Unusually Cold Afghanistan Winter Takes Toll on Most Vulnerable: Relief Effort Led by British Afghan Women’s Society; Mission Accomplished Through Unprecedented Rapid End-to-End Private Effort Airlift of Large Quantities of Aid Materiel Into Conflict Zone
“We were up all night trying to keep her warm, but there weren’t enough blankets. Then we heard her cough. It was her last breath.” Mr. Samid Gul, on the loss of his infant daughter, as told to the BBC’s Andrew North
UPDATE: Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan ( March 24-31, 2012) - In the aftermath of a deadlier than usual winter for young children in Afghanistan, in which at least 40 children have frozen to death as a result of inadequate clothing, shelter, and blankets, a British Afghan Women’s Society air cargo of warm baby clothes, baby formula, and other items has arrived in Kabul, and delivered to the refugee camps in Kabul where many of the freezing deaths occurred. The cargo is the result of an outpouring of sympathy from Britons and people from around the world, who responded overwhelmingly to calls by the Society for donations of these items.
The cargo was transported through the generous donation of air transport services from a number of companies working together, picking up different legs of the trip. It is believed that this is the first time a purely cooperative effort attempting end-to-end delivery of such a large quantity of donated relief items has been accomplished in the Afghan theater. The donated items are being driven directly to the camps after sorting and will be put into the hands of the neediest families.
The refugee camps hold an estimated 35,000 people who have fled the violence and fighting in other parts of the country, and live in squalid conditions, mostly in tents and mud huts.Twenty three of the deaths occurred in the camps in Kabul, considered the most secure area of the country. All were children under five.
The British Afghan Women’s Society gathered over 2,000 kilos of children’s clothes and blankets, the weight equivalent of a Ford Explorer. The transport mission is led by former Newsweek special correspondent Mr. Myron D. Stokes of Global HeavyLift Holdings Inc. of Bloomfield Hills, MI, working with strategic partners at Kalitta Air, DHL-United Kingdom/Bahrain/Bagram, Aviapartner Belgium, and Fast Forward Freight, Belgium.
The Mission Begins: 0745 ZULU/24 – Liege Airport, Belgium
The airlift took-off from Liege Airport in Belgium at 0745z March 23rd last weekend, briefly stopped at Bahrain, and arrived Bagram at 0500z/24, March 24. Distribution was carried out Saturday March 31 in the refugee camps in Kabul following a news conference that morning from within the DHSA compound. The flight has been christened “Ismail’s Flight,” after the youngest of the children who froze who were named in a New York Times report. Ismail was 30 days old.
The donation of children’s items comes as relations between the Afghan government and the US government are at an all-time low, after recent incidents such as the Quran burnings last February and, more recently, the murder of 16 civilians allegedly by a US soldier now in custody. The organizers noted that in addition to the great need for the winter baby clothes, the timing of the delivery to the refugee camps in Kabul is significant, as it coincides with the Afghan New Year. “It’s the first week of Afghan New Year. This will mean so much to them” said a representative of the British Afghan Women’s Society.
Afghan tradition holds that on Nowruz, the week of celebrations for the New Year, if a person is warm and kind to their relatives, friends and neighbors, then the New Year will be a good one. As reported in the BBC by Mr. Andrew North on 21 February, “Nearly 40 children have frozen to death in Afghanistan, according to Afghan officials, as the country experiences one of its harshest winters in decades.” More than half these deaths took place in and around Kabul, the most secure area in the country.
The DHL air crew handling the final leg of the mission into Afghanistan flew into the often dangerous airspace, at risk, in order to deliver the load.
Although death by cold or starvation, especially among young children, is a common occurrence every winter in rural areas in Afghanistan, this year the world was shocked as dozens of infants and young children froze in the most populous and secure city, the capital of Kabul.
In February Andrew North of the BBC reported the story of Mr. Samid Gul, who had recently lost an infant daughter. Mr. Gul said:”We were up all night trying to keep her warm, but there weren’t enough blankets. Then we heard her cough. It was her last breath.”
The temperatures on the coldest nights in Kabul ranged from just below freezing to minus ten degrees Celsius, for refugees living, for all practical purposes, outdoors with no heat in such temperatures.
