Saving the Villagers Who Ate Grass to Survive
Relief is on the way, slowly, to villagers in remote areas of northern Afghanistan who have been eating grass to survive.
It's proving a tough challenge for the small group of aid workers who found them - and many more could die before food supplies reach them.
The Associated Press reported the story on January 8 following an interview with the International Rescue Committee's Idrees Rahmani, who called the plight of the mountain people a "humanitarian disaster."
Idrees, Field Coordinator at Mazar-i-Sharif, described how tens of thousands of people who've suffered from war and drought, had resorted to living on bread made from grass.
"There are 10,500 families up there," said Idrees, "about 50,000 starving men, women and children."
He says he has seen people eating a mixture of wood and straw and the roots of wild vegetables.
Food has been sent-some 3,000 metric tons of wheat delivered by the World Food Program-to the small town of Zareh, nearest outpost accessible by road. For three days, the IRC and its partners have been distributing wheat from Zareh, which is about four and a half hours by donkey from the closest of the distressed villages. People are taking their supplies back to villages or to others too sick to move.
Each family is entitled to three bags of flour-a three-month supply. For some, this has been extended by WFP to six months' supply.
Now Idrees and his colleagues must get relief to villages, many high up in the mountains, that can be reached only by pack animal or by walking.
He approached the international coalition and then the National Alliance for a helicopter.
Both said they could not provide a machine appropriate for this kind of high altitude work. The maximum load of food their helicopters could carry to those mountain areas, said the National Alliance, was one metric ton.
Idrees's ambition is to set up a clinic at the village, take some doctors up there and stock it with energy biscuits and medicine. He has approached other aid groups to work with him on this and has rounded up horses, donkeys and hired a group of young people to help with distribution.
He plans to get food to the four or five villages in the remotest areas by working one village at a time.
When people in a village are strong enough, they can help take supplies to the next village, and so on.
The most remote village is four days' walk up into the mountains, and Idrees says even the donkeys there are too weak to be of use.
The Norwegian Project Office, another aid agency, has promised 2,000 tons of supplementary food-like cooking oil and beans-when a way can be found to deliver it. Idrees' partners in the IRC rescue program are a small Czech aid agency and some local nongovernmental organizations.
Idrees and his colleagues believe there are 50,000 people needing help desperately. His rescue team, led by the IRC, numbers about 50.
Kenneth Burslem, Information Officer
Phone: 92-91-43574 or eMail: firstname.lastname@example.org