After six months of extreme challenges and rapidly changing circumstances, Mercy Corps, The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and World Vision International (WVI) are finishing a highly successful project in Northern Afghanistan. In November 2001, Mercy Corps partnered with UMCOR and WVI to provide winter shelter and non-food items (NFI) aid to 3000 displaced families. The goal of the project was to ensure that families displaced from their homes by war and drought in Afghanistan were able to survive the winter and begin to rebuild their lives.
The Mercy Corps – UMCOR - WVI partnership worked extremely well, according to Joerg Denker, Mercy Corp Program Manager for Taloqan.
“It was a great example of the power of teamwork. Each organization brought specific strengths to the table that allowed us to move rapidly and effectively under very difficult conditions,” Denker said. “UMCOR provided the procurement and transportation, WVI provided additional aid supplies, and Mercy Corps performed the on-the-ground assessment and distribution of aid.”
Mercy Corps chose to work in the former front-line districts of Takhar Province in northern Afghanistan. These hard to reach areas were plagued by nearly three years of fighting between Taliban and Northern Alliance forces. Residents of the area were pushed back and forth as the tides of war surged one way then the other. The countryside was devastated. Many villages were in the direct line of fire and their homes were completely destroyed. Mr. Sarwa, a Mercy Corps Project Manager in Taloqan, reported that the Taliban simply burned down homes in several villages on the Northern Alliance frontline.
In November 2001, the Taliban was overthrown and Taloqan, the capital of Takhar Province, fell to the Northern Alliance and Allied Forces and a massive wave of displaced Afghans began to return to their home villages. These returnee families found ruins where their homes had once stood. Houses that were not destroyed by bombs were looted, door and window frames were burned for firewood. Widespread deforestation and depleted timber supplies made it almost impossible for residents to restore their destroyed homes.
In coordination with ten other agencies operating in Takhar and Kunduz Provinces, Mercy Corps took the lead on a multi-agency rapid village assessment. Over 35 surveyors in the field gathered baseline data to ensure targeted and appropriate aid distribution. Additionally, Mercy Corps staff worked as “field diplomats” constantly maintaining ties with local tribal leaders, military commanders and other interested groups to ensure full community participation at every stage of the operation. In the end, more than 3000 families received aid.
Arab Boy of Dashti Rohbat in Takhar Province was one beneficiary. Mr.Boy, a father of 10, was a farmer prior to the war, but had to sell his land when he became unable to farm due to the hostilities. He and his family were forced to flee their home and live in a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Badakshan, Afghanistan. After a year in the camp, he returned with his family to his village in January of this year to find his home in ruins.
“My home was completely destroyed by the fighting, but we are living in the ruins, trying to rebuild our lives. The aid from Mercy Corps, UMCOR and WVI is very helpful to us: Before I had nothing,” he said.
Mohammad Hashim, a beneficiary living in Yakazarang in Taloqan had a similar story. When asked about his situation he wearily stated: “From the day I can remember I have only seen fighting. I am tired of this fighting.”
Mr. Hashim and his family of six fled their home during the war and lived with relatives in Farkhar, Afghanistan. When they returned early this year they found their home completely destroyed. He was unable to farm his lands due to the drought and landmines. He has taken on work as a laborer in a town one-and-half hours walk from his home. He walks with his four children everyday to Khitayan where he works and his children attend school—there is no school in his village.
“With the help of Mercy Corps, UMCOR and WVI we have been able to return to our home. We have rebuilt two rooms in which we live. When I look to the future, I hope for a good peace in Afghanistan and for my children to go to school and learn.”