In the Field
Badakhshan, at the time I was there, was the last full province held by the Northern Alliance, a coalition of former Mujahedeen commanders, led by Ahmed Shah Masood and representing the government of former President Rabbani, who were engaged in a civil war with the Taliban. During late July 2000, Taliban forces began an attack on the province of Takhar, which borders Badakhshan to the west. During this offensive, and especially during the extended battle over the provincial capital of Taloqan, over 80,000 people fled their homes for Badakhshan to escape the fighting.
I was in Badakhshan to conduct a study, at the request of the Human Rights Advisor, Office of the UN Coordinator for Afghanistan, assessing vulnerable Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who had newly arrived in Badakhshan. The information for this study was gathered through interviews with IDPs in Faizabad, the provincial capital, and the districts of Argo and Baharak, as well as with local and international NGOs and concerned UN agencies in Faizabad dealing with the IDP population of northern Afghanistan. I also arranged meetings with NGO and UN personnel to collect further information on the IDP situation, as well as to verify information obtained during IDP interviews.
I conducted extensive, structured interviews with 101 IDPs, representing a cross section of the IDP population. As a woman with a female translator, I had access both to the men of the community and to the women. The interviews almost always took place inside the living quarters of IDP families, usually a tent or a small area of a room shared with one or two other families in an abandoned building, and included several members of a family group and sometimes neighboring groups as well. In this way, I was able to see exactly what material resources the family had been able to bring with them. Although I interviewed both women and men for this report, the majority of IDPs interviewed were women, leading to valuable insights about women's experience of displacement.
Badakhshan, currently and at the time of these interviews, is one of the poorest and most inaccessible provinces in Afghanistan. It has tremendous food scarcity, high levels of tuberculosis and debilitating childhood diseases, a mountainous landscape with very poor roads that make much of the province virtually inaccessible, and at best access to only the most rudimentary forms of health care and education for most of the population. Lack of adequate health care and education for women, poverty, and the seclusion of women greatly contribute to the high TB infection rates in Badakhshan. The influx of 80,000 displaced people, with virtually no resources, was a disaster for a province without enough resources for its own population, and with an international aid presence that was already overstretched and resource-poor.
A wide variety of NGOs and United Nations agencies were attempting to help this current group of IDPs. Due to the onset of winter, the extreme difficulty of the terrain and the on-going war, as well as the general shortage of aid, however, many of the IDPs were in an extremely vulnerable state. Many had traveled to their destinations on foot, and therefore were able to bring at best a change of clothes and a couple of blankets or other small items. In addition, since most of the IDPs left their homes in August or early September, they did not have any warm winter clothing with them. A majority of the IDPs I interviewed had been repeatedly displaced, many of them up to four or five times. Each time these IDPs are displaced they lose all of their belongings.