[Last update: 1 October 2001]

Afghanistan: 1 Million may die even if no bombs fall

by Terry Allen
Even if no bombs are dropped on Afghanistan and no bullets fired at Osama bin Laden or the Taliban, 1 million Afghans may die in what United Nations agencies warn will be a humanitarian crisis of "stunning proportions."

Afghanistan, already shredded by such man_made disasters as decades of war and years of Taliban rule, is suffering a major natural disaster in the form of severe drought and famine. Some 3.8 million Afghans were already dependent on food aid from the international agencies that withdrew after the September 11 attacks. Without new shipments, 320,000 Afghans will run out of food within a week; by December 1.6 million will exhaust their food supply, said UN World Food Program spokesman Khaled Adly.

When the harsh winter descends, 7.5 million very poor Afghans will face starvation and lethal cold, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance. The most vulnerable will die as surely as if they had been ripped apart by bombs.

It is no wonder that Afghans are fleeing in droves toward neighboring countries. Most will be turned back at the border and join millions of internally displaced persons, many condemned to squalid, overcrowded refugee camps.

Afghanistan's neighbors acted quickly to seal borders. They feared an overwhelming human flow that would flood already strained economies and contribute to political unrest. Since 1979, the 3_4 million Afghans in Pakistan, Iran, and other nations have constituted the largest single refugee group in the world.

The US was no more eager than Pakistan to see a new wave of refugees. One of the 18 demands that the Washington reportedly made on Pakistan, was to seal its border with Afghanistan to prevent bin Laden militants from escaping. The US also demanded a halt to fuel exports on which Afghanistan relies for military and civilian transportation and, in much of the severely deforested nation, for heat.

Afghans trapped in miserable border refugee camps, which aid agencies are attempting to supply, may be the lucky ones. Afghanistan reportedly has the world's highest infant, child and maternal mortality rates, the lowest literacy rate and life expectancy, and one of the two or three lowest levels of per capita food availability in the world. The UN puts life expectancy at 43.

The current drought and famine are so bad that "Some people, especially in the central parts of Afghanistan, have reportedly eaten poisonous grass that caused paralysis and many in the northern provinces have been eating meals of locusts mixed with animal fodder," reported the UN World Food Program.

"In today's Afghanistan," with its drought, wars, ruined infrastructure, and bad governance, wrote Afghan_ American author Tamim Ansary, "only the Taliban eat," Last July, Taliban leader Mulla Mohammed Omar called the drought God's punishment for the people's discontent with Taliban rule, and neglect of their religious duties.

While the US has not blamed the Afghan people for the plague of Taliban rule, the effect of Washington's actions may be to sentence one million of them to death for the polices of their leaders.


People wanting to help a group supporting humanitarian relief and opposing Taliban offenses might consider sending a (tax-deductible) donation to the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)

The Afghan Women's Mission 260 S. Lake Avenue, PMB 165 Pasadena, CA 91101

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