Earthquake aid still held up by weather


Families huddled in freezing mist in the earthquake-devastated village of Ghanj in northern Afghanistan yesterday with no sign of international aid. A representative of Medecins Sans Frontieres said the earthquake, which struck last Wednesday, had claimed about 4,200 lives.

"If we don't receive food soon, we'll die of hunger," said a villager, Abdurahman (35), shaking his hand in frustrated emphasis. His brother and nephew were killed in the disaster.

In front of him squatted his seven children, daughters pulling red scarves around their faces and toddlers with no shoes at the entrance of a makeshift tent of blankets and straw on the sub-zero, stony ground. Behind him, smashed timbers, gaping walls, overturned baskets and piles of rubble dotted the mountainside like broken teeth.

Ghanj was said by Afghan and aid officials to be the worst hit of up to 28 villages in the country's northern region of Rustaq, where 1,800 people lost their lives in last week's earthquake and another, smaller quake at the weekend. Aftershocks were still being felt in the village on Monday.

The villagers' enemy is now the biting cold and thick mists that have prevented aircraft from bringing aid to the remote area.

"We've a lot of medical supplies on the way but it's only on the way," said Ms Sheila Hall, medical co-ordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres, in the regional capital of Rustaq. Two aircraft from the International Red Cross were unable to reach the area because of bad weather yesterday. "The wounded are coming in on donkeys," Ms Hall said. "The weather's got much worse today and we're faced with a shelter problem."

A continuing civil war is also a major logistical headache for aid agencies.

An armed opposition grouping opposed to Afghanistan's purist Islamic Taleban militia, which now controls over two thirds of the country and the capital Kabul, holds Rustaq.

A spokesman for the UN observer mission in Dushanbe said Tajikistan-based humanitarian groups will for now not send staff to Afghanistan, but that the groups would, however, help to co-ordinate relief efforts in northern Afghanistan.