Rescue Comes on Four Legs for Starving Afghans
They couldn’t get helicopters, but they do have donkeys—400 of them—and aid workers are now getting food supplies to starving villagers living on grass in the mountains of north-central Afghanistan.
An International Rescue Committee worker revealed the plight of an estimated 10,000 families in the remote region of Abdullah Gan earlier this week.
Idrees Rahmani said villagers were dying and tens of thousands barely surviving on bread made from grass, barley seeds, wood and vegetable roots. If they did not get food urgently, the already critical situation would become a disaster.
Wheat—1,400 tons supplied by the World Food Program —was available at the village of Zareh, but distribution in this winter-locked mountain region of no roads was formidable.
IRC’s Idrees approached authorities for a helicopter to airlift food to the most inaccessible villages, but without success.
So with its local partners and a Czech agency, IRC mounted a delivery campaign which became a race against time. Village people at Zareh (spelled “Zari” in some media reports) rounded up 400 donkeys, which the IRC hired—together with some 50 local workers—and began moving the wheat up the mountains.
The World Food Program has sent a team to Zareh to assess food needs and advise on how to deliver the wheat.
The IRC has also sent doctors to check on health needs and set up a clinic to provide care and high protein food for nursing mothers and babies.
At the same time hundreds of villagers—those who are strong enough—have been streaming down to Zareh to collect their desperately needed food: a three-month allotment of wheat flour. It will be increased later to a six-month supply.
The Norwegian Project Office, another aid agency, has promised 2,000 tons of beans, cooking oil and fortified biscuits.
Meanwhile, the IRC team and partners are leading their food laden donkeys over winding mountain trails, seeking out isolated villages, the sick and weak. Rain has made progress tricky, but the snow is holding off. “If we get snow, ”says Idrees, “it will make life miserable.”
Another problem is estimating just how many people need help. Because of security problems during the Taliban period, aid agencies have not done a population assessment there since 1990.
For the IRC team this means they do not know exactly how many villagers need help, even exactly where to find them in this harsh region. But, with their 400 donkeys, they’re working on it.