About 10km north of the ancient Afghan city of Herat, in a dry plain, lies the village of Sarai Naw. The local people are farmers, scratching a living from crops and animals. In a country where poverty is endemic, Herat Province has the highest proportion of food insecure families.
In the 1980s the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan built a military base for tanks and 400 armoured personnel carriers near the village. In turn the Afghan resistance – the Mujahedeen – built bases near the village and planted anti-tank mines around Sarai Naw to protect their bases.
The mines made Sarai Naw a difficult place to live. Population pressures forced people to grow food on and near mined land. The pressure increased when the population was boosted by internally displaced people like Zafar Ali.
In 2003 he moved to the region because of poverty and a lack of jobs in his home district. Even with the move, Zafar continued to worry about how he and his adult son would support their combined family of 17.
“I couldn’t use the land near us when it was mined, our working conditions elsewhere were not good, and we worried how we would support our family.”
In 2009, with funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), HALO teams were able to clear almost 2.5 hectares of land near Zafar’s village. Post-clearance surveys showed that the now-accessible land is being used for agriculture, to build a road and a brick oven.
The new brick oven has been important. It has helped Zafar earn an income producing bricks and other villagers now have jobs making bricks and transporting raw materials - as well as in building homes. In all, HALO’s clearance has provided economic opportunities for 50 local families in the community.
According to Zafar, dozens of families have returned to the community and found jobs building new houses. The quality of life for Zafar and others in Herat has greatly improved.
“We have been able to save money. We have purchased residential land and built a basic-shaped house of two stories. I could buy a rickshaw which is about 900 GBP. In addition, I paid for the wedding party of my son. We are benefiting in many ways. My life is well.”
Zafar Ali’s story is just one of the many examples of how HALO has helped villages across rural Afghanistan. Not only does our work offer safety and physical security for families surrounded by minefields, but also offers long-term economic security through job creation. With generous funding from donors, like DFID, we aim to achieve a ‘Mine-Free Afghanistan’ for thousands more people like Zafar Ali by 2023.
Top Photo: Zafar Ali and his son using the brick oven built on HALO-cleared land.