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Dispatch From Afghanistan: An Abundance of Snow, Little to Eat

Vicel Meregillano-Hicks, the wife of CRS Afghanistan country representative Paul Hicks, reports on the CRS response to the winter emergency in Afghanistan.

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Road to remote villages in Kushk district cleared through CRS cash for work project. Photo by Vicel Meregillano-Hicks for CRS

The mountain cloaked in white looms beyond, its spires reaching up to the heavens and its crevices heavy with undisturbed white powder. It has one dreaming of endless ski and snowboard runs like those in one of Colorado’s premier ski resorts. Unfortunately, this setting is located in a country that has never known ski resorts. This is Western Afghanistan, deep in the harshest winter in decades. A winter that people were ill-prepared for. A winter made worse by the lack of food due to the drought that preceded it.

[Map of Afghanistan]

With roads covered in icy snow, vehicles bearing food, fuel, medicine and other supplies have been unable to reach remote villages in Kushk District, Herat Province. Access to the district center was also limited to the use of donkeys or walking through knee-deep snow. The district government and CRS jointly identified the most vulnerable communities in the district and villagers were mobilized to clear the roads and paid cash for their work. By paying for labor, CRS puts much-needed cash into the hands of the people. The opening of snow-covered roads enabled not only supplies to get into villages, but enabled villagers to bring their sick to the district health center.

The district governor of Kushk, Mr. Asef Sakhna, expressed deep gratitude for the rapid response of CRS to the winter emergency. CRS is the only organization working in this remote district. The Deputy of Provincial Council, Mr. Abdul Rahman Rangor, said that they were able to send a mobile clinic comprising a team of health workers from the district health center to the remote villages because the roads are now open.

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Negar Jama Khan with her youngest daughter. Photo by Vicel Meregillano-Hicks for CRS

In the village of Qala Safid, a little more than 7 miles away from the district center of Rabat Sangi, Negar Jama Khan’s youngest child inserts her hand inside her mother’s sweater to keep warm. Light streaks through one small window into a damp and cold room. In the evening, in this tiny room made of mud, a heater is fueled by burning bushes and shrubs, warming a family of eight people. The heater remains unlit throughout the day.

“We only light the heater at night because we don’t have enough shrubs to burn. Our neighbors help us by giving us shrubs and some bread to eat,” Negar said.

In Adraskan district, CRS field staff and members of the district government were looking at maps to identify the most vulnerable areas. Working side by side with the government, CRS builds their capacity to identify and respond to future emergencies. In Adraskan district, vital supply routes are cleared of snow by the villagers and CRS paid cash for the labor.

In Ghor province, the failed harvest during the summer has created a shortage of food, putting over 230,000 people in need of food. In the districts of Dulaina and Chaghcharan more than 1,000 families are vulnerable to starvation. CRS field staff worked with the shura (village leaders’ council) in each village to identify and verify households that are most vulnerable: households that are unable to work to support themselves and those whose primary breadwinners are widows, elderly, disabled or chronically ill. CRS provided food, blankets and heating fuel to these households through a voucher program.

CRS continues to coordinate with other agencies and the provincial government to provide food and other essential supplies to those hardest hit by this year’s winter. With temperatures continuing at their lowest in decades, the most pressing need is getting food and heating fuel to remote districts in Ghor Province. CRS continues to clear roads, providing access to these remote districts.

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