The Common Good

Cold: From Maine to Afghanistan

While the mid-Atlantic basks in higher than normal temperatures, it isn’t like that everywhere. Two stories from The New York Times on the struggle for warmth.

In Maine, elderly and often disabled folks who can’t afford heating oil struggle for warmth. The energy assistance program of past years was slashed as part of federal spending cuts, resulting in 65,000 households in this state alone receiving less help, while the cost of oil has risen more than 40 cents a gallon. The basic need for heat becomes a full-time struggle.

“So Mainers try to make do. They warm up in idling cars, then dash inside and dive under the covers. They pour a few gallons of kerosene into their oil tank and hope it lasts. And they count on others. Maybe their pastor. Maybe the delivery man. Maybe, even, a total stranger.” 

On the other side of the world, the situation is far more dire. In a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, at least 22 children under the age of 5 have frozen to death. It’s been the coldest January in twenty years, with several heavy snowstorms. Forced from their homes by the war, families struggle to survive, having to choose between firewood and food. Afghan officials resist providing aid, fearing it would draw more people to what they view as temporary camps, and are reluctant to view it as a humanitarian crisis.

“There are 35,000 people in those camps in the middle of Kabul, with no heat or electricity in the middle of winter; that’s a humanitarian crisis,” said Michael Keating, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan. “I just don’t think the humanitarian story is sufficiently understood here.”

President Obama’s FY 2013

budget request

includes $90 billion for the war in Afghanistan, following on $120 billion this year.  Don’t you think a few million could be spared to keep people warm, here and there?

Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor for Sojourners. Follow Duane on Twitter @DShankDC.

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