A humanitarian worker in Afghanistan, through thick and thin

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09 November 2021, Afghanistan: “I particularly enjoy seeing farmers or herders smile when they receive agricultural inputs like feed or seeds; I feel calm and fulfilled,” says Ahmady, a humanitarian who works for one of FAO’s NGO implementing partners on the ground in Afghanistan.

Ahmady is passionate about his job. He has been doing this in his country for the last 15 years. Currently, he is coordinating the implementation of two FAO projects that are assisting farmers and herders affected by drought, reaching out to over 10 000 families with lifesaving support to protect their agricultural livelihoods.

FAO is in the midst of scaling up its emergency assistance, providing agricultural inputs like animal feed, seeds and fertilizers for the winter wheat planting season. FAO is also providing specific agronomic training on wheat cultivation and sustainable livestock management to make the most out of the inputs and build resilience for the future.

This assistance aims to protect agricultural livelihoods and support 3.3 million people until the end of the year. 80 percent of the Afghan population depends directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods.

“Emergency projects are extremely difficult to implement because they are carried out in the most insecure, remote and deprived areas; however, I enjoy working in the field and with communities, particularly vulnerable and poor families,” states the Afghan humanitarian worker, who has a master’s degree in agriculture.

The expertise of implementing partners and local humanitarian workers is invaluable in calibrating emergency assistance to the on-the-ground needs of affected communities. Together with FAO teams in the region, implementing partners help the Organization keep its finger on the pulse of the situation for Afghan communities living in remote rural areas.

As some workers were evacuated in August, and management and administrative systems have been disrupted, it is people like Ahmady who are ensuring the local delivery of much-needed humanitarian assistance to farmers and herders.

A challenging job

Humanitarian work is challenging by nature, and Ahmady’s job is not getting any easier. Workers undertake their activities in areas particularly affected by poverty and widespread food insecurity. Needs are typically far greater than the humanitarian resources available to assist people in these areas.

As many FAO projects in Afghanistan are implemented in remote areas, humanitarians must sleep overnight in the only accommodation available, government-offered district guesthouses, “which can be extremely dangerous because there is always the possibility of suffering an attack,” explains Ahmady, a husband and father of five children.

Before the collapse of the government in August 2021, “our commuting had become very difficult due to armed clashes. The security officers along the road changed every day; the new officers didn’t know us, and they were frequently performing body checks and even searching our phones,” says Ahmady.

On one occasion, an armed clash broke out at the District Centre where food, tools and other relief items are distributed. The Centre fell multiple times to both sides with control of the Centre changing from day to day, but fortunately, Ahmady says, the animal feed stored there was respected by both sides and left untouched.

Changing rules

Uncertain rules regarding programme delivery by female aid workers are greatly complicating efforts to reach female beneficiaries, Ahmady says.

Things have become even more complicated as only women can survey other women in the beneficiary selection process. Yet, though “the majority of our beneficiaries are women,” says Ahmady, “our female colleagues have not been permitted since the new de facto authorities took over.”

In other areas of the country, women have however been able to continue with their humanitarian work. In Ahmady’s area, some agencies have gotten verbal permission for women to come back to work, but there is no official permit issued by the de facto authorities yet.

The change in the administration has also led to bureaucratic issues. “Since the former governors abandoned the district and fled abruptly, [beneficiary] distribution lists previously elaborated started being rejected,” says Ahmady. The humanitarian worker has so far managed to overcome all these issues to distribute FAO’s assistance.

An uncertain future

As uncertainty reigns in Afghanistan, Ahmady worries about the future. “It is unclear what will happen. Making decisions about the future is quite tough.” Workers, like beneficiaries, are taking things day by day to see what is in store. Ahmady wishes he could at least return to football, a hobby that kept him happy and active. But work is too intense at the moment: “I have not worn any sporting clothes in more than two months.” He hopes that this, and much more, changes in the days upcoming.

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