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Time Running Out for Afghans to Receive Aid as Winter Sets In

FILE - Afghans carry supplies to their home at dusk in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2021.
FILE - Afghans carry supplies to their home at dusk in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2021.

U.N. agencies warn the window for providing humanitarian assistance for millions of needy Afghans is rapidly closing as winter approaches and access to remote, snowed-in areas will be cut off.

Relief officials say temperatures have dipped below zero Celsius at night, and snow has been known to fall in October in Afghanistan.

Speaking on Zoom from the capital of Kabul, U.N. refugee agency spokesman Babar Baloch said far too many people have not been reached.

"Let us not forget winter in Afghanistan is harsh. Winter in Afghanistan can kill if people do not have the resources and if you end up being under the open skies," Baloch said. "So, it is really merciless. … It is very important to get that support to reach more and more Afghans as soon as possible."

Afghanistan is one of the world's worst emergencies. Nearly half of Afghanistan's population of 40 million people required international aid before the Taliban took control of the country in mid-August.

Baloch said those numbers are growing and include some 3.5 million people displaced by conflict. With needs increasing, he said humanitarian operations must be scaled up quickly. He said the UNHCR is in regular contact with the ruling Taliban to help this effort go forward.

"We rely on them in terms of access to areas," he said. "We rely on them for our security. There are encouraging signs in that sense, and they have been kind of highlighting to us the needs of the people on the ground as we go and do more assessments and bring in more supplies."

Baloch said it is difficult for people not on the ground to know how dire and desperate conditions are for the Afghan people, and winter will only add to their miseries.