Taliban say 78 dead due to wintry weather in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Taliban officials said Thursday that 78 people have died in just over a week during Afghanistan's harsh winter, deepening the country's humanitarian crisis.

Shafiullah Rahimi, a Taliban spokesperson for the Ministry of Natural Disaster Management, said the deaths occurred since Jan. 10. More than 75,000 livestock also have died as a result of the chill, Rahimi said. He estimated that the Taliban have tried to reach and help more than 1 million people across the country and are "still trying our best to support more families during this harsh cold weather.”

The Taliban takeover in August 2021 sent Afghanistan’s economy into a tailspin and transformed the country, driving millions into poverty and hunger. Foreign aid stopped almost overnight. Sanctions on Taliban rulers, a halt on bank transfers and frozen billions in Afghanistan’s currency reserves have already restricted access to global institutions and the outside money that supported the country’s aid-dependent economy before the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Thursday that bitterly cold weather in Afghanistan has reportedly killed thousands of livestock across the eastern, western and northern regions.

“Lost livelihoods and assets further endanger Afghan families at a time when 21.2 millions people urgently need continued food and agricultural support,” said OCHA in its weekly digest.

Forecasts say temperatures will plummet as low as -35 C (-31 F) across parts of Afghanistan this weekend. Humanitarian groups are providing winterization support to families, including heating, cash for fuel and warm clothes, but distributions have been severely impacted by the de facto authorities ban on female NGO aid workers, OCHA added.

During an emergency meeting, Mullah Mohammad Abbas Akhund, the Taliban minister for natural disaster management, called for more aid. He said the numbers are not precise because the government has little access to remote areas.

In a separate statement Thursday, the Taliban ordered relevant authorities and government officials to help affected families.

“We are deeply saddened by that our countrymen have lost their lives in some provinces due to the severe cold weather,” said the statement.

In November, in an interview with the AP, a top official from the Red Cross, Martin Schuepp, said more Afghans will struggle for survival as living conditions deteriorate in the year ahead. Half of Afghanistan’s population, or 24 million people, are in need of humanitarian aid, according to the group.