Located in Samangan Province of northern Afghanistan, Darra Souf district was the scene of one of 1999's protracted battles between the Afghan Opposition and the Taliban. Earlier in 1999, the UN had received reports that about 5,000 local families--or 35,000 individuals--had fled to avoid the conflict. During the summer, they took refuge in temporary shelters at high elevations, but with the advent of autumn, which brings bitterly cold weather in this area, they moved to lower elevations to stay with other families, in public buildings, in caves, or in their original homes, many of which were destroyed in the prolonged conflict. Although in dire need of tents, blankets, quilts, tarps and food, the families were situated in a highly inaccessible area.
With fighting ongoing in the area for much of the year, the United Nations was unable to get assistance to the community until fall. Even after fighting subsided, access was complicated since the displaced lived in an opposition area, accessible through Taliban controlled areas. Following successful discussions with all parties, the most needy families, assessed at 2,000, were identified.
Due to location and terrain, the thirty-six trucks carrying aid had to stop before crossing the mountain passes into Darra Souf. The United Nations mobilised an army of 1,500 donkeys contributed by all the villages along the route. Villagers worked day and night for one month to move the aid across snow covered passes to those in need, risking exposure to sub-zero temperatures and bands of wolves.
The donkey convoys succeeded in delivering non-food items such as tents, tarps, blankets, and quilts to 2,000 families and food to the neediest 1,000. Semple attributed the success of the operation to Afghan civilians in the area, the Office of the UN Co-ordinator, CCA (a local NGO), the World Food Programme, response by donors to the appeal for displaced persons issued by the Co-ordinator's Office late last fall, an emergency grant from the government of Turkey.
"Despite conflict, many Afghans in the area proved ready to co-operate to help fellow Afghans. The will to war is not universal," Semple emphasised.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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