Fighting between the army and armed opposition groups regularly forces many people across Afghanistan to flee their homes in search of safety. In the eastern province of Paktia, most of the displaced families have sought refuge in the provincial capital of Gardez. After fleeing in a hurry, taking only very few possessions with them, many are in need of assistance. In order to respond efficiently to such displacements, the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) funds a network of NGOs across the country, which can channel aid quickly thanks to prepositioned stocks and resources. Thanks to this system, the NGO People in Need (PIN) was able to provide timely emergency cash support to the most vulnerable people affected by fighting in Paktia province, to help them cope through the hardships that come with displacement.
“My eldest daughter, Sidiqa, lost her leg, and her left hand was broken when a rocket-propelled grenade hit our house during Ramadan last year,” Shayesta Khan says, recalling the heavy fighting between the military forces and opposition group in his hometown, Zurmat, in Afghanistan’s eastern Paktia province. After the incident, he left everything behind, and travelled to Gardez, the provincial capital, with his family.
They arrived in Gardez during the bitingly cold Afghan winter with hardly any belongings and no accommodation arrangements. Shayesta had to borrow money from his relatives so he could put a roof over his family and keep them warm. Still, the pressing question of how to earn money and treat his injured daughter remained. “Sidiqa was constantly suffering from pain in her leg and hand, she urgently needed medical treatment,” Shayesta says.
Gardez is not a city with many job opportunities. Despite being occasionally hired as a daily labourer, Shayesta could therefore hardly provide for the entire family while saving enough money to get appropriate treatment for his daughter. “Relatives wouldn’t have been able to support my family much longer and we were struggling with shortages of food,” he recounts.
Maryam Bibi, a widow and a mother of four, also faced extremely difficult experiences upon arriving in the provincial capital. Life can be even harder for female-headed households in a patriarchal country like Afghanistan. Arriving from Paktia’s Ahmed Khel district, Maryam and her children soon discovered that life in Gardez would be a daily struggle.
"We didn’t have proper shelter to stay in and it was difficult for me to earn and income to feed my small children,” she says. “We had no extra food -- we left everything when we ran from our home." With so many immediate problems, sending her kids to school was out of the question.
Through the ECHO-funded emergency response mechanism (ERM), People in Need (PIN) was able to provide emergency cash assistance to vulnerable displaced families such as Shayesta’s and Maryam’s. Shayesta, for example, received 8 000 Afghanis (€100), allowing him to purchase necessary food items for the family, and another 14 000 Afghanis (€180) to support his daughter’s treatment.
“It is really timely support,” he says. “I can finally buy food and don’t need to ask others for things anymore. And I can also ensure better treatment for my daughter.” He adds that Sidiqa is now able to visit the doctor at least twice a month and the quality of treatment is much better.
Similarly, Maryam has received cash support worth 16 000 Afghanis (€208) through the initiative. She can now buy daily essentials, such as food and milk for her baby, and heating materials. "We now have more food, and my children can continue their education in Gardez," she says while expressing her gratitude for the support. The family also received further cash assistance from which they could pay for three months of accommodation. This allowed her to move from a tiny tent to a proper house. “I now feel much more comfortable. The house gives us privacy, safety and dignity," Maryam says.
There are countless stories in Gardez that reflect those of Shayesta and Maryam. Most of the displaced people in the city are from different places and backgrounds but they all have one thing in common: they have been forced to run from their homes following the intense armed conflict. Most of them usually arrive with very few possessions and are in need of assistance.
The ECHO-funded emergency response mechanism (ERM) provides timely and coordinated humanitarian response to urgent humanitarian needs arising from localised conflicts and disasters across Afghanistan by ensuring that a network of international aid organisations on the grounds has sufficient resources in times of crises. In 2017, the ERM reached and responded to the urgent needs of around 300 000 people across the country. As the only ERM actor in Paktia, PIN is the first responder in Gardez city.