Mullah Mohammad Ayub, 42, is one of the countless displaced persons in Hirat whose heart is beating for his hometown, but can’t go there. He and his family of five are forced from his home in Bala Morghab district of Badghis province three years ago. Since then, they live in an IDP site for drought and conflict-affected families in Shaidayee camp. Some 7,000 households live in a private owned land in Shaidayee. Less than a kilometer to the east is another IDP camp that hosts an estimated 40,000 households named Shahrake-sabz. These families have been displaced from Badghis, Faryab and Ghor Province three years ago due to drought and conflict. 

Ayub desparately looks for the betterment of the security situation in Bala Morghab where he can go and start up with agricultural activities and livelihoods.  

“I follow the news of my hometown very closely through the radio. We don’t have electricity connections or a television here and I usually listen to the radio on my mobile phone that I charge with a small solar panel. There wasn’t any concerning news on my district and I went to see if I can go back to home with my family. I went there and I spent only one night. There was fighting ongoing and I was about to be killed. The security situation is volatile everywhere in the country and the media ignores many news if it is not the matter of collapsing a district center or a province.”

“It is very hard to live here and I have taken a lot of personal loans now. I am cleric and if I ask for a loan people do not say no to me. I have taken loans from my brother-in-law who lives in Turkey, cousins in Iran and people in Badghis. I have a rich and fertile field in Bala Morghab and if there is any chance to go back I can work hard and pay their money within two years or less. But we are stuck here. We can’t go back home and neither do we work here. If there is peace, I won’t stay here for one extra day. I don’t know if peace will prevail sometime soon in this country but I hope for it. This is not the life we do here. I was teaching students and we had everything in life we needed. Here, we do not even have water to wash our hands and face. We are very thankful to NRC for providing water for us. Accessing water was a great challenge for us, especially during the hot summer season. Children and women were providing water for the whole family. It was taking them hours to find a good willing neighbor who was helping us with a small water container. Sometimes we were also paying for water. Now, we have sufficient water at our doorstep. We have enough water for cooking and cleaning. We are not roaming around the camp for a water container and even the neighbors are happier that we are not disturbing them anymore.” 

Mullah Nohammad Ayub knows the importance of education and though he struggles to provide food for his family, he is keen to support his children get education. He has convinced the headmaster to admit her daughter and two more girls from the camp and teach them for free as there is no school in the camp for displaced children.

“Those who are running a school knows who we are and what is our financial status. I went to a private school nearby and explained that we can’t afford the fees you require and as their parents we have failed to provide them the education they are entitled to, but it is up to you now to help them along the right path. The headmaster offered scholarships for three girls. Now, my daughter, Bibi Amina, 8, and two of her friends Brishna, 10, which means (brightness) and Khanzada, 9, are attending class. We just provide stationaries and transportation for them. Education is very vital for children and will help them move out of poverty when they are young.”

When I asked him why is he look much older than his actual age and the reply was: “I have lost three sons in this war. Three young sons!”


Photo: Enayatullah Azad / NRC
Afghanistan

How clean water is helping to fight the pandemic

“We lost at least five people during the pandemic in this site. Many got infected,” says Abdul Raziq, 60. The lack of clean water, soap and information enabled Covid-19 to sweep through the Shaidayee displacement site in Afghanistan earlier this year. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) quickly intervened to help the residents protect themselves from the deadly virus.

Daily life was already a struggle for displaced Afghans. Families who fled their homes due to conflict and natural disasters had their hopes of a new life dashed as the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

In March, as the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in western Herat province, we found that most families in Shaidayee were reporting lack of water as their main concern. With no water easily available to wash their hands, these 14,000 displaced Afghans were at increased risk of infection.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) works to support refugees and displaced people in over 30 countries around the world, including Afghanistan. Support our work today

Giving access to clean water

Mullah Mohammad Ayub, 42, is one of the countless displaced people living in Shaidayee whose heart is beating for home, but who can’t return. “I have lost three sons in this war. Three young sons,” says Ayub. “We can’t go home until peace prevails.”

“Here, accessing water is a great challenge for us. We do not even have water to wash our hands and face.”

