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Afghanistan: Kabul threatened by hunger and cold

20-11-1996 News Release 96/46

The ICRC delegation in Kabul reports that the cost of one month's supply of coal and staple foods for an average family reached the equivalent of two months'wages in November, while fighting continued just 20 km from the capital. The message is alarming: no matter what the coming winter may bring (there have already been sub-zero temperatures), access to food will be a major concern for the city's one million inhabitants.

In early November the ICRC began a series of distributions to help the capital's 16 districts through the winter. Coal, blankets, stoves and plastic sheeting were supplied to the most needy population groups (widows, orphans, the disabled and the elderly), in addition to the basic foodstuffs (flour, vegetable oil, beans and rice) that the ICRC has been providing for over a year to 200,000 people, or nearly a quarter of the city's population. The Afghan Red Crescent Society is also taking care of a number of impoverished families (over 2,000 people), with the financial support of the ICRC. A total of 1,800 tonnes of food is thus being distributed each month.

The ICRC's relief administrator in Kabul, Jean-Pascal Salvaj, says that this supplementary food aid provides half of the estimated daily requirement of 2,400 calories per person. It should be adapted to meet needs as they arise, taking the following two factors into particular account:

-    a spiralling inflation rate (400% since the beginning of the year) which shows no signs of levelling off. Although Kabul's market is well stocked, staple foods su ch as flour and oil remain unaffordable for many of the city's inhabitants. The exchange rate of the afghani, the local currency, which had strengthened from approximately 20,000 to 12,000 afghanis per US  dollar after the arrival of the Taliban, is now back at 18,000 afghanis per dollar;

-    the population's monthly income. The new Taliban administration has paid the salaries of a number of civil servants for the month of October. But more and more people, both residents and displaced people, are now unemployed. They include most of the capital's gainfully employed women who, except for certain medical staff, have lost their jobs.