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Afghanistan Diary - Day Three

During Silke Buhr's third day in Afghanistan, she visits Bamyan Hospital and learns how important food assistance is for patients at the tuberculosis clinic. She also meets Khadeja, a woman who's found a new lease of life thanks to involvement in a plant nursery, which is indirectly helping to improve soil quality in the area.

The day starts with a visit to a tuberculosis clinic at Bamyan Hospital. Afghanistan has one of the highest TB infection rates in the world, so providing food to patients getting treatment is an important part of WFP’s work. Firstly, because the food incentive encourages people to see through the whole course of treatment, which lasts eight months. And secondly, because getting enough food is important in order to make the medicine work properly.

There are 47 patients on the books in this clinic. The youngest is Mohammed – he’s 13 years old, but looks like he’s nine, he’s so frail and delicate. He’s here with his dad to pick up the month’s ration: 50 kilos of wheat, 8 kilos of pulses and a can of oil. There should be salt too, but at the moment we’re out of stock.

I get to chat a bit with Zara, who is 45 years old but looks like she’s 80. The life expectancy for a woman in Afghanistan is 45 years.  “This food is good for my health,” she explains, “and it’s also useful to my family. My husband works in the fields, but he’s old. We have seven children. We need the basics of life – like food.”

We move on to visit a plant nursery in the Shash Pul valley 10km or so east of Bamyan centre. On a flat plot of land near a river, small clusters of men and women are preparing the earth and planting seeds.

The project is run by the Ministry of Agriculture and supported by WFP both with food for labourers and funding for the basic materials. Khadeja is one of five women poking holes into the ground with a stick and dropping in apricot stones. “Before this project, I had no idea about gardening. It’s a new skill I’ve learned,” she explains. “It keeps me busy and it provides me with food – much better than just being at home all day,” she giggles. “I’ve made new friends here, it’s fun.”

The trees – apricots, almonds, poplars and others – will either be used in community land management projects, or sold to wealthier members of the community who have private gardens. I’m curious to learn where these trees might end up, so we go looking for them.

Our quest takes us way over to the other side of Bamyan, about 20km to the west. West and up – we’re now nearly at 3,000 metres altitude, the wind is bitter and there is snow on the ground.

What we’re looking at is an “upper catchment watershed management” project, apparently. It’s a system of trenches held up by saplings (from a similar nursery project dating back several years), designed to prevent soil erosion, flooding, and to help replenish groundwater supplies. The latter is especially important in Bamyan, where all five of Afghanistan’s most important rivers originate.

The vast 50-hectare site is dotted with 20,000 trees, plus 30,000 new seeds that have been planted. At the busiest time during the summer, as many as 300 people from the surrounding villages were working here.

Soon, members of the local watershed committee or shurah arrive, led by the chief, Kodan Zahar. He is bursting with pride. “Before, people did not understand why we should do this. But now they see the results – they see that the soil is better, that there is less flooding. We no longer allow our animals to graze here.”

An impromptu committee meeting  on the mountainside gives good feedback for WFP’s work: they are happy with the food deliveries and quality. And we can be happy that the saplings so diligently planted by women like Khadeja will be put to good use.