Report: Afghan orphans have poor health
By AAMIR SHAH
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan May 23 (UPI) -- Conditions for the 825 children in the only state-run orphanage in Kabul, Afghanistan, are bleak.
Officials at the Taliban-administered facility say poor hygiene, lack of sanitation and inadequate nutrition has led to serious health problems. This month alone has seen at least 50 cases of skin infections and chronic malaria, a U.N. information service reported Wednesday.
Relief efforts by international agencies are limited and much more is needed to curb the rapidly deteriorating conditions. Short of the dozens of tiny faces eager to meet any foreigner, there is little indication that the 20 year-old building is an orphanage. Located in the middle of a dusty compound, the Tahia Maskan orphanage in the north of the city is for boys only.
Girls coming under the aegis of Tahia Maskan are housed in a separate facility in the west of the city. The building is marked by a lack of doors and windows, which were looted by the Mujahidin fighters' years ago. The compound is permeated by the stench of human excrement.
The school's sewerage system has been blocked for five years and orphanage officials remain in a quandary over what to do. Within the bullet-scarred building, classrooms are furnished by a deteriorating array of broken chairs. As a result, children often sit on the floor.
"Ours is a difficult task here," Mawlawi Makhdum Abdullah, administrator of the orphanage admits. "Children are humans entitled to food, shelter and health. I'm doing the best I can with limited resources," he adds.
Despite some assistance from aid agencies, resources are in short and much-needed supply. According to international aid agencies, there are more than 1 million orphans in Afghanistan due to year of civil war, 28,000 of whom are roaming the streets of Kabul, scavenging for survival. At the orphanage, they range in age from 6 to 16, with additional children arriving every day -- "sometimes 50," Abdullah said.
Of the 825 residents there, 80 percent are true orphans, having no mother, father, nor any other living relative. The other 20 percent are children whose families are unable to care for them.
Only 120 of the orphans are girls. Many families unable to care for their children have left their boys at the compound hoping they could better adapt to the harsh conditions and would at least be fed. "Boys are more resilient," Abdullah says. "We can't absorb any more girls -- we simply don't have the facilities."
According to Mohammad Yasin Safar, project manager for Children in Crisis, a British non-government organization which has provided relief to the orphanage since 1997: "You cannot imagine the poor quality of food these children are eating." During the day, the orphans attend five hours of classes, including mathematics, religion, and the principal Afghan languages of Dari and Pashtu. Older children can also learn carpentry, carpet weaving and shoemaking as part of a vocational training scheme. The school employs 37 government teachers, five of them female, each earning about $10 or less per month.
According to CIC officials, conditions at the Kabul orphanage have improved somewhat since the recent appointment of Abdullah. That is hardly apparent to the first-time visitor. While the local authorities and aid agencies attempt to relieve some of the suffering of the youngest victims of Afghanistan's ongoing tragedy, the searching and expectant young eyes of the orphans there, demonstrate that that it is not enough.
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