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Building resilience in Afghanistan

Aoife O'Grady | 03 March 2017 | 1 Comment

In the first of a series of blogs, a Concern team member in Afghanistan documents his journey from Taloqan to Cha’Ab in north-east Afghanistan, where Concern is implementing programmes with remote and vulnerable communities.

The road to Cha'Ab in northeastern Afghanistan along a river sub basin. Photograph: Concern Worldwide.

The drive to Cha’Ab in northeast Afghanistan is long, ‘bone-bumping’ and, if it weren’t for the foot of snow that fell just a few nights ago, it would also be very dusty. This part of the country is basically rock and dust – a farmer’s nightmare anywhere in the world. In the past three months alone, two severe dust storms have blown down through Takhar, the province we’re now crossing in the snow.

Hidden, flooded paths

On our journey to Cha’Ab, much of the road runs through or along the river bed on what appears to my uninitiated eyes as a hidden path. The snow has now begun to melt and deep, fast flowing streams criss-cross our path. Twice, our convoy has to stop to pull a car out of the flooded road-cum-river we’re travelling on. To protect their shoes, the locals walk barefoot on the snow and into the ice-cold water to push the vehicles out.

Beauty and bonding en route

In spite of the challenges of travelling here, the beauty of Afghanistan is such that you find yourself looking forward to these long, rattling rides.

You know you are going to see some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, countryside that very few outsiders will be honoured enough to witness.

Another reason to look forward to the journeys is that they are like a bonding session for the staff. Although everyone works together in very close quarters, there are not many opportunities for the idle chit-chat that the open road affords.

Never far from the office

By the time we arrive in Cha’Ab, a town that serves as the district centre, we are exhausted. The staff greet us warmly, like old friends. And, over the course of our visit, my respect for them only grows – their generosity and their hospitality are immense. Not to mention the hours they work – from 7am to 10.30pm in busy periods.

Shah Dara village market, one of the communities that the Concern Cha'Ab district team is working with. Photograph: Concern Worldwide.

The building that houses their office also serves as their home. It’s clear that both bodies and minds are never far from the job. Most of the staff here come from other towns across the province but inhospitable roads prevent them from travelling home at weekends, even though some are married with children. So, for the most part, this team spend their weekends in Cha’Ab and at work.

Poverty, natural hazards, emigration

The challenges facing the people of this region and this tight-knit team are varied and complex: the main source of income is agriculture but, situated in a valley, the area is vulnerable to floods, earthquakes and landslides. In the spring many roads are closed due to floods, leaving the markets inaccessible for many. In late November of last year, at least three villages were cut off due to the snow. And, with insufficient suitable agricultural land to go around, many of the men here move away in search of work, leaving behind households headed by women and sometimes children.

Concern’s work in Cha’Ab

Our team here is working with twelve target communities, comprising almost 10,000 individuals (around 2,000 households) living in extreme poverty, many of whom are illiterate. This staff of twelve is running five projects and 200 activities simultaneously. It takes an hour for the district team to reach even the closest village that we work in.

Check dam to prevent flooding by slowing down the rainwater in Shah Dara village, one of the communities that the Concern Cha'Ab district team is working with. Photograph: Concern Worldwide.

The logistical and transport obstacles alone seem almost overwhelming. However, in spite of the challenges, the team and the communities of Cha’Ab are delivering change. Food security is increasing due to training in new methods of agriculture and improving farmers’ capacities, leading to increased harvests. Most people in the valley now have access to clean water and, in part due to Concern’s hygiene classes, the cases of diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases are decreasing. We have trained teachers, supported government capacity and increased the number of literate people. Finally, as part of our Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) projects flood protection walls have been built, hundreds of trenches have been dug for terracing into the hillsides and check dams have been built along the main paths for rainfall flooding down the hills.

Visit our news section next week to read our account of a meeting with a 64 year old who runs an eatery in the village of Shah Dara in Cha’Ab.

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