The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Winter temperatures in Afghanistan plunge to deadly low

A boy poses for a photograph outside a snow-covered amusement park in Kabul on Monday. (EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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Temperatures hit severe lows in Afghanistan this month, marking the coldest winter in over a decade and killing more than 160 people in about two weeks, officials said.

Early this month, temperatures plunged to below minus-34 degrees Celsius (minus-29.2 degrees Fahrenheit).

Of the 162 people who have died because of the cold weather since Jan. 10, more than half died in the past week, said Shafiullah Rahim, a spokesman for the Ministry of Disaster Management, Reuters reported Thursday. Afghans have been dying of hypothermia, as well as carbon monoxide poisoning and gas leakage, amid a widespread lack of heating systems, local outlet Tolo News reported.

The deadly cold spell comes on top of a broader humanitarian crisis that the U.N. humanitarian affairs office said Tuesday poses a “very real risk of systemic collapse and human catastrophe.” More than half of Afghanistan’s population faces severe hunger, and 97 percent is at risk of falling into poverty.

Taliban hard-liners consolidate control with crackdown on women

Acting minister of disaster management Mullah Mohammad Abbas Akhund told the BBC this week that many died in rural areas, including shepherds.

He said earlier this month that 70,000 livestock died, taking a huge toll on the livelihood of farmers and exacerbating local food insecurity, the BBC reported.

Relief efforts to rescue and protect Afghans from the cold are ongoing. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan said Sunday on Twitter that more than 565,700 people have been reached — more than half of those targeted.

But nationwide aid efforts, already lagging, have been further hampered by a Taliban decision on Dec. 24 to immediately ban Afghan women from working in foreign and domestic nongovernment groups. That includes the many nonprofit organizations working to provide aid.

The Taliban wants to segregate women. So it’s training female doctors.

Amid the weather-related fatalities, Akhund told BBC this week that “men from every family are already participating in relief efforts, so there’s no need for women.”

U.N. officials visited Afghanistan last week to express alarm over the decree banning women from NGOs.

“These restrictions present Afghan women and girls with a future that confines them in their own homes, violating their rights and depriving the communities of their services,” U.N. Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed, who led the delegation, said last week.

She told reporters Wednesday that she went into Afghanistan thinking that “perhaps the most conservative of them [Taliban leaders] didn’t care about recognition — they do,” Voice of America reported. “Recognition is one leverage that we have and should hold on to.”