Cold, hungry and driven from their homes by fighting
How thousands of Afghans are being helped by Start Fund
For years Afghanistan was at the top of the global news agenda, as the battle with the Taliban was beamed daily into millions of homes worldwide.
Now, more than 15 years after the launch of the US-led invasion that followed the events of 9/ll, most foreign troops have left and attention has moved elsewhere.
Yet fighting continues across wide swathes of the country as the Afghan national army and armed opposition groups battle for control, and everywhere civilians are under threat. When it breaks out somewhere new, thousands of people can be displaced in a matter of days, causing untold misery and potential loss of life.
That was the backdrop to the Start Fund’s 135th alert early in January, when 1,800 families were forced by a Taliban offensive to flee their homes in Faryab province, close to Afghanistan’s northern border with Tajikistan. More were expected to be affected when government forces launched a predicted counter-offensive.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRS) and War Child were awarded £162,000 between them to intervene and help thousands of people caught up in the crisis – some of them captured on camera by NRC staff in the area.
Afghan Returnees in Nangarhar, January 2017 NRC/Enayatullah Azad
Families had left everything behind, had little or nothing to eat and their children were becoming ill from the cold when several agencies raised the alert.
“They urgently need humanitarian assistance in this bitter winter,” said NRC’s Country Director in Afghanistan, Kate O'Rourke, at the time.
The agency’s emergency team leader in Faryab, Muhammad Babur, who met hard-up families displaced from Almar District to Maimana city, the provincial capital, added: “They say they need food, blankets, cooking materials, a place to stay and cash to pay the rent - they basically lack everything they need to continue a normal life.”
NRC’s staff also visited homes in Almar centre, hosting more than 10 newly displaced families from nearby villages. Most were farmers who wanted to return to their homes, but the situation remained too insecure.
One eight-year-old girl, Masooda, and her family were displaced from their village in Almar district in Faryab. They found shelter in a small room on the outskirts of Maimana, and were now facing a harsh winter.
Another - Adila, also aged eight - was warming herself in the kitchen on a chilly afternoon in Maimana city. Halfway through last year the school she used to go to in her home village closed due to insecurity. Now she and her family had been forced by the heavy fighting to flee their home and seek refuge in Maimana without work, money or protection from the winter cold.
One family after another told how they had been forced to abandon their homes.
“We were stuck in cross fire for a whole day. The next day, my three daughters and I could hardly manage to escape the fighting, but my husband, two sons and a daughter were left behind,” said Fatima, 45, a mother of six, to NRC’s emergency team in Maimana.
Assadullah, another displaced man who arrived with his three daughters in Maimana, was separated from his wife and two sons amidst the chaos. He was searching for news about the missing members of his family.
Cat Sneath, manager of the Start Fund, said: "This kind of acute humanitarian emergency, that begins unexpectedly but doesn't attract widespread international attention, is exactly what the Start Fund was set up for. Thanks to our four government donors - UK Aid, Irish Aid, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the European Commission's humanitarian aid department - we have been able to help more than five million people in 91 crises since the fund was set up less than three years ago, people who might otherwise have had little or no help despite their suffering."