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Fresh Challenges to Aid Agencies in Afghanistan

Bad weather has hampered relief operations in Afghanistan. Remote regions are hardly accessible. Six million people are going hungry, many are close to starvation.

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Blanket of snow covers Hindu Kush mountains

Harsh weather was expected in the mountainous region and the international aid agencies on the ground have been working for months to prepare for the onset of winter.

It has been a race against the clock to co-ordinate relief efforts. Since early October, the UN’s World Food Programme has delivered more than 200,000 tonnes of food.

It has chartered four helicopters for the job and the going is still tough. A thick blanket of snow now covers the jagged peaks of the mountainous country. Four helicopters just aren’t enough.

The UN brought in snow-clearing equipment including two huge bulldozers. But still, some places are only accessible by donkey caravan. And they are slow.

"We can’t take 100 percent preventative measures because we can’t control the weather", Khaled Mansour, a regional World Food Programme spokesman told Reuters. "But we have tried to prepare for this."

Avalanche kills four, traps hundreds

There are many pitfalls in the relief operation. An avalanche at the tunnel on the main road out of Kabul to the north trapped hundreds of travellers and killed at least four people on Wednesday.

A British landmine-clearing agency came to the rescue with two bulldozers, saving what observers said were hundreds of lives. Their timely appearance made the sheer scale of the mission in Afghanistan all the more mind-boggling.

Afghanistan is littered with an estimated 10 million land mines, the product of 23 years of war. And that was before US planes dropped thousands of pounds of explosives in four months of bombardment after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

"Our problem is not the ones that worked," said Sean Moorhouse, a bomb disposal expert working for the UN World Food Programme.

"It's the ones that didn't." The bombs that failed to explode on impact are now lying in wait, a daily danger to curious children, wandering shepherds and refugees who stumble across them.

His work has only just begun.