Afghanistan diaries

Afghanistan diaries

The desperate call for help... a humanitarian worker’s nightmare

Mohammad Khalid Besmil, FAO Livestock Officer in Mazar-e-Sharif


Khalid Besmil - 27 Feb 2022

Mohammad Khalid Besmil, FAO Livestock Officer in Mazar-e-Sharif, travelled to northern provinces as part of a joint UN mission to ensure the fair distribution of assistance in line with the core humanitarian principles.

In February, I went on a joint UN humanitarian mission to Sar-e-Pul, Jawzjan and Faryab provinces in northern Afghanistan. I travelled together with colleagues from the Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

We went there to meet informally with the de facto authorities at the provincial level and have an informal discussion. We are not working with them but they are ensuring safe access to carry out our operations. We briefed them about the UN rules and regulations for fair and equitable aid distribution, and we emphasized the commitment of UN agencies to provide humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable people in line with core humanitarian principles (humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence).

For instance, I explained FAO’s modus operandi to select recipients of humanitarian assistance according to vulnerability-based beneficiary selection criteria and existing needs. For each assistance modality, FAO applies clear specific criteria in order to select the most vulnerable households according to key parameters (e.g. land ownership or herd size by household). Furthermore, FAO pays special attention across the selection criteria to the prioritization of the most vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities, female or elder-headed households (often widows), landless people or marginal livestock holding herders.

Queues of desperation

Across all three provinces, I saw large numbers of men and women queueing in front of former government offices, begging for help. “Please include our names on the aid distribution lists,” I heard several times from shaky voices, full of sorrow, of people standing in front of these offices where we had our meetings. The desperate call for aid coming from some of the most helpless people still echoes in my ears.  

“They lost their family heads and bread winners to war and are looking for a simple piece of bread or any other little support,” some local authorities told me.

Since the political transition took place in August 2021, FAO has stayed and continued providing key lifesaving support to keep agriculture, the backbone of the Afghan economy, afloat. Amidst what has become the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, 1.37 million people benefitted from FAO’s assistance in the last quarter of 2021.

There is no doubt that the enormous humanitarian scale up has made a difference and has, so far, averted catastrophe, but it is not enough. There is an urgent need for increased assistance but above that to bring back economic stability to the country.

Protecting rural-based livelihoods in a fair, transparent and equitable way

Most rural people in northern provinces have been affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, an extraordinary drought, continued armed conflict and insecurity, flash floods, livestock disease and pests. Moreover, farmers in the region don’t have adequate access to certified seed and chemical fertilizers; and this lack of inputs and the need for modernization of agricultural and livestock farming has severely reduced the income of farmers and herders.

FAO continues to prioritize the assistance to the most vulnerable people in rural and remote villages to provide them with certified seed, fertilizers, animal feed and veterinary support, such as deworming medicine to protect their livestock against parasites. The various assistance packages help vulnerable farmers and herders harvest higher yields, keep their animal fed, healthy and productive, produce nutritious food for their families and communities, and generate income in different ways.

In 2022, FAO will assist 54 513 households in the three provinces this year, thereby protecting, restoring and improving the livelihoods of 381 591 people. I am convinced that this assistance to agriculture is a key to both address existing hunger crisis and averting a wider economic collapse.

Nevertheless, I can’t stop thinking about those needy families since my visit to the three northern provinces. Fortunately, other agencies from the UN family are also supporting them to have something to eat every day and helping them send their children to school. If children don’t have proper access to food and education, and the basic human rights are overlooked, the future of the country looks dark. This disturbing thought is continuously haunting me. Sometimes I can’t even sleep at night.