KABUL, 6 February 2008 (IRIN) - The lower house of
the Afghan National Assembly has issued a 10-day ultimatum to the national
emergency response commission to boost and expand humanitarian assistance to
thousands of people affected by extremely cold weather and heavy snow.
Over 650 people have died since December as a result of cold weather
and snow. Here, an Afghan boy shivers from the cold at camp for
displaced people in Herat Province
"If [government] officials fail to reach and assist affected people within 10
days, we will go for impeachment and a vote of no-confidence," warned Yunus
Qanoni, speaker of the house, at the end of a parliamentary debate on disaster
management on 4 February.
The ultimatum applies to government bodies sitting on the commission, whose
meetings are also attended by UN agencies and non-governmental organisations
Latest figures compiled by the Afghanistan National Disasters Management
Authority (ANDMA) show that over 650 people - mostly children and the elderly -
have died since December as a result of sub-zero temperatures, snow and
cold-related respiratory diseases.
Members of parliament (MPs) summoned ministers and other high-ranking officials
on 3-4 February for questioning after local media outlets criticised the
response to the current winter crisis and spiralling food prices.
Tonnes of food and non-food items have been distributed to vulnerable and
disaster-affected families in several provinces, but MPs have been critical of
relief operations and demanded that officials "do more and better".
Deaths, damage caused
by heavy snow and cold In Afghanistan since December 2007
Government bodies, NGOs, UN agencies, NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs)
and many private sector actors have participated in relief activities and
distributed relief mostly in an uncoordinated, and often unilateral, manner
which, according to ANDMA, has created operational confusion.
"Lack of coordination has been a major problem for us," said Abdul Matin Edrak,
head of ANDMA in Kabul. "We call on UN agencies, NGOs and PRTs to ensure greater
and improved coordination with the national emergency response commission."
The commission, in collaboration with UN agencies, earmarked US$2,500,000 for
winter disaster management operations.
Additionally, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) pre-positioned 22,000 metric
tonnes of mixed food items in 18 vulnerable provinces. The plan was to
distribute the food through food-for-work and/or food-for-education programmes.
Winter lasts until April in many parts of Afghanistan, and officials say needs
have outstripped initial preparations and more aid is needed now.
ANDMA and other government departments involved in relief activities say their
efforts to manage disasters and provide an adequate humanitarian response have
been hindered by poor resources, low capacity and unexpectedly heavy snowfall
which has blocked access to many rural communities.
"The level of needs is beyond our capacity," Edrak of ANDMA told IRIN, adding
that his organisation needed comprehensive capacity-building, technical
resources and financial support.
A UN disaster assessment and coordination team that visited Afghanistan in July
2006 made 73 recommendations for an urgent "revitalisation and modernisation" of
the country's disaster management capacity. Over 20 months have passed but
Afghanistan still has a weak and underdeveloped disaster management body,
officials such as Edrak of ANDMA conceded.
The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2008
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