Weekly Roundup: Afghanistan’s Brutal Winter Moves Readers to Help

Photo Courtesy of AP

Photo Courtesy of NYTimes

This originally appeared in Dowser.org

As Facebook’s $5 billion IPO saga continues and Walmart decides to label all health products in their stores with a “Great for You” sticker, a less reported story captured readers this week. #

Afghanistan is facing one of the worst winters it’s seen in the past two decades.  Every winter, stories appear of refugee camps, trying to battle frigid temps. This is certainly not new.

But this year, Afghan refugee camps are seeing an increase in the deaths of small children- simply because it’s cold.  The New York Times has been tracking the story with regular updates; few other sources have reported on it and in many cases, have simply reprinted Times’ pieces.  The Afghan government, however, is questioning the reports, arguing that it’s not plausible and that there is not enough evidence to account for the many deaths. Yet, the country is known for its high mortality rate; in fact, it’s ranked third in the world for it.  And now, according to Solidarités International, a French aid group, 144 children out of 1,000 are dying in these camps.

The most recent NYTimes article narrates the story of one family that has lost 8 of their 9 children.  The last one, a three month old, couldn’t bear the chilly nights when temperatures fell to minus 15 Celsius.  The images accompanying the piece are as moving as the tale of the father burying his last son.  Their last remaining child, a ten year old, is getting sick, coughing strongly, and clinging to her parents for warmth.

Another NYT piece opens by literally listing the children who have died.  One of them is Ismail Gul:

Ismail, the son of Juma Gul. “He was never warm in his entire life,” Mr. Gul said. “Not once.”
It was a short life, 30 days long.

What’s most striking about the story is the kind of response it’s instigated.  With over 270 comments, readers are discussing the story fervently.   And some are asking for more – they want to help.  It’s an indication of how a story can incite engagement and impact.

One reader from NY writes passionately, asking what can she do to help.

“First, I applaud the New York Times for covering this kind of news and trying to bring it to the attention of the public. It is about time that this kind of tragedy makes the front page. My main point in writing a comment is to ask that everyone who commented on this story to think about how we can help…The reason I read all the comments was to see if anyone knows of a way to get blankets to these kids (perhaps a very naive thing for me to ask, but better than doing nothing). As a mother in Manhattan I know I could easily collect many baby blankets and hats. There has to be a way to get them there. And not in two months time. I just don’t know how but I do know that this is 2012 and it can happen if we want it to. Feel free to reply with ideas. In the meantime, I am emailing all of the aid agencies I can think of. Maybe some of you can do the same.”

Her answer comes in a Lens blog (by photographers behind the story and foreign correspondentRod Nordland) which cleverly refers to these readers, along with a few charitable Afghan businessmen (of companies such as mobile provider Roshan), “first responders”– people who are moving in with aid as quickly as possible.

As a result of the incredible interest, the blog lists three different avenues to help:

– Aschiana, which has programs in 13 of them, including the two camps where children have been dying of cold. It runs camp schools, providing the students with hot lunches — for many of them their only real meal of the day. Their United States fund-raising branch can be reached here.

– German aid group Welthungerhilfe, known in English as German Agro Action, has a major presence in Afghanistan and runs a variety of programs; in the camps, it has distributed firewood this winter but has not had enough money to do it a second time. It also runs mobile clinics in the camps.

– The French aid group Solidarités International also has a major program in Afghanistan and has been active in the camps for years, running sanitation and emergency feeding programs.

Retired US AirForce officer and writer, Dorian de Wind wrote in Huff Post an honest confession, after seeing these images.  He writes that while being preoccupied with the politics of the region, he’s forgotten about the plight of these internally displaced people:

“…perhaps insensitively so — I have not mentioned much about the suffering of the Afghan people.”

Moved by the NYTimes reports, he’s going to have the aid (which he normally collects for hisorganization) to be diverted to these camps via Aschiana.

While the news constantly bombards us with stories of turmoil, loss, and pain, and many readers complain of fatigue from all the negative news in the press, such stories indicate that journalism can still propel positive social impact.  While the stories are “heart-rendering,” as de Wind, writes, they’re getting people to ask – so, what can we do to fix it?

And outlets like the Times are responding, not just with more stories, but reporting from the ground on the agencies/ organizations/ non-profits, which are trying to address this issue.

Looks like the beginnings of solutions journalism.

Worthwhile Weekend Reads:
-What’s behind our frustrations with the new elite? Charles Murray explains in Time that it’s not just the money.
-Looking into Brazil’s social sector.  Letelier, the founder of the country’s first social fund, shares this thoughts in SSIR.
-How does mindful eating connect with social change?  NYTimes explores.
-The UK looks at it’s aging population and asks, why are they less likely to start social enterprises?  Guardian reports.

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