A Quiet Emergency

The Emergency: When a crop infestation destroyed the harvest of many farmers in the Central Highlands, thousands of families were left with little to no food stored for winter. Without immediate action, their livelihoods and lives were at risk. The Mission: Travel to extremely remote mountainous areas to reach vulnerable families with aid before the winter snow makes the roads impassable. Katherine, a relief worker with Medair in Afghanistan, shares her experience…

Early November 2016

It’s freezing in Afghanistan. Our bodies ache from the cold, sleeping on floors, and travelling hours each day over mountain roads. We have been meeting with communities to find families that most need aid. This area is so remote, we joke that it’s like being on the moon. Our urgent mission is to give families enough cash to cope with their crop losses through the winter, and seeds so they can replant in the spring. Today is the first day of cash distributions. We carefully fill envelopes with 9,800 Afghanis (about USD 150), enough for an average family to buy food for the winter.


“How far away does she live?” I ask. “Very far,” my colleague says, pointing up a mountain. We leave the 4x4 and walk uphill for an hour, with a chilling wind and snow in our faces. Finally we arrive at Amina’s home, where she lives with her son and mother in one room. It is so dark inside that I need my phone to light the way. For two weeks, we’ve been travelling into remote areas and distributing cash to families. Sometimes it feels we can offer so little compared to what people lack. Yet we know this money will help them survive the coming winter.

Late November

We’re still going non-stop. We’ve surveyed, registered, and distributed to 1,300 families—9,100 people—spread out over many different communities. We feel like we have accomplished the impossible. Yet we have 400 more families to help, and we still need to get 18 tonnes of seed and fertiliser to the most remote areas.

Early December

We leave the base for our final distributions. “This might be the hardest thing we’ve ever done in his region,” says one of our staff. “We’ve never headed out this late in the year.” “What should we do if it snows and we can’t get out?” I ask. “Leave the car and ride out on donkeys,” she laughs, but in complete sincerity. Hours later, we spot the large Medair truck carrying seed and fertiliser. It’s sitting on a high mountain pass with a broken axle and wheel. We’re in the middle of nowhere, and a whole season of snow is about to fall. There is a long moment of silence. Then we get to work.

36 Hours Later

We wave goodbye to families at the distribution point. Our driver turns up the music and everyone laughs in a mixture of disbelief, joy, and utter exhaustion. We did it. Families have food for the winter, and they can plant again in the spring. We distributed 18 tonnes of improved seed and fertilisers in just 36 hours, and trained 224 farmers. They have reason to hope for next year.

– Katherine, Medair relief worker, Afghanistan