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UN Fears Not Enough Aid is Reaching Afghan Refugees

U.N. relief agencies say they fear too little food and medicine are reaching Afghans as winter approaches. The U.N. health agency is also concerned about cases of a virulent form of malaria in eastern Afghanistan.

The U.N. children's agency says 15 of its convoys, carrying blankets, food, and medicine, have made it into Afghanistan during the past month. But UNICEF spokesman Wivina Belmonte says it is not enough. "In the last four weeks, we have helped meet basic emergency needs for 1.25 million children and women," she said. "But the truth is that, if things continue to unfold as they are currently, as many as 100,000 more children are expected to die this winter than last year."

The International Organization for Migration says it is providing blankets and kerosene lamps to the town of Herat in western Afghanistan to help ward off extreme cold. But those supplies will only be enough for half the 200,000 displaced Afghans sheltering there.

Cold temperatures and possible starvation are not the only foes the Afghans may encounter this winter. The World Health Organization says it is concerned about the possible spread of a virulent form of malaria in eastern Afghanistan, near Jalalabad.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl says the health agency is investigating whether the incident is an outbreak or a normal pattern of the disease for this time of year. "Since Friday, we have been receiving reports on an increased number of cases of falciparum malaria in Nangrahar province, near Jalalabad," he said. "During the month of September, 269 children were hospitalized, more than half with serious conditions, including cerebral malaria."

Meanwhile, the U.N. refugee agency says it cannot help large numbers of Afghans fleeing the country into neighboring Pakistan, because they are afraid to register as refugees.

UNHCR spokesman Chris Janowski says an estimated 100,000 refugees do not officially exist, although Pakistani authorities are probably aware of the movement of people, and tolerate it to some degree. "They are afraid to officially show up in Pakistan, because they are afraid they will be sent back to Afghanistan," he said. "They would rather go into the 'woodwork', and not ask for aid or anything."

The UNHCR says there is little the agency can do to help refugees who do not register.