29 August 2012 - The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Afghanistan has recently completed implementation of 18 livelihood projects for returnee families in Saracha village, Bihsud district of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan.
The projects include the rehabilitation of canals, roads, protection walls, micro-hydro power plants, a computer centre, a pickle and jam production plant, and training on beekeeping and honey production, as well as poultry and cow-raising.
Almost 1,900 families have returned to the village since 2002 and still face economic hardships and insecurity. In 2011, UNHCR conducted a returnee monitoring survey and found that over 90 per cent of male heads of households in the returnee population made a living as unskilled daily wage workers and don’t earn enough money to support their families.
“The current environment of scarce jobs, food, and shelter coupled with the deteriorating security situation has brought more challenges to helping these returnees remain in their places of origin,” said Mohammad Eamal, a UNHCR official in Jalalabad. “These pilot projects aim at addressing the challenges, which include improving the socio-economic situation of returnees as well as receiving communities in the village.”
A UNHCR statement released yesterday said the number of Afghan refugees returning home in the first eight months of 2012, from Pakistan, Iran and other countries, has already surpassed 50,000 individuals.
Part of the projects is “investing in green” where three micro hydro power stations are built in the village. These stations can produce environment-friendly, more sustainable “green energy” and provide electricity for the entire community.
“This project is very valuable. Now we have 24-hour electricity,” said Ghulam Naseer, the chairman of a Community Development Shura in Saracha village.
Lack of education amongst school-age returnees is also one of the gaps that the UN agencies are trying to bridge. It is estimated that 8,300 children are not attending school. Due to lack of female teachers, girls in early teens are kept home and end up being married at an early age. To address the issue, five community-based schools and two literacy classes have been supported by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT). In addition, rehabilitation of existing schools has also taken place in the village.
UNHCR has an education-related project: the construction of a computer centre. “We are currently running the centre and are planning to hand it over to the community sometime next year,” said Mr. Eamal.
One of the highlights of the projects is women’s empowerment. Since the start of the projects in 2011, women in the community have received training on various income generation activities, such as poultry raising and fruit and vegetable processing. A pickle and jam production plant was established in the village and provides jobs for women.
“We are happy because we can work here and receive incomes. We can also make pickles at home after work. We are very poor and I’m not allowed to work far from home by my family. With the establishment of this plant in our village, I’ve had a chance to earn money,” one of the women in the plant, Shirigul, told UNAMA.
Photo: UNAMA / Alkausar