Twists and turns. Stops and starts. Ever-changing conditions. Adaptation. Obstacles. Success.
That is Afghanistan. It also defines Mercy Corps' Emergency Support for Drought and Conflict Affected Populations in Afghanistan program.
Funded by USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, the program started in November 2001 as a $2 million, three-month endeavor to provide food, water/sanitation services and non-food items to families in southern/central Afghanistan reeling from prolonged war and drought and the unfolding conflict between the Taliban and US-led forces in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th tragedy.
By the time it ended in March 2003, it was a $6.7 million, 16-month program that not only met emergency needs but also protected livelihoods through agricultural rehabilitation and cash-for-work reconstruction of social and economic infrastructure. Needy populations in northern Afghanistan also benefited.
Poor security was a consistent theme and implementation delays at times were necessary to protect staff and assets. Initially, it prevented the presence of expatriate managers in Afghanistan. Mercy Corps' national staff held things together and, when expatriate staff returned in December 2001, they were the first to do so in the southern city of Kandahar.
Mercy Corps leveraged the generosity of the US Government to obtain complementary inputs from other donors including: The UN's World Food Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization, High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF, The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, World Vision International, and The Government of Taiwan. Tens of thousands more were helped.
In the end, Mercy Corps accomplished a great deal. The immediate food needs of 218,190 people were addressed. Another 134,400 received blankets, jerrycans, soap, kitchen sets, tents, stoves and other items to help them get through winter.
The potable water needs of 93,310 people in 437 communities were met by establishing/rehabilitating 104 tube wells and 333 shallow wells worth $1,045,489. To ensure that the water sources would be maintained over the long term, 275 water user groups were formed and trained. More than 4,219 people participated in 108 hygiene education workshops to help them protect themselves from illnesses related to poor sanitation.
Previously renowned for its fruit and nut production, Mercy Corps provided a boost to its return by establishing 41 fruit tree nurseries containing 300,000 seedlings worth $60,208.
More than 19,000 farmers received seed and fertilizer worth $493,155 to help them recapture agricultural productivity.
The livestock assets of 852,138 individuals were preserved through the support and/or establishment of 54 veterinary field units. A total of 3,602,291 head of livestock were vaccinated and 783,667 animals received miscellaneous veterinary treatments.
A total of 231 infrastructure projects, including canals, culverts, roads, karezes and schools, were completed. A total of 10,531 vulnerable individuals provided labor, working 909,074 person-days and earning a combined total of $1,588,368 in local currency.
There are many things that contributed to Mercy Corps' success: Perseverance, in-depth knowledge of the region, trusted national staff, reliable community linkages and flexibility by both Mercy Corps and OFDA. Together, we tackled the obstacles and harnessed the opportunities, improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of Afghans.