In January the BBC’s Bilal Sarwary reported of life in Kabul in general that “Many homes lack basic heating and many Afghans simply do not have enough clothes to keep them warm.” The deaths in Kabul were also reported by Rod Nordland of the New York Times.
Bringing Together a Global Logistics Team
Myron D. Stokes of Global HeavyLift Holdings, Inc. said of the complex logistical team working together, “Not only are they happy to do this, they are excited. We can’t thank the aviation professionals like Pete Sanderlin, Sean Pryce, Thomas Henry, Emil Pando, Mohamed Durgana, Benjamin Seamans, Heath Nicholl, Diana Bean and Connie Kalitta of Kalitta Air; Susan Westlake and Doug Choyce of DHL UK, Nick Mariano, DHL-Bagram, Ebrahim Abdulla and Sami Juma, DHL-Bahrain; Bob Swindens and Aurelie Seron of Fast Forward Freight Belgium; Menno Van Goch and Stef Lemmens of IAS/Kalitta Belgium and innumerable others, enough for this extraordinary effort that moved significant relief goods across the world into a conflict zone in record time. Even more significantly, I believe this represents a new humanitarian resource transport model that has demonstrably removed, via this mission, the typical and often frustrating complexities for moving such goods to the critical point of utilization.”
Stokes also commended Global HeavyLift’s Director of Middle East Operations Benjamin Ballout, who, after discussions with Ed Corcoran of Global Security and Jobs For Afghan’s Ralph Lopez, recommended the mission. “He simply called and said, ‘We really need to do whatever we can to assist’, and that was the trigger”, Stokes said. "Of course, none of this would have been possible without the cooperation of the Bagram base personnel under the command of Maj. Gen. Darryl Roberson, USAir Force", he concluded.
Stokes says he has to reserve special praise for the ground team in Kabul which required precise coordination between DHL-Bagram’s Nick Mariano, British Afghan Women’s Society Director Zarghona Rassa, Sameer Ahmad Mastoor, the transport convoy co-organized by Shahir Zahine of Development Humanitarian Services of Afghanistan (DHSA) Najim Dost, and NYE Express Marketing Director Sayed Hanif Ghanzafar.
“The flexibility and resourcefulness demonstrated in the face of rapidly changing circumstances associated with pick up at Bagram Airfield to delivery and storage at the NYE Express warehouse is the stuff of movies”, said Stokes. We’ll be re-telling the story for the rest of our lives, I think. And, I don’t believe that on their best day Oprah Winfrey’s producers could find a grander example of strong, brave and resourceful women like Zarghona Rassa.”
“Driven Away by a War, Now Stalked by Winter’s Cold” by Rod Nordland, New York Times, Feb.3, 2012
“Uncovering the Sadness of Young Deaths”, by Rod Nordland/Andrea Bruce photography, New York Times, Feb. 8, 2012
“In the Midst of $2 Billion Per Week Spending on War, Babies Freezing in Kabul for Lack of Food, Fuel.”
About Global HeavyLift Holdings, Inc
Founded in 2002, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan-based GHH is a strategic air transport solutions entity that was born of a multi-year public/private effort (Commercial Application of Military Airlift Aircraft-CAMAA ) among forward thinkers in both the private sector and government to mitigate emerging and observable vulnerabilities in the U.S. industrial base global supply chain. Such vulnerabilities are represented by the fact that no ocean-borne shipping is in U.S. hands at present, thus potentially subjecting American corporations, especially automotive, and their global operations to the whims and perhaps economically hostile activities of and by foreign governments. Add to this the risk of terrorist activities, which have, according to the Department of Homeland Security, targeted maritime operations; i.e., ships, ports and ocean containers.
Incorporated in Delaware and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) listed, (CCR.gov) it is the goal of GHH and its strategic partners around the planet to work with key logistics personnel within these corporations and government agencies to conceptualize, craft and structure long-term global supply chain alternative transportation methodologies through continuous — not stop gap or emergency — air augmentation solutions. Its most important mission, however, has been in the co-development of global architecture for infrastructure of a new American controlled industry, Heavylift, utilizing the excellent airlift performance characteristics of the Boeing BC-17.
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