Easing 'broth from soil' era inside Afghanistan

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Unusual among relief operations are the efforts by French agencies to bring medical assistance and supplies directly to regions cutoff inside Afghanistan. Most Afghan refugees in Pakistani camps come from Kabul or the frontier provinces such as Kunar, Nangarhar, Paktia, Ghazni, and Zabul. Tribesmen in Hazarazat in central Afghanistan or Nuristan to the north have been more or less leading their own struggle for survival against the regime.

Earlier this year, numerous reports emerged of massive starvation among Afghans as a result of military blockades. destitute Hazara families were said to be making broth and other foods out of the salty soil surfaces. More recent reports, however, indicate that tribesmen have been managing to hold their own against the Soviets despite severe shortages. The most urgent need is for medical personnel and supplies to treat the sick and wounded.

Over the past few months, the Paris-based Action Internationale Contre la Faim (AICF) sent six caravans of food, medicine, shoes, and white cloth (needed for wrapping dead bodies) into the war-wracked, isolated interior. They were accompanied by doctors from the Aide Medical International, Medecins Sans Frontieres, and Medecins du Monde.

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On one occasion AICF representatives were also sent in with funds to enable Afghan intermediaries to buy supplies for impoverished tribesmen from sources in Kabul and other towns. According to French reports, a flourishing black market exists among Soviet occupation troops within Afghanistan. One can buy most basic items, reports one recently returned Frenchman, who adds: "It saves having to organize mule or porter caravans to transport supplies from Pakistan into the interior."

French relief teams point out that while making their way through Afghan territory, they often had to travel by night or make long detours to escape detection by government or rival political informers.

In one case, a caravan had to flee members of the fundamentalist Hizb-e Islam faction. The supply operations cost more than $137,000 and are the only ones foreign agencies have conducted inside Afghan territory.

French doctors touring Afghanistan maintain that there is a desperate shortage of medical care. In addition, some regions are a good 30-day hike through rugged, mountainous territory to the nearest aid center -- an almost impossible feat for someone seriously wounded in poor physical condition. AICF officials say they will probably organize more caravans next spring, after the winter snows have melted.

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