At a rapid pace, Cordaid is constructing 350 permanent and temporary shelters for women who are displaced by war in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. Sherin Agha Ahmadi, our shelter expert and civil engineer who coordinates the activities, reports from the field.
What exactly are we doing in Nangarhar?
“In 2 districts we have chosen to work with displaced women, who are heads who are either raising kids on their own, have no source of income and no 18+ family members who can earn an income. Their husbands are either deceased, gone or disabled. Female staff – accompanied by men – went from village to village to identify the women and assess their situation.”
“With our Afghan partners we are constructing 100 permanent houses, for women whose family was able to procure land in one of the villages they fled to. We build the houses with bricks, cement mortar, steel beams and other durable material. Designs are UNHCR approved. We are paying for the material as well as the local construction labor and transport.”
“For women who have no land, and are now squatting along roads and other public places at near freezing temperatures, we are providing material for 250 transitional shelters that can be easily erected and last several years. At least for a longer period they have a roof above their heads, during which they can work out a better situation for themselves and their kids. And they can move the materials to other places if they are forced to flee again, which happens a lot.”
Why do we build these shelters specifically for women?
“Among the many displaced, female headed households face the toughest challenges. Women are definitely most affected. They generally have no rights to travel by themselves, to go to school, to earn an income and even to have property.”
On top of that, because of the war, they have lost family members, often their husband, they lost their house, their security. Yet those who head a household, are responsible for feeding their family members, taking care of their children and finding an income. This is an impossible situation.”
Apart from better housing conditions, how are the new shelters going to change the position of the women?
“It will improve their health, their security, their dignity. Once they have a house, they have a place to work, to produce things they can sell, and thus earn an income. Our permanent shelters have different rooms. Smaller families have a spare room they can let, creating another source of income. Some women now pay rent for the place they stay in. Once they have their own home, they can save that money and use it for daily basic needs.”
“We insist that all women we are working with, become the official owners of the permanent shelter and of the material of the transitional ones. This substantially improves their position.”
Cordaid also organizes some trainings for the shelter beneficiaries. Can you say something about that?
“For the women, their husbands, male relatives and village masons, we organize basic trainings in construction, house maintenance and repair. With our local partners, the Provincial Women’s Network, NPO/RRAA and OHW we organize several training session, specifically for women. In our legal assistance sessions, we inform women about women’s and children’s rights and the rights they have as IDPs. We address gender based violence and how to stop it, sometimes helping to refer GBV cases. We provide psycho-social assistance. There are hygiene promotion sessions. So it’s more than a shelter project.”
Where are we doing this?
“We are working in 22 different villages in Behsoud and Surkhroad districts. This means we need to cover a lot of land to asses and monitor construction work. You can imagine that, given the volatility and the insecurity coming from armed groups in the area, this project comes with many risks. Sometimes villages are not accessible. Sometimes we need to retrace and reschedule our visits for security reasons.”
“But, still, construction is on schedule. We have built 40% of the permanent shelters , and 10% of the transitional ones. We should finish by the first week of January. In total we are reaching out to 350 households, meaning about 2400 people.”
What are the costs of the shelters?
“On average one permanent shelter costs 2000 € and a transitional one about 600€. The displaced women and their families contribute 10% of this, in the form of construction materials they can collect, like gravel and sand.”
It’s winter right now. What’s the temperature in Nangarahar?
“The climate is much warmer than in Kabul or Bamyan. But still, temperatures are near freezing at night. Which is an ordeal for families living in tents, or in crowded unheated rooms. So we need to work fast!”
You mentioned the insecurity. Are there other challenges?
“We can’t cope with the demand. So many displaced people and forced returnees from Pakistan knock on our doors. We can’t help them. We have finished our assessments finished and have limited funds. You have to be clear with them and not create any false expectations. Likewise, during the selection of the neediest beneficiaries you have to stick to your criteria and be transparent. It’s painful to reject people who could use the assistance but do not meet our criteria. You meet with a lot of anger and tensions.”
“Because we build the shelters for women, a lot of men complain. They feel bypassed, some are outraged. Sure, these displaced men need assistance. But this particular project is not for them. This is another delicate matter.”
“But the bottom line is that by the end of this month, 350 displaced women, their children and husbands, have better place to stay for years to come. That outweighs all the challenges.”
Over 1,5 million Afghani’s are currently displaced by violence and conflict (IDMC). Throughout 2017, Cordaid and 6 other Dutch agencies of the Dutch Relief Alliance provided shelter, food and water to more than 100.000 Afghan IDPs and undocumented returnees from Pakistan and Iran. We did this with support from the Dutch government.
The shelter project in Nangarhar coordinated by Sherin Ahmadi, is a separate project, financed with Cordaid’s own private donor funds (Cordaid Mensen in Nood and Cordaid Kinderstem).