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Kabul’s First Snow Delivers Deadly Chill

January 14, 1996

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ Stumbling barefoot through the season’s first heavy snowfall, Homray wept for her five children and pleaded with strangers for aid.

``They have destroyed my home. Everything is destroyed,″ cried Homray, who uses only one name. ``Please help us, or we’ll be dead.″

The Afghan capital’s misery, already severe, increased Sunday as temperatures dropped to 14 degrees and the first heavy snow of the year fell on the city, where about 70 percent of the houses have been destroyed in relentless rocketing from rival rebel positions.

Doctors at Kabul’s Indira Gandhi Hospital estimate that one baby in the hospital’s intensive care unit will die from hypothermia each day.

``We have so many problems, especially for the children and mothers,″ said Dr. Noor Arzoie. ``We don’t have the supplies to do our job.″

What used to be a semiprivate room for two patients in prewar Kabul, now is a makeshift nursery for eight babies, their mothers, a doctor and nurse.

Kneeling by a stove, a young mother holds an intravenous drip bottle of glucose to warm it before it is administered.

Crammed into a corner, a premature baby struggles for her life. The hospital’s incubator hasn’t worked since Kabul lost electricity two years ago.

``The cold complicates our problems,″ said Dr. Mahmoud Yunis Ismat.

But the temperature isn’t Kabul’s only killer this winter, he said.

The snow has cut off the supply of goods by road and what little food that still gets to Kabul often is priced beyond the reach of the average family.

``Malnutrition adds to our troubles,″ Ismat said. ``When the body’s defenses go down, they become more susceptible to disease.″

Relief workers both in Kabul and neighboring Pakistan have warned of a crisis in Afghanistan if food isn’t brought into the city.

Several weeks ago the United Nations World Food Program sent a 93-truck convoy of food into Kabul.

But Ismat said it’s not enough.

``The government gives us food but it is insufficient,″ he said.

In the hospital’s malnutrition ward 15 tiny infants lie helpless, ravaged by war and winter.

A nurse tries to feed one baby, his cheeks hallow, his wide empty eyes staring into the room. If he survives, he will be one of the fortunate children in a city strewn with families forced onto the streets from the country’s civil war.

After capturing Kabul from the former communist government in 1992, once allied guerrillas turned their guns on each other and have been battling for complete control of the country.

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