'Thousands die' in record Afghan cold

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More than 1,000 children may have died in just one province during Afghanistan's worst winter weather in two decades, aid workers say. They warn many more could perish if help is not sent quickly.

More than 1,000 children may have died in just one province during Afghanistan's worst winter weather in two decades, aid workers say. They warn many more could perish if help is not sent quickly.

The remote central province of Ghor has suffered worst, but many areas have recorded deaths from extreme cold. Children and old people have suffered particularly badly.

Even in the capital Kabul, dozens of refugees living in appalling conditions - under snow-covered tarpaulins in temperatures as low as minus 18C - have frozen to death.

Paul Hicks, director of Catholic Relief Services in western Afghanistan, said a survey of 16 villages in a single district of Ghor province had found an average of five children younger than five had died in each. The toll could be even higher in neighbouring districts that cannot be reached because of deep snow, he said.

Ikramuddin Rezazada, the deputy governor of Ghor province, said that the government in the provincial capital of Chaghcharan had so far confirmed 136 deaths, mostly of children. The province-wide toll could be 300, he said, begging the central government to send emergency aid to avert disaster.

In the difficult conditions many children have died of whooping cough and measles. Remote mountain regions have suffered the worst from cold, the most extreme in living memory in many places, raising fears that a humanitarian disaster could be unfolding unseen.

Martin Roest of the UN agency the World Food Programme said 140 tons of food in lorries had been unable to reach affected districts because of snowdrifts and appealed to the US military to fly in 40 tons of emergency aid. He said: "This is a very severe winter in which the food needs of people at risk are rising."

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