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Remember the plight of drought IDPs in Herat

Reflections from my recent field visit to Shahrak-e-Sabz settlement

Imagine you spend your entire day outside but all you see around you are emergency tents and makeshift mud houses with no sunlight inside. This has been the life of thousands displaced families for the last two years.

“Shahrak-e-Sabz” is an informal settlement in Herat province with about 11,850 families. More than two years have gone by since they first left their homes in Ghor and Badghis in search for a safer place. They came to Herat to survive. The main reason for their displacement was a severe drought but some of them left due to conflict and war.

"War, conflict, robbery, and young ones dying, all of that made us turn our faces towards Herat," said an elderly female IDP who arrived in Herat a year ago. Talking to her I noticed that she doesn’t know from which province she is from. The only name she knew as being her home was Pai rab and Joma bazar, which I could not find on a map. It is probably a small village in Badghis Province. This shows that she has never left her village until now, and she is most likely illiterate. Traveling to Herat was the longest journey of her entire life.

Since there is nothing else to do, women are spinning wool for a private company. However, they only receive 40 Afs (about USD 0.50) per kilogram, and it takes 3 days of constant work. In case the company does not like the quality of the wool, the women will not get paid. "Look at the crack of my hands, they are bleeding sometimes," said one woman who caught my attention while I was taking her picture.

"The IDPs are staying on a temporary basis in Shahrak-e-Sabz. They have the option to return. For those who want to stay we will help them to integrate into the local communities," said Ahmad Jawid Nadem, Head of DORR in Herat.

In search for work, men regularly go to the city to find day jobs. Some find jobs in construction and street cleaning for the municipality, and receive 200 to 250 Afs per day. But this is not a stable source of income.

Children are major victims of displacement. A lot of them are old enough to go to school but there are no schools available. Instead, they spend their time and energy fetching water for their families and collecting firewood. Some parents have arranged marriages for their very young children, some of them barely five years old. The children have no say nor right to change it.

While walking around in the settlement, I saw a man busy with brick making. He will build a house for his family with those bricks. I asked him why he came here and he replied: "There was a violent war (back home), my house was bombarded. I cannot go back, so I am making a new home here. I came two years ago from Ghormach district in Badghis."

Mr. Basharat added: "We can't take our sick family members to the hospital because we don't have money. All of us have one or two sick people at home who need help."

Cold winters, dry summers, being in the middle of the Afghan desert, not having enough food to eat, no jobs, no schools, no hospitals, are all challenges of displacement. "The weather is so cold at night. We cannot tolerate it. We don't have a heater and or wood chips to warm ourselves." Mr. Basharat mentioned.

Because of the severity of their situation some IDP families started begging. "We have water now and we are thankful of DACAAR but it cannot feed us. If we find wheat, then there is no wood to cook it. If we find wood, there is nothing to cook," said Zerka a female beneficiary while spinning raw wool.

After two years of displacement and receiving assistance, the IDPs are still in dire need for a permanent solution. They need employment opportunities, so they can feed their families, and they need basic services, like permanent houses, schools for their children and health centers to cure their sick family members.