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Severe Flooding Expected During Afghan Spring Thaw


United Nations aid agencies warn the onset of spring in Afghanistan is expected to bring severe flooding in many parts of the country. They say they are gearing up to help tens of thousands of Afghans survive the worst of the spring thaw. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

U.N. officials say people in Afghanistan's Western Region are living through one of the harshest winters in nearly 30 years. The United Nations reports more than 800 people have lost their lives so far this winter in the four provinces of Herat, Farah, Badghis, and Ghor.

In addition, 135,000 livestock have died from cold and lack of fodder. The United Nations says tens of thousands of people have lost their homes and possessions due to the heavy snow and severe cold.

UN humanitarian spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs says these people are living in the open in freezing conditions, exposing them to many illnesses.

"We have seen because of this cold, many respiratory problems and hypothermia cases among the population," she said. "Over 170,000 people with pneumonia and other acute respiratory infections have been diagnosed and treated at health centers across Afghanistan in the past months. We are concerned about the spread of winter diseases especially in Ghor and in Nooristan provinces."

Byrs says many remote villages are cut off to outside assistance because of the snow. And the authorities are doing their best to clear the roads to make these places accessible.

She says the coming spring will bring no respite. The melting snows will simply add to the misery already endured by the Afghan people.

"We have to get prepared for landslides, for avalanches and also for flooding. That is why the international assistance and international donors will be requested for their preparedness measure in order to avoid more disasters in those poor villages which have already suffered from this bad weather," said Byrs.

Byrs says 25 provinces are in danger from spring flooding and preparations are underway to head off the worst. She says more than 840,000 sandbags and thousands of other barriers have been bought to provide protection to vulnerable communities.

She says these protective measures will benefit more than 75,000 people who are particularly exposed.

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