HL Last Day of U.N. Giveaway /
Pregnant Women in Kabul Food Riot
Credit: Los Angeles Times
SO THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE (SFC)
Origin: Kabul, Afghanistan
LP Kabul, Afghanistan For 13 sacks of flour, pregnant women tore at each other yesterday and children screamed and beat each other. Infants were crushed in their mothers' arms as the women reached out desperately. It was the final day of a two-month effort by the U.N. to feed the most desperate people in Kabul - pregnant women and mothers of children under age 3. When the last sack of flour was thrown off the truck just after 11 a.m., completing a program that was as controversial as it was critical, the riot that erupted outside the Alluddin Clinic in southern Kabul provided a stark illustration of human despair in this besieged capital. Since the rebels began trying to cut Kabul off from the rest of the country in February - a move timed to coincide with the withdrawal of the last Soviet troops February 15 - the price of basic commodities has doubled and in some cases tripled. SHORTAGES COMMONPLACE Shortages, bread lines and undernourishment quickly became commonplace in the city's poorer quarters. The little food that is getting in apparently is going largely to the military and members of the ruling party, who themselves are on a razor-thin margin of survival. Reacting to the crisis, the U.N. coordinator for the * reconstruction of Afghanistan, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, issued an appeal in February for an internationally financed emergency program to feed the people critically in need. The only country that responded was the Soviet Union. That country, President Najibullah's closest ally, which had pledged $600 million to the U.N. reconstruction fund, delivered 225 tons of wheat and 300 tons of sugar to Kabul to get the emergency feeding program started. An additional appeal from Sadruddin for volunteers to airlift food supplies into Kabul fared even worse. Many nations feared that the rebels would try to shoot down the aircraft. Others refused for political reasons. Unofficially, the United States and other Western governments, which refuse to recognize the Najibullah government, made it clear that they would not support the program because it would prolong Najibullah's rule. But they offered no objection, provided the food program was limited to pregnant women and children. FLOUR AND SUGAR Under the program, the United Nations has distributed about 20 pounds of flour and six pounds of sugar apiece to 20,000 of the hundreds of thousands of women who qualify for the aid. Because of the limited supplies, the U.N. people have had to ration the flour and sugar. They have issued coupons to only 500 of the more than 3,000 mothers registered at each clinic. Even so, the supplies were enough for only a single distribution at 30 of the 36 clinics. Until its final moments, yesterday's two-hour distribution at the Alluddin Clinic was for the most part orderly and efficient. The problem came at the end, when 13 of the 500 women registered either failed to show up or got lost in the mass of humanity surrounding the truck. As the men in the truck hefted the last 13 sacks of flour and tossed them into the sea of outstretched hands, the riot started. One woman nearly lost her clothes when she climbed up a chain at the back of the truck, reached in and grabbed a sack of flour, only to have it torn from her hands when she reached the ground. ""This is the worst I've seen it," Sher Jan-Mayar, the Afghan supervisor of distribution, said, pulling free of the crowd as dozens of women shrieked and wept and reached out for him. ""I feel lucky to have got out whole."
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