Mullah Mohammad Ayub, 42, is one of the countless displaced persons in Hirat whose heart is beating for his hometown, but can’t go there. He and his family of five are forced from his home in Bala Morghab district of Badghis province three years ago. Since then, they live in an IDP site for drought and conflict-affected families in Shaidayee camp. Some 7,000 households live in a private owned land in Shaidayee. Less than a kilometer to the east is another IDP camp that hosts an estimated 40,000 households named Shahrake-sabz. These families have been displaced from Badghis, Faryab and Ghor Province three years ago due to drought and conflict. 

Ayub desparately looks for the betterment of the security situation in Bala Morghab where he can go and start up with agricultural activities and livelihoods.  

“I follow the news of my hometown very closely through the radio. We don’t have electricity connections or a television here and I usually listen to the radio on my mobile phone that I charge with a small solar panel. There wasn’t any concerning news on my district and I went to see if I can go back to home with my family. I went there and I spent only one night. There was fighting ongoing and I was about to be killed. The security situation is volatile everywhere in the country and the media ignores many news if it is not the matter of collapsing a district center or a province.”

“It is very hard to live here and I have taken a lot of personal loans now. I am cleric and if I ask for a loan people do not say no to me. I have taken loans from my brother-in-law who lives in Turkey, cousins in Iran and people in Badghis. I have a rich and fertile field in Bala Morghab and if there is any chance to go back I can work hard and pay their money within two years or less. But we are stuck here. We can’t go back home and neither do we work here. If there is peace, I won’t stay here for one extra day. I don’t know if peace will prevail sometime soon in this country but I hope for it. This is not the life we do here. I was teaching students and we had everything in life we needed. Here, we do not even have water to wash our hands and face. We are very thankful to NRC for providing water for us. Accessing water was a great challenge for us, especially during the hot summer season. Children and women were providing water for the whole family. It was taking them hours to find a good willing neighbor who was helping us with a small water container. Sometimes we were also paying for water. Now, we have sufficient water at our doorstep. We have enough water for cooking and cleaning. We are not roaming around the camp for a water container and even the neighbors are happier that we are not disturbing them anymore.” 

Mullah Nohammad Ayub knows the importance of education and though he struggles to provide food for his family, he is keen to support his children get education. He has convinced the headmaster to admit her daughter and two more girls from the camp and teach them for free as there is no school in the camp for displaced children.

“Those who are running a school knows who we are and what is our financial status. I went to a private school nearby and explained that we can’t afford the fees you require and as their parents we have failed to provide them the education they are entitled to, but it is up to you now to help them along the right path. The headmaster offered scholarships for three girls. Now, my daughter, Bibi Amina, 8, and two of her friends Brishna, 10, which means (brightness) and Khanzada, 9, are attending class. We just provide stationaries and transportation for them. Education is very vital for children and will help them move out of poverty when they are young.”

When I asked him why is he look much older than his actual age and the reply was: “I have lost three sons in this war. Three young sons!”


Photo: Enayatullah Azad / NRC
Read caption Mohammad Ayub, 42, is one of 14,000 displaced Afghans living in the Shaidayee camp. Photo: Enayatullah Azad/NRC

With support provided by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), NRC has been able to provide critical water, sanitation and hygiene assistance in Shaidayee, so that these families can protect themselves during the pandemic.

“Now, we have sufficient water at our doorstep,” says Ayub. “We have enough water for cooking and cleaning. We are not roaming around the camp for a water container and the landlords are happy that we are not troubling them for water anymore.”

It is early in the morning and Rahmannuddin, 37, has taken water from the water tank for Wudhu ablution and now takes water to make mudbricks for his new makeshift mud house in Shaidayee site. 

Rahmannuddin and his family were displaced from Ghormach district in the northwest of Faryab Province. The family fled the area in 2018 because of drought and conflict and now lives on privately owned land in Shaidayee settlement. Rahman and his relatives have been displaced for almost three years and regularly had to move from one place to another.  

