The account of the head of the office of the World Food Program in Herat: “Winter will soon arrive, it will be a disaster if we fail to bring food to the country”
Herat is my city. The place my family and I call home. Herat is the cultural capital of Afghanistan, known for the arts, poetry, literature, music. And for the Qala Iktyaruddin, the Citadel of Herat, which according to some would have been one of the fortresses of Alexander the Great.
It is an ancient city, which has known several wars in the past. Yet, we never imagined that the war would return once again, this way.
Beginning in early July, fighting began to escalate at unprecedented speed, with the front line getting closer and closer. The first days of August, he had surrounded the city. All roads were blocked and most