Thousands of people are in need of relief in the western Afghan provinces of Herat and Ghor, suffering from the harshest winter in several decades. As much as 5 feet of snow have left villages without sufficient food, heating fuel and access to medical care. It is reported that 70 people and thousands of livestock have died in Herat province, with freezing temperatures over the past two weeks.
From its field office in Herat city, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has mobilized emergency relief teams of engineers, hygiene promoters, and field officers who set out to the surrounding districts of Kohsan, Kushk and Adraskan today. In Ghor province, CRS teams are carrying out assessments in Dulaina and Chaghcharan districts.
CRS, which already was carrying out a winterization program in the area funded by the Lithuanian government for vulnerable rural families, has committed another $50,000 of private funds to the emergency, and plans to source additional funding for a large-scale response. The agency has provided heaters and fuel to transit centers for Afghans who have been deported from Iran and plans are underway for the immediate initiation of road clearing work.
"Access right now is severely limited in most areas of Ghor. The main passes are closed, with government-supported teams trying to get them open. Implementing additional cash for work projects along secondary roads will provide quick cash to villages, while clearing the roads will enable greater access to people in need," said Nancy Hearne, CRS program coordinator in Ghor.
Food for work activities will also be of a part of CRS' relief effort given the recent increase in food cost, lack of stock in the local market, and blocked access to markets due to the extreme weather conditions.
"The rising cost of wheat is going to hit the poor very hard. Therefore, food for work, and food assistance to the very poor, is what is needed urgently," said Paul Hicks, CRS Afghanistan country representative.
This winter emergency follows a season of poor crop yields in Ghor which, according to a FEWSNet food security assessment, is likely to result in an estimated 230,000 people in need of 11,700 metric tons of food this winter/spring.
The CRS field emergency teams are equipped with first aid kits, medicine, fuel, heaters, food, water supplies and transportation to make work possible in the harsh conditions and with the dwindling supplies in local markets. They are also trained in emergency preparedness specialized for winter conditions, and collaborating closely with the local leadership and ministries to maximize the support available across the area. The Ministry of Public Works is helping to clear the road from Chaghcharan to Herat, via Jam and Dahane-garmab, which is the main way into Shahrak and the southern part of Ghor.
CRS has worked in Afghanistan since 2001. With offices in the Afghanistan's capital of Kabul, western provinces of Herat and Ghor, and a new office in Bamiyan, CRS programs focus on long-term development projects reaching some of the poorest and most rural populations, and helping communities strengthen their means for self-sufficiency and an overall improved quality of life.