“When we first came to Hirat, we put our tent in Kahdistan below the highway. Soon the landowner came and removed our makeshift shelters. We tried to negotiate with him, but he wouldn’t hear us. Then we moved to the upper side of the highway in Shaidayee, where we spent last winter and built a small makeshift house for us out of the mudbrick, but the landowner came and asked us to move. Although we have sought his permission to stay on his land, he later dropped our request saying he wanted to build a house for himself there. We had spent a lot of time and energy building that house and we had to start everything from the start once again.”

“As the winter is approaching and it’s getting colder, we had to decide and move to another area. We found an empty plot here and talked to the owner. He allowed us to stay on his land for one winter, however, he warned us not to make a house on his property. We can’t survive in the open during the winter and need to have a roof over our head. We informed your office [NRC] to negotiate with the landlord so that he would not evict us during the winter.” 

“Back in Faryab, I had my own two story house with three bedrooms and a big kitchen. The house I live here with my family now is smaller than the one I put my cattle inside there. I was a farmer and had cattle. We had a normal life before the conflict escalated and the area was hit badly by drought.”

Rahmannuddin, has four daughters and the oldest one is only eleven years age, Nazifa, and the youngest one is Zarmina, one and half years old. Rahman has promised his daughter, Siddiga, 9, to marry her off to a relative’s son who is only three years older to her. Nazifa suffers from a mental problem and that’s why he will marry off his second daughter who is healthier compared to oldest one.  

“Well, I have four daughters and can’t leave them behind to travel to Iran or Pakistan for work. You can’t work here in Afghanistan. You can see the situation of my house. It doesn’t have a door and a window and my family do not feel safe and protected inside if I am not there. I wish I had my brother or father here to look after my family and I would travel somewhere to get something to them. I had no other option here rather than promising Siddiga for marriage.” 

Siddiga, small and shy only plays with her rabbits. She doesn’t have toys or any story books but only two rabbits.  

“I like to go to school, but there is no school for displaced families here,” she says. “There is one private school close to the camp, but only five or ten families who can afford the expenses send their children there. My father cannot afford our school expenses if there is not any public school here.”

Rahman’s wife is spinning wool to support her family. She earns 50 AFN ($0.6) in two of four days from spinning. She suffers from a kidney pain but can’t afford to visit a doctor. 

Photo: Enayatullah Azad / NRC
Read caption NRC has provided access to clean water for the families of Shaidayee camp. Photo: Enayatullah Azad/NRC

Fatima, 13 was displaced with her family from Badghis province two and half years ago. She and her family received a hygiene and sanitation package to help protect them against Covid-19. 

“Before the distribution we had nothing at home. We received a package that included soaps, shampoos, toothpaste and washing equipment,” said Fatima’s mother.

Raising awareness of the virus and the precautions people should take was vital in stopping the spread in this camp. Through hygiene promotion workshops, NRC has empowered the camp’s residents to play an important role in their community by sharing these messages to help keep people safe.

Abdul Raziq, who attended one of these workshops says: “We have to be careful now to protect ourselves and people around us.”

Further challenges ahead

Early lockdowns to stem the spread of Covid-19 left many without jobs and incomes. This forced some to adopt negative coping mechanisms, such as borrowing money or forcing girls into early marriage just to meet their basic needs. NRC has warned of a possible humanitarian disaster as winter approaches. 

Abdul Raziq says: “My two young sons and I worked as daily labourers before Covid-19, and we all lost our jobs when the lockdown restrictions were in place. We couldn’t find a job for almost three months.”

Abdul Raziq, 60, attended an NRC hygiene promotion workshop in a settlement outside Kandahar city. With ECHO support, NRC is implementing WASH, ICLA and protection interventions in Kandahar, Zabul and Uruzghan provinces in southern Afghanistan. Given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, NRC’s WASH and protection interventions, include specific efforts to prevent and respond to Covid-19 among conflict-affected populations. 

“We lost at least five people during the pandemic in this site. Many got infected but a few lost their lives. We have to be careful now and need to know more on how to protect ourselves and people around us. We have learnt a lot and will pass the messages to our family and friends when we get of this workshop. We have been chosen to attend this workshop to pass the messages to them.”

