Akhter lives in Hawara Raqa, an isolated Kurdish village in northern Iraq, where sixty per cent of people survive below the poverty line.
Christian Aid partner Rehabilitation Education and Community Health (REACH) has been working in the region for more than seven years. In 1997 it established a village Water Management Committee in Hawara Raqa and provided the materials for local people to dig five wells. This solved the water problem and brought other changes to Hawara Raqa and villages like it.
Akhter and her daughters own a few sheep that provide wool, manure, and milk. They earn a little by selling their butter, yoghurt and small carpets woven from surplus wool. Before the wells were dug, daily chores included taking the sheep to water as well as fetching household supplies, but the wells provide for livestock as well as people, so Akhter and other families in Hawara Raqa now have time for new activities, like breeding poultry, so they're better off and their health has improved.
REACH reports that Water Management Committees are now also branching out into new projects such as community nurseries, biogas production and rainwater harvesting. Having a structure for communities to access training and other resources, gives people control of their own development. In 123 villages, 2,500 families are participating in activities to improve health, generate more income and manage natural resources.
Now water availability has improved, the six families in the tiny village of Kona Koter have set up kitchen gardens. Sabah, and his wife Maryam are sharing a garden with four other families. Like two-thirds of families in Iraq, they largely depend on UN food rations. Last year, they had to travel 22 miles to buy vegetables to supplement their rations. Now, they're growing okra, onions, cress, eggplant and cucumbers. Maryam says, 'We do not sell the garden produce but it does reduce our expenses'.
The kitchen gardens are one of ten such projects established by REACH and Christian Aid to promote sustainable agriculture. They utilise waste water and, as well as fresh vegetables, provide greenery for animal fodder. This makes a huge difference to people like Sabah, because during drought there is rarely enough natural fodder for domestic animals. The gardens have been so successful that people in five other villages surrounding Kona Koter are planning to start their own.