Bitter winter a killer in Afghanistan

Frostbite and bitter weather have been blamed for 650 deaths in Afghanistan already this winter.

Frostbite and bitter weather have been blamed for 650 deaths in Afghanistan already this winter.

Temperatures have plummetted to a low of -30 C, and there has been up to 180 centimetres of snow in the more mountainous regions, said Abdul Qadir Qadir, head of the meteorology department.

It's the coldest the impoverished, war-ravaged country has been in at least a decade — as far back as weather records go.

Aid organizations and foreign soldiers have distributed several tonnes of clothing, blankets, food and fuel in provinces throughout the country and in remote, mountainous villages.

Afghanistan is largely mountainous and many people live in remote villages reachable only by foot. It's one of the poorest countries in the world, and most people live in mud and thatch homes heated by burning wood, coal or dung.

Frostbite victim laments fate

In a hospital in Herat, several Afghan men lie in beds, the stubs of their amputated arms and legs wrapped in fresh bandages. They are frostbite victims.

Many of them are shepherds, who were caught when a blizzard shrouded the western province in blinding snow and left them stranded.

"I was surrounded by snow for two days and I couldn't find my way back," said Ahmad Sadiq, 18, whose uncle died in the storm.

One of his feet has been amputated and doctors have decided the other will have to go, too.

"I don't want to live like this. I can't walk anymore," he said. "It's better to die than to live like this." 

In Kabul, 70 families displaced from Helmand province, where NATO soldiers have been fighting the Taliban, live in a camp where children walk barefoot in the freezing mud and snow.

Many of the "houses" are like that of 30-year-old Fatima and her family — a rectangular hole a couple of metres deep covered by a tarp. "My children are all sick and are coughing throughout the night," said Fatima, who goes by only one name.

The weather has claimed more than 100,000 sheep and goats, said Abdul Matin Edrak, head of the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Commission.