London, May 1 : Scientists have attributed the doubling of health problems in Afghanistan in the last two years to use of weapons containing depleted uranium (DU) by the US-led coalition that invaded the country in 2001.
According to a report by the BBC World Service, a Canadian research group found very high levels of uranium in Afghans during tests just after the invasion.
Though a US forces spokesman denied its weapons were affecting the health of Afghans or the country's environment, claims made in the BBC World Service One Planet programme suggest that the invasion may have left an unwelcome legacy for the country's environment and the health of its people.
Doctors in Kabul and Kandahar showed data indicating that the incidence of a number of health conditions, including birth defects, has doubled in under two years.
"We have premature births and malformations," said one doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, in one of the main maternity and neo-natal hospitals in the country.
"Malformations include neural tube defects and malformation of limbs; for example, the head is smaller than normal, or the head is larger than normal, or there is a big mass on the back of the baby. We don't know what is the cause of these malformations," he added.
But, the Canada-based Uranium Medical Research Centre (UMRC) believes the cause might be depleted uranium.
According to Asaf Durakovic, URMC's president and a former US army adviser, exposure to DU weapons may have brought a rise in birth defects as well as symptoms of muscular-skeletal pains, immune system disorders, lung disease, and eventually cancer.
Depleted uranium and natural uranium contain different ratios of two isotopes of the metal. o scientists can tell whether a person has been exposed to the natural form, or to DU.
Dr Durakovic said his research showed that in Afghanistan, coalition forces had also used DU in "bunker buster" bombs, which can penetrate tens of metres into the soil. "In Afghanistan, it has to be a weapon that destroys not only bunkers or caves, but also penetrates through the soil and through the fragile environment of the mountains," he said.
As for measures that need to be taken to counter the health problems of the people, Durakovic said that the best thing is to relocate the population. "People have to be moved from the areas that have been highly contaminated to safe areas to provide medical testing and medical care," he said.