Flash floods batter Afghanistan, at least 22 dead


An Afghan woman walks, as she is reflected in flood water in Kabul, Afghanistan.—AP Photo

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KABUL: At least 22 people in Afghanistan were killed and farmland was damaged when flash floods hit a plain near the capital, officials said on Sunday.

Normally arid Afghanistan can get heavy rain in its summer and more than 60 people were killed early this month in flooding east of the capital, Kabul.

The latest floods followed hours of torrential rain and hail on Saturday, with the Shomali plain, just to the north of Kabul, particularly hard hit.

Six of the dead were children, said senior Kabul police officer, Sayed Ekramuddin Jalal.

“We have already sent teams of rescuers to the area and taken people out of danger,” he said.

Several people were injured and about a dozen homes were washed away. Many irrigation canals and wells, as well as orchards and fields were damaged, he said.

Some of the victims were visiting relatives for the Eidul Fitr holiday, he said.

Two women were killed and four people were injured in flooding elsewhere, said Ghulam Farouq, an official at the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness.

Afghan girls’ school feared hit by poison gas

As many as 74 schoolgirls in Afghanistan’s far north fell sick after smelling gas and were being examined for possible poisoning, local officials said on Sunday.

Schoolgirls who fell ill after smelling gas at their school, receive treatment at a hospital in Takhar province, Afghanistan, April 21, 2013. REUTERS-Stringer

TALUQAN, Afghanistan | Sun Apr 21, 2013

(Reuters) – While instances of poisoning are sometimes later found to be false alarms, there have been numerous substantiated cases of mass poisonings of schoolgirls by elements of Afghanistan’s ultra-conservative society that are opposed to female education.

Local officials said the girls became ill after smelling gas at their school, Bibi Maryam, in Takhar province’s capital, Taluqan. The city is about 250 kilometers north of the country’s capital, Kabul.

The Takhar governor’s spokesman, Sulaiman Moradi, blamed “enemies of the government and the country” for the mass illness and said the aim was to stop girls from going to school.

The girls were taken to the provincial hospital and most were released after being treated, though several remained in a critical condition on Sunday evening, the head of the hospital, Dr Jamil Frotan, said.

“We have already sent samples of their blood to the Ministry of Public Health and it will soon become clear what the reason for their illness was,” Frotan said.

The apparent poisoning came three days after more than a dozen students fell ill in another girls’ high school in Taluqan. No-one has claimed responsibility for either incident.

Between May and June last year there were four poisoning attacks on a girls’ school in Takhar, prompting local officials to order principals to stay in school until late and staff to search the grounds for suspicious objects and to test the water for contaminants.

Takhar has been a hotbed of militancy and criminal activity since 2009, with groups such as the Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan active.

Since the 2001 ousting of the Taliban, which banned education for women and girls, females have returned to schools, especially in Kabul.

But periodic attacks against female students, their teachers and their school buildings, continue.

Afghan women have won back basic rights in education, voting and employment since 2001, but fears are growing that such gains could be traded away as Western forces prepare to leave and the Afghan government seeks peace talks with the Taliban.

(Writing by Dylan Welch; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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