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Target: Terrorism - Afghanistan Refugees' Health a Big Concern

Aired October 2, 2001 - 06:05   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Inside Afghanistan forces are building. As many as a million to a million and a half Afghan refugees are fleeing that country fearing military strikes. The United Nations has announced the construction of new camps, one which could take as many as 10,000 people. That is just a drop in the bucket because the U.N. is also saying they could expect refugees at a hundred different points all along the Pakistani border. It's a question of where people are going to come out of that country.

So we've got Kyra Phillips at the big map. She's going to explain more about what these people are going through and where they might be coming out of -- Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol.

LIN: Morning.

PHILLIPS: Well, the refugee crisis has been building for decades, first with decades of fighting and then in the last few years drought has added to their misery.

Let's take a look at the animation here. It's getting harder for them to get that help, too. Relief organizations have been forced from the areas that the Taliban controls. This only leaves a small portion of the country where they're allowed to deliver help. Now the orange highlighted part of the map is the area that's under the Northern Alliance control and it's only 5 percent of the country.

Now by expert estimates, the fears of a pending military strike could push more than three million people to flee from the country. But how are these refugees getting out? Well, the Pakistani border is -- or the Pakistani border is officially closed, but we're told that the largest numbers of people are making their way through the Khyber Pass and that's located right here, as you can see on our map. And this -- now this 33-mile strip here west of Kabul is very difficult to cross. At one point the pass is only three yards wide and it makes for very rough conditions.

So just how are these refugees able to survive? Well joining me now is CNN's medical correspondent Rea Blakey.

Good morning, Rea.

REA BLAKEY, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kyra. The physical toll on these people can be quite severe. The humanitarian medical group, the Doctors without Borders, says even before the evacuation -- their evacuation from Afghanistan -- and that was immediately following the September 11 attacks, there was widespread malnutrition, there were outbreaks of scurvy, which we haven't heard of in the U.S. in millennia it would seem. There's cholera, measles. The circumstance is extremely dire there and that's even before the attack, so you can imagine the stress that it would put on a human body physically to have to make its way across what could be very difficult mountainous terrain.

PHILLIPS: Those physical conditions, Rea, what exactly do they go through? What are the symptoms?

BLAKEY: Well, what you're going to probably see will be a great deal of stress on the immune system, quite frankly. Many of the displaced people will endure walking daily marathons, walking for days, maybe even weeks to reach one of these camps. They will be burning up a very limited amount of physical fuel that they have. As you mentioned, a drought there has been going on for about four years now which basically means that the reserves the body has are pretty much depleted. These folks are running on empty, many of them only with the clothing on their backs.

The housing circumstances there will be very limited. It will be difficult for them to stay warm during the winter, and so we're talking about the possibility of mass starvation, even though food supplies are on the way, and the possibility of epidemics from things like cholera and measles sweeping through a crowded camp.

PHILLIPS: Now how long could someone survive under these conditions, Rea, and does age play a part here?

BLAKEY: Age will be a very important determinate, but there are other things as well. Obviously the extremely young and the extremely old are always the most vulnerable in a population like this. Immediately, the food supplies will be a general distribution, but it's very likely that there may be distributions specifically for the extremely young and the extremely old. Those people will be extremely vulnerable.

The issue really becomes how does one individual's personal physical being deal under stress. And again, these are people who have seen some 20 years of war, 4 years of drought, it will be extremely difficult for many of these folks not only to make the trek but to survive once they're in the camp conditions. It will be tough.

PHILLIPS: And, Rea, I've got to ask you this, the human spirit, just the will to survive obviously plays a huge part here.

BLAKEY: It absolutely will and I think that will be a huge determinant. Obviously there are going to be a need for medications like oral rehydration. There will be a need for a large number of antibiotics to fight things like pneumonia, which will definitely come as the winter encroaches. But again, the human spirit oftentimes shows us many things that we don't anticipate medically or physically. And so the will to survive, which obviously many of these people do have just because they've endured the conditions they have, could play a very large role in whether or not they're able to see next spring healthy and well.

PHILLIPS: That would be the good news.

Rea Blakey, thank you so much.

All right, Leon, back over to you.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you, Kyra. We'll check back with you a little bit later on.

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