“During the COVID-19 crisis, we didn’t go to public hospitals. It was crowded and were paying less attention to the COVID-19 cases we have heard. There were rumors that patients were sleeping on the yard and corridors as there wasn’t enough bed for everyone. Everyone was feeling powerless in this community and we stayed at home fearing the disease.”

“My two young sons and I worked as daily laborers before COVID-19 and we all lost our jobs when the lockdown restrictions were in place. We couldn’t find a job for almost three months then the markets opened and businesses restarted. Now it’s OK and at least one of us can go and get a daily wage job.”

“We have a hard winter ahead. Previously, we were working during the summer to save some for the winter months, but this year is totally different. We work and eat that in the same day and there is no savings for the harsh winter ahead. We hope government and aid agencies support the displaced families in the camps.”

Photo: Enayatullah Azad / NRC
Read caption Abdul Raziq shares the challenges that he and other camp residents are facing during the pandemic. Photo: Enayatullah Azad/NRC

“We have a hard winter ahead,” says Abdul Raziq. “Previously, we were working during the summer to save for the winter months, but this year is totally different. We work and eat what we’ve earned the same day, and there are no savings for the harsh winter ahead. We hope the government and aid agencies will support the families in the camps.”

Female-headed households are at particular risk and as winter arrives along with the second wave of the virus, humanitarian needs are multiplying.

“The winter is approaching, and we do not have food to eat,” says Fatima’s mother. “I always worry about my children and I may lose them due to hunger and cold this winter.”

This is becoming the third winter that the drought displaced households live in a displaced camp with limited job and livelihood opportunities. However, as the Covid-19 pandemic and gathering restrictions were imposed during the summer, the local economies were impacted and the most vulnerable households fell into deeper poverty. During the pandemic, vulnerable, female-headed households were exposed many risks due to their economic situation. The pandemic came at a time when the country was dealing with a deadly conflict and an election dispute that split the government, and a dire economy that put half of the population below the poverty line.

Fatima, 13, and her family were displaced from Badghis province two and half years ago. They live in Shaidayee displaced site. Fatima’s father was killed in Badghis and the family do not have anyone to support them. The live in a makeshift home and last winter the roof of their home collapsed on them due to heavy rainfalls. 

Fatima’s family and thousands more rely on humanitarian assistance and they have not received any support in the past six months. In March, NRC, with support from ECHO, distributed hygiene and sanitation packages for the families, including Fatima’s family to protect them against the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“During the distribution we had nothing at our home. When we received the package that was included soaps, shampoos, toothpaste and washing soaps, I kept some for the family and sold the rest and bought a small bottle of cooking oil and wheat flour,” said Fatima’s mother. “The winter is approaching and we do not have food to eat. I always worry about my children and I may lose them due to hunger and cold this winter.” 

Fatima’s brother worked on the poppy field and southern parts of the country like, Hilmand, Uruzgan and Kandahar to support the family. But he has been addicted to opium himself and does not visit the family or support them financially. 

Photo: Enayatullah Azad / NRC
Read caption Fatima, 13, and her family were displaced from Badghis province two and half years ago. Photo: Enayatullah Azad/NRC

In southern Kandahar province, NRC identified the high risk of evictions, particularly for women, early on in the pandemic. With ECHO’s support we’ve been able to provide cash-for-rent assistance to 200 female-headed households.

Astrid Sletten is NRC’s country director in Afghanistan, and visited Kandahar to speak with some of the women who had received assistance.

She says: “We know that the loss of livelihoods and income due to the Covid-19 pandemic is having a massive impact on housing security for displaced people, especially women. By providing cash-for-rent assistance, NRC can help to ensure these women and their families are able to stay in their homes – a safe haven while the outside world reels from Covid-19 and conflict.”

***

In total, through ECHO-funded projects, NRC will reach 10,500 households – approximately 73,500 individuals – with life-saving interventions such as hygiene promotion, Covid-19 awareness sessions, hygiene kit distributions, construction of handwashing facilities in schools, Covid-specific protection monitoring and cash-for-rent assistance.