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Humanitarian Team Mobbed by Hungry Crowds

by James Addis, World Vision Correspondent

If, after reading this account you want to help, click on World Vision Vision or telephone NZ 0800 80 2000 and consider a relief plan that is affordable to you - Editor, Spectator.

Desperate crowds mobbed a World Vision vehicle as it departed villages in north western Afghanistan, complaining they had nothing to eat.

World Vision nutrition project manager Francois Batalingaya, nutritionist Margaret Asewe and communications officer James Addis were visiting the villages of Zadmorad and Salim Boy about 30 kilometres East of Qalay-i-Naw, the principal city of Badghis province.

Several times the dean of administration for the local government Ziau Ddin, who was travelling with the World Vision team as translator and guide, was forced to remonstrate with local people to allow the Land Cruiser to pass.

Tearful women pointed to their children crying out that they had only roots to eat.

Many elderly women and men also joined the throng.

World Vision was visiting the villages in preparation for the launch of a multi-million dollar nutrition programme to combat hunger amongst children under five and pregnant and lactating mothers.

It took several hours to reach the villages, travelling stony, hilly terrain, denuded of vegetation after three years of drought.

The team passed several settlements virtually deserted, as residents abandoned their lands and fled to displaced camps near the principal western town of Heart, in search of aid.

After travelling several kilometres along a dry river bed, the terrain became impassable and the team was forced to walk the remaining three kilometres.

At the villages, the team discovered numerous cases of chronically malnourished children -causing stunted growth and susceptibility to disease, though no cases of severe malnutrition where the body begins to waste away.

Several two and three year old children were unable to walk or had difficulty doing so because of malnourishment. Abdullah Solaiman, the father of one such three-year-old, said the only thing the family had to eat was bread and tea.

Oat and wheat flour for bread was bought in a local market.

The family was forced to scavenge for firewood to sell, borrow from neighbours and sell personal possessions to make the purchases. "We don't eat anything else - no vegetables and we don't have meat," Abdullah said.

Mother Gulshan Fattah said she was so weak herself that she could give no milk to suckle her youngest child.

Already several of her children had died through a combination of hunger and disease.

Gulshan said before the drought the family had two ox for ploughing, two donkeys to carry firewood and a cow for milk. "Now all we have is a single hen," she said bitterly.

World Vision plans to begin its nutrition programme about 15 January and will cover the provinces of Badghis, Farah, Herat and Gohwar.

The programme will initially give a blanket distribution of Corn Soya Blend, sugar and oil to all pregnant and lactating mothers and children under 5 years.

Subsequent distributions will target only malnourished children and mothers.

The programme is expected to last for six months and benefit a population of about 150,000 mothers and children.

The cost of the programme is $5.7 million.

Funding will come from Unicef ($4.37 million) and World Vision's private donors. The Canadian government's aid arm CIDA has also been approached to assist with funds.

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