Families Fear Cruel Winter

Thousands of families living in bombed-out shells across the capital are already feeling the chill.

Families Fear Cruel Winter

Thousands of families living in bombed-out shells across the capital are already feeling the chill.

Some call them piles of rubble – for others they’re home. Many of Kabul’s residential areas have been flattened by years of war, but desperate people continue to live amongst the ruins, as they have nowhere else to go.

With waves of returning refugees swelling the capital’s population, this devastated city simply does not have enough homes. And with the freezing winter only two months away, many families are worried about how they will cope.

Raheema, 14, lives in a government apartment in what was once Kabul University’s hospital block, which was almost totally destroyed by gunfire and bombs. “Our family has nine members and we are all living in this house,” she told IWPR. “We came here because our home was wrecked during the war and we had a very serious drought in our old village.

“We are not worried about robbers because we have nothing to steal, but we are really afraid of the coming winter. My small brothers don't have proper clothes and they could be in danger.”

Sayed Omar is also living in a house in this area. “During the Taleban fighting, we fled from Shakardara, north of Kabul, and came to the capital. We only have one room - no bathroom, kitchen or guest room. We spent the last winter here with a lot of difficulties.

“I have a small shop with a daily income of 40,000 afghanis – one US dollar –and I have to save this money for the coming winter. We have too many problems so the government and the (international) organisations should pay attention to us.”

However, the authorities, at least at local level, have neither the resources nor the capacity to help. “We will try to provide houses, food and firewood for them in the coming winter, but we don't have any specific source of funding. Both the government and the municipality have other problems and are not able to help these disadvantaged people,” said Abdul Rasheed Janbaz, president of planning for the Kabul municipality.

The local authorities are relying on help from international organisations. One such overseas group Acted - an NGO committed to helping rebuild Afghanistan - is constructing 350 two-bedroom homes in one run-down district of the capital.

Meanwhile, people do their best to make homes out of the ruins of houses destroyed in the years of civil war. In the Kote Sangi region of the city, scene of some of the fiercest fighting, some have been rebuilt in the traditional style, using mud.

Former refugee Gul Afghan had no home to return to so is building what he can out of the rubble, using traditional methods to protect his family from the cold.

He said they huddle beneath a sandali - table covered in a thick blanket which has hot coals placed beneath it - braving the dangerous, smoky fumes for warmth. “We cannot have heaters of wood because we are not rich enough,” he said.

At Abdul Rehman’s house nearby there is a cloth hanging where the door should be. The windows of his house are plastic, torn by wind and children, so dust flies around inside the rooms of his house. The floors are covered with donated military blankets.

On the day this IWPR reporter visited, all 13 of Rehman’s children gathered around because they thought aid was on the way.

Mohammad Shafiq Haqpal is a Kabul-based freelance reporter.

Support our journalists