The United Nations says more than a million people in four western provinces of Afghanistan are in urgent need of food assistance. But, UN aid agencies say harsh winter conditions have cut off roads to dozens of villages in the Western and Central Highlands of Afghanistan, making food delivery virtually impossible. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.
The Western and Central Highlands of Afghanistan are used to cold, snowy conditions. But, this year, the region has been buffeted with unusually heavy snow. And, this is taking a severe toll on the population.
The United Nations estimates at least 200 people, mainly children and elderly people, have died from exposure to cold. Many others have fallen ill. The Provinces of Herat, Farah, Badghis, Ghor in the Western Region and Dai Kundi are severely affected.
UN Humanitarian Spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs says approximately 100 villages in Ghor are cut off. Avalanches in the area have killed several people. She says all roads are blocked.
"It is very difficult to access the most isolated villages. That is why the delivery of assistance is of concern and it is so difficult because of this extreme weather. And, even flight assistance is very difficult because helicopters or planes cannot fly with such a weather," she said.
As in previous years, UN agencies had pre-positioned stocks of food and other essentials in the region to tide people over the difficult winter period. But the agencies, along with the population, were unprepared for the extreme weather.
Byrs paints a grim picture of what confronts people trapped in these isolated villages. She says food stocks are running out and, for now, it is not possible to replenish them. She says the price of whatever food and fuel is still available is rising steeply.
She says the bad weather has killed about 42,000 goats, sheep and cows, further raising the price of meat.
"Traders who were traveling and bringing food to the local markets cannot travel anymore, cannot access the remote villages, so the markets are closed or without any food to buy," she said. "We would like to provide assistance to those populations very quickly in order to avoid more deaths among the population and among the most vulnerable."
The harsh weather is forecast to last at least another month. The United Nations says food is the greatest need. But it says hundreds of thousands of Afghans in the Western and Central Highlands also need blankets, warm clothing, plastic sheets and fuel for heating to keep out the cold.