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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Charities Say Afghans Face Starvation

ReutersAn Afghan family crossing into Pakistan, joining the flood of refugees fleeing Afghanistan in fear of attacks by the United States.
LONDON -- International charities, driven out of Afghanistan, have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe there as winter approaches and thousands flee to mountains and borders to escape a feared bombing campaign.

"Afghanistan was on the brink of a catastrophe anyway, and then this happened," said Tearfund spokesman Keith Ewing, referring to last Tuesday's attacks on New York and Washington.

Charity officials said thousands could starve if Western aid did not reach remote areas and people moving toward Afghanistan's borders with Pakistan and Iran. They fear a U.S.-led offensive against Afghanistan because Washington suspects the attacks were masterminded by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, who lives there under the protection of the ruling Taliban militia.

"About 75 percent of Afghans don't have safe water, 90 percent don't have adequate sanitation and 75 percent don't have access to the most basic health care. One in every four kids dies before the age of five," said Oxfam's Matt Grainger.

"Those statistics were true six months ago, when up to 5 million people were relying on World Food Program grain to survive."

Oxfam, Tearfund and Save the Children said they had withdrawn their last foreign staff from the Afghan capital of Kabul since last week's U.S. attacks, leaving people vulnerable to hunger and disease as the harsh winter approaches.

By November, getting aid to refugee camps in Afghanistan and to people massing on its borders could be next to impossible.

"Once the winter comes, all bets are off. If agencies haven't got full food and shelter in place before November 7 in these remote regions, we are not going to be there until spring," Grainger said.

Ewing added that he had visited a refugee camp six weeks ago holding 200,000 people near the western Afghan town of Herat.

"People were pushing their malnourished children at us. There just wasn't enough help even before the dreadful [U.S.] attack and before the pullout," he said.

"Around 10,000 people were arriving every week. These people are completely stuck. Several families said they would rather die than go on living here."

Hannah Crabtree of Save the Children said the innocent were bound to suffer in raids on Afghanistan.

"Women and children are vulnerable," she said. "Children do traditionally bear the brunt of these sorts of attacks."

Her group was one of 14 British charities and aid organizations that signed a joint call for the United States and its allies to show restraint when responding to the hijack attacks, which left around 6,000 dead or missing.