KABUL, Afghanistan -- The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Sunday distributed emergency cold-weather supplies to families in a refugee camp where two days earlier a 3-year-old died of exposure to the freezing temperatures.
But camp leaders and Afghan government officials criticized the aid delivery as inadequate to protect residents from the weather and to prevent more deaths.
Last winter, more than 100 children died of the cold in refugee camps around Kabul, with 26 dying in the Charahi Qambar camp alone. That is the same camp where the 3-year-old died on Friday; it was the first confirmed death because of the cold this winter.
The distribution of supplies at the camp, which is home to about 900 families in western Kabul, had been scheduled before news reports about the child's death, said Mohammad Nader Farhad, a spokesman for the United Nations refugees agency in Kabul.
On less than an hour's notice, the agency convened a news conference with Afghan government officials at the camp to announce the distribution.
Each family was given warm children's clothing, blankets, tarps, cooking utensils and soap. Separately, other aid groups, financed by the United Nations and other donors, will be distributing charcoal once every month through February, officials said.
United Nations officials acknowledged, however, that the fuel distributions in themselves were not enough to heat the mud and tarp huts throughout the season, and there were no plans to distribute food to the families. In most cases the men, who are largely war-displaced refugees, are unable to find day labor work in the cold weather, so they are usually unable to buy food.
"We are happy to receive this," said Tawoos Khan, one of the camp representatives. "But we want food, and we need more fuel; we have all run out of firewood and charcoal." He and other camp officials said large sacks of charcoal were distributed to every family more than two weeks ago, but supplies had run out.
"It's supplementary," said Douglas DiSalvo, a protection officer with the United Nations agency who was at the Charahi Qambar camp. "People have some level of support they can achieve for themselves."
Mr. Farhad said: "The assistance we are providing, at least it is mitigating the harsh winter these families are experiencing right now."
The estimated 35,000 people in 50 camps in and around Kabul are not classified as refugees from an international legal point of view, but as "internally displaced persons." Since the United Nations agency's mandate is to primarily help refugees -- defined as those who flee across international borders -- has not provided support to the Kabul camps in the past. That changed late last winter when the Afghan government asked it to do so in response to the emergency conditions that were taking so many lives.
This year, the agency is spearheading the effort to supply the camps, along with the Afghan government's Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, other United Nations agencies, and several aid groups, in order to prevent a recurrence of the crisis last winter.
Ministry officials, however, criticized the effort on Sunday -- even though they were among the sponsors. "We have never claimed that we provided the internally displaced Afghans with sufficient food items, clothing or means of heat. We admit this. What the internally displaced people have received so far is not adequate at all," said Islamuddin Jurat, a spokesman for the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation.
"Before the arrival of harsh winter, we asked the international community and donor countries to help the internally displaced people, and luckily today U.N.H.C.R. provided them with some humanitarian assistance, but again we believe it's not sufficient at all," he added.
Both aid officials and the Afghan government have said they are wary about providing too much aid for fear that it would encourage more people to leave their homes. That fear has also been why the Afghan government has refused to allow permanent buildings to be erected in the camps, many of which are five or more years old.
"The illegal nature of these squatter settlements poses an obstacle to more lasting interventions and improvements," said Mr. Farhad of the United Nations refugees agency. "Coordination this year has been very strong, and we expect that the multiagency effort will help us to detect and respond to particular problem areas as the winter progresses."
Little is provided in the way of food aid. The only food aid in the Charahi Qambar camp is a hot lunch program for 750 students at a tented school run by Aschiana, an Afghan aid group.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is providing the cold-weather packages to 40,000 families, 5,000 of them in the Kabul camps, at a cost of $6 million. Other Kabul camps will receive distributions in the next two days, Mr. Farhad said.
The packages, which cost about $150 each, include two tarpaulins, three blankets, six bars of soap, a cooking utensils set, and 26 items of clothing ranging from jackets and sweaters to socks and hats, mostly for children.
Taj Mohammad, the father of the child who died, Janan, said Sunday that he believed that his son might have survived if the cold-weather kit had arrived earlier. But like many of the refugees, he was critical of its contents, which he said were hard to sell in exchange for food.
"I didn't know a package costs $150," he said. "It's a lot of money. It would have been much better if they had given us the money, and we would have spent it on what we need the most."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.