FAO in the danger zone
Herat, Afghanistan – "Yes, you can hold a workshop at a hotel in town. We'll need some notice and you'll have to pay for four to six armed guards to seal off the area."
The UN security officer is fielding a query from FAO technical advisor Samuel Kugbei during a security briefing at the UN's walled compound here. The workshop in question is a typical development activity planned for the €10 million FAO-EU seed industry development project. Unfortunately, Afghanistan is not a typical country.
The ousted Taliban regime fights Afghan government forces and NATO troops. The capital Kabul is an armed camp. Suicide bombings are on the increase. Kidnappings are common.
How does a development agency like FAO safely and efficiently run its Afghan programme, worth US$17 million a year, employing 400 staff and operating in sectors like livestock, milk production, irrigation and food security across the most remote rural areas in the country?
"FAO is well accepted in the provinces and villages because of the length of time we have been active here," says Tekeste Ghebray Tekie, FAO Representative, from his office in Kabul. "We haven't had any security problems – no attacks – and I think this is because the community appreciates the work we are doing and protects our staff. Kandahar is a good example. It is a risk area but we are working quietly there with no problem."
He points out that FAO support for Afghanistan's seed industry alone goes back to 1978, continuing throughout the Soviet occupation and its aftermath even when FAO had to direct operations from neighbouring Pakistan, where it had evacuated its offices due to the conflict.
That doesn't mean that UN personnel don't follow rigorous security procedures. Or that project staff aren't nervous.
"I do worry about the security situation," admits Fariha Azimi, a laboratory assistant at the Herat Seed Test Laboratory, refurbished by the seed project. "I have to come down this road every day to get to work and lately there have been more and more suicide bombings on the road."
6 August 2007
e-mail this article