Kabul: Broken City Struggles to Survive : Afghanistan: Soviet invaders are long gone, but Muslims continue to feud. The result is hunger, homelessness and death.


Shy, smiling Naqibullah seems like most youngsters until he raises his right pant leg, exposing a plastic prosthesis--a rocket blew off the leg and mauled the other with shrapnel.

Asked how he feels about the people who wounded him, the 8-year-old boy says, finally, "I hope God will cut off their leg like me."

Tousle-haired Naqibullah was wounded two years ago as he played in a road here in the Afghan capital, one more victim of the pitched warfare among Afghanistan's feuding Muslim militias. The fighting has left much of the city and the country a shambles.

Maimed bodies, hunger, homelessness, sickness, want and more than 20,000 dead. This is the legacy of the struggle for power in Afghanistan.

Home for Naqibullah and his mother, Zovinum, and for hundreds of other people in north Kabul who have lost their homes in the fighting, is an unheated, concrete school building. The refugees have only plastic sheeting to cover the windows against the piercing night cold.

Every Tuesday, a mobile clinic from the Afghan Red Crescent Society comes to the school. Dr. Abdul Ahat deals with the health problems of those who don't have the money to buy food and who hunker down at night on a piece of cardboard to sleep.

"They simply don't have the facilities to keep warm," said Ahat, 35, as women in shawls, anxious expressions on their windburned faces, waited with their children for the doctor's care.

Ahat estimates that 20% of the children he sees are malnourished; a 2-year-old he examined two weeks ago weighed just 11 pounds. People in Kabul suffer from amoebic dysentery and giardiasis, an intestinal infection, because of a lack of clean water for washing and other sanitation problems. Meanwhile, freezing winter temperatures have spread bronchitis and pneumonia.

"Warmer weather will bring relief from the cold," Ahat explained, "but also a threat of new illness, including malaria."

International aid agencies estimate the population of Kabul and its environs at 1.4 million; half of these people have been driven from their homes by the fighting here or elsewhere in the country and forced to seek shelter and food where they can. Some have moved a dozen times or more to flee the battling.

The United States poured hundreds of millions of dollars into arming the now-feuding Muslim groups when they were combatting the Soviet-backed Communist regime in the 1980s. Washington also helped the victims of war but last summer pulled the plug on grants to non-governmental agencies providing the aid.

Kabul's humanitarian needs have become so vast and pressing, however, that American aid began flowing to the people of Kabul again last week, albeit on a very modest scale.

To provide some relief against the winter cold, CARE, a U.S.-based international charity, began distributing blankets and plastic sheeting brought in from neighboring Pakistan to assist 12,000 needy families; the agency will also provide food to 5,000 impoverished widows.

The State Department's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has paid $800,000 for half the CARE programs' costs, said Stephen Masty, the charity's emergency relief coordinator. But he said the United States has a "moral responsibility" to do much more.

"The United States isn't responsible for the Soviets invading Afghanistan," Masty said. "But we are responsible for arming these militias that grew into Frankenstein."

There is no electricity in Kabul, save for at a few government offices and international aid agencies that are equipped with diesel generators. Firewood has become so costly that one aid worker estimated that 60% of residents' earnings go toward purchasing it.

Poverty is a widespread consequence of the protracted warfare. Najiba, 30, a mother of seven children and now expecting her eighth, lost her home in the fighting. Her husband can only get sporadic employment as a watchman.

"Sometimes, when my husband finds work, we can buy food," said the gaptoothed woman, who huddled under a raspberry-colored cloak to keep out a pervasive morning chill. "But we have to beg when he can't. Otherwise, the children cry."

They live with seven other people in a schoolroom that is cold even during the day. Najiba says she doesn't care who ends up in control of the city or all of Afghanistan. "We are just afraid of the fighting," she said. "It doesn't matter who's in charge. What's important is peace--that there be no more war."

Ironically, there is food in abundance in Kabul's roadside stalls and markets, from potatoes and oranges to eggs and sheep carcasses. But people who have lost their homes, belongings and occupations in the fighting, and even government workers who have a job but haven't been paid in months, can afford little.

"They are a nation surviving on bread and tea," said Bob McKerrow, head of the Kabul delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

A father approached some Western reporters last week with his 6-year-old son and showed them the boy's left forearm. A shell fragment was lodged in the flesh, and the arm, apparently infected, had ballooned. The father asked for help, saying he could not afford the care to remove the metal sliver from his son's arm. He quoted the price of the operation--less than $7.

For 14 months, a woman in her 60s has been living in an unheated room at the school here with another family displaced by the war. Wrapped in a black shawl, she walked barefoot on the room's cold concrete because her only shoes are so decrepit she wears them only outside.

In south Kabul, the rows of brick buildings that once lined wide avenues were pummeled into huge mounds of rubble by rocket barrages when forces loyal to President Burhanuddin Rabbani slugged it out last year with a rival militia, the Hezb-i-Islami.

For people like aid worker McKerrow, who first came to Afghanistan 19 years ago and speaks wistfully of the graceful garden city ringed by flowering peach and apricot trees, the destruction is frightening. "The whole country has just been torn apart," the New Zealander said.

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