths due to cold and disease but he could not give an exact figure. Some refugees said 70 children had died but officials put the toll at only seven.

"We have reports of seven children dying at this site due to freezing temperatures...and that is why we are racing against time to move them to a place where they have shelter, food and other facilities," Hassan said.

"We are informing the donors of this particular crisis and we hope they will respond favourably so that we can alleviate...and save lives," he added. Most of the new arrivals at Jallozai are from northern Afghanistan where conditions were even more inhospitable. "The mortality rate among children under five is 5.2 per 10,000 per day. This means 13 deaths out of 697 children under five over a period of 36 days," said a survey conducted by Medecins sans Frontiers on nutrition and mortality in one district of the northern Afghan province of Faryab. "People are reduced to eating roots and grass, almost all young men are reported to have left the area," said a recent UN report.

It said northern Afghanistan had been badly affected by drought and conflict. "In 2000, the wheat crop dropped by 65 percent in rainfed areas and by 30 percent in irrigated areas, compared to 1999," the report said.

Jallozai camp has housed about 200,000 Afghan refugees in the last 20 years after the start of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979. The current crisis began when a new wave of refugees started arriving in large numbers.