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“Is that reasonable that all of them would die at night?”

That’s how Afghanistan’s top disaster response official responded when asked by the New York Times about the nearly two dozen children who have frozen to death in camps for internally displaced people in and around Kabul over the past month.

Downplaying the suffering in Kabul’s desolate, damp, and now ice-encrusted IDP camps isn’t a new act for the Afghan government. For the past several years, officials have justified their hesitancy to assist starving and freezing IDPs by claiming that most camp residents are actually economic migrants (experts say that the camp populations are a mix of people displaced by the war, by land disputes, and by rural poverty and drought), and arguing that providing aid would draw more indigent people to the already overcrowded capital.

Despite its harsh official line, the Afghan government has committed to provide relief to the camps hardest hit by this winter’s record snowfall and unusually low temperatures. National and international outrage over young children freezing to death so close to government and aid agency offices no doubt played a role in that decision.

Camp residents are skeptical that they will see any relief at all, and harbor deep distrust of officials. Some of those interviewed by the NYT said that the government had lied to the international media about offering the IDPs land plots and rental houses.

“They haven’t given us anything,” one camp resident said. “I’ve been to the Ministry of Refugees asking for assistance, even shouting for assistance and nothing has happened, no help.”

Even if the Ministry does deliver winter supplies, relief won’t be immediate, and it probably won’t be enough.

Afghan volunteers aren’t waiting around for their government to act. They are organizing their own informal relief efforts through fuel distribution and winter clothing drives in Kabul (this is a rare situation in which old socks are actually useful, and not SWEDOW).

After the NYT highlighted the cruel conditions in the camps, it was inundated with questions from readers wondering how they could help. Yesterday, it ran a follow-up piece with links to three well-regarded Afghan and international NGOs working in the camps.

I would like to add two more: the Sela Foundation and Hadia. Both are grassroots, entirely Afghan-run organizations whose volunteers have experience working in the camps. If you want to support them in their relief efforts this winter, the easiest way to contact them is through their facebook pages, which are linked to above.

Update, February 9, 2012: Kabul-based Afghan feminist organization Young Women for Change has set up an online donation portal to collect relief funds. YWC is also accepting donations of winter clothing at their office. Details here. If you are in Kabul, you can contact YWC by calling +93 (0) 793358677 or emailing info[at]oungwomenforchange[dot]org

Photo credit: Balasz Gardi