On a barren ground, thousands of families have settled in a cluster of tents. The tented settlement is called Feristan and is located close to Qala-e-naw, the capital of the Badghis province in Afghanistan.
"Before we were displaced because of the drought, we were doing fine. We had a good and safe home. We had enough food, and we stayed warm throughout the winters. Life as displaced is incredibly hard. We’re suffering," says Gul Ghotay, and pulls the green blanket tighter around herself. Her family have survived yet another freezing night. During the night, the temperature had dropped to zero degrees Celsius.
Bitter cold awaits
The Ghotay family is one of the thousands of families who have left their homes in northern and western Afghanistan because of ongoing conflict and lack of access to food. Prolonged drought has led to poor or failed crop harvests, and the livestock has died or been sold off in distress – usually at a paltry price as there is little meat on them.
Now, they are moving towards the bigger cities to survive. They’ve left behind or been forced to sell almost everything they owned as they moved. Winter is coming, and dropping temperatures and disease have already claimed their first deaths.
"I’ve lived here for five months now, with my son and two daughters. My husband died five years ago. My eldest son has his own family, and my second eldest is a drug addict. I haven’t talked with him for years," Gul Ghotay tells us.
Her youngest son, 17-year-old Zalmay, is her last hope, but because of the hazardous conditions in the settlement, he has developed tuberculosis.
Although Zalmay is seriously ill, he is the one who provides for the family of four. Lately, he has made an income selling sandwiches at the market.
Gul has already been to NRC’s office and warehouse near the camp.
"I signed using my fingerprints because I’ve never been taught how to read or write," she explains.
Previously, the camp was located further down the valley, near a dry riverbed. In cooperation with local authorities, we moved all the families further up the valley, so they wouldn’t risk being caught by the water runoffs and mudslides when water levels rose throughout the autumn and winter.
- Per 13 September, 266,000 people had been displaced due to prolonged drought.
- The provinces that have been hit the hardest are Badghis (182,000 displaced) and Herat (84,000 displaced), which borders Iran.
- 95 percent of the population in these provinces are farmers, dependent on crops and livestock to survive. Now, many have eaten the seeds they were supposed to sow and harvest, and they have sold their livestock to buy the food they need to survive.
- According to the UN, an estimated 2.2 million people are affected by drought and are in need of aid.
- Still, many people flee due to the unstable security situation in Afghanistan. The Taliban controls half of the country. More than 1,700 civilians were killed in the first six months of 2018, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. This is the highest number of civilian deaths from January until the end of June in over ten years.
- The security situation also makes it difficult for the humanitarian organisations to reach some of the most draught-affected areas, which again leads to more families being forcibly displaced from their homes.
Logistics and organisation
The truck with tents has arrived the camp, and our staff immediately begin unloading the tents.
Our shelter adviser, Miriam Lopez, and her team have already marked the ground for the Ghotay family’s new tent.
"Our team assess the ground and also makes sure there’s enough space between the tents to minimise the risk of fire. The families use open flames for cooking and heating," Lopez explains.
NRC is a key actor
Gul is pointed towards the location where her new tent will be set up. Her neighbours help us assemble it, and soon the brand new, white tent is set up, adding to the rows of new tents.
The familiar orange logo of NRC is visible on the roofs of the tents.
From the air the tents make up clear, parallel lines, as if to testify that there is a thought-through plan to reduce the risk of fires and flooding. On the outer edge of the camp there are a series of latrines built in aluminium.
Finally moving in
After five months in displacement, the Ghotay family can finally move into a properly isolated tent. Each tent is 23 square metres and has enough space for a family of six. The tents are waterproof and insulated with double walls and a quality bottom. The tents have a minimum lifespan of one year. Initially, we distribute 2,500 tents.
In the vicinity of the new tent, a boy has set up a simple sales stand where he offers onions and other vegetables. "There isn’t exactly an abundance of things one can do to earn a living here in the camp. Some families still have some money and can afford my goods. This way I’m able to make some money. What I can’t sell, my family eats," he says.
Some children have gathered around another sales stand in the camp. A young boy sends a long glance at some eggs that are offered up for sale. Few have money to buy anything: This is reflected by the product range. Meat is a luxury. The lucky ones eat two meals a day. Usually, the meals consist of boiled water with sugar and bread.
The sun is about to set. The children play with rocks and sticks. Some older men have gathered in groups, discussing loudly. The women sit just inside or outside the tents. They talk, prepare food and fetch firewood for the campfires.
Tries to forget their problems
A group of young and older men have gathered on a ridge above the camp. They form a ring. Inside the ring, two young men have grabbed onto each other. Wrestling is the national sport in Afghanistan, and the men pass their time whilst jobless.
"Most of us had more than enough to do when we prepared and cultivated the land, and our children went to school. Here, there is neither work nor school. The city centre is far away, and we are left to ourselves. Therefore, we organise wrestling matches, in order to make the time to go by and to forget all the problems for a moment," says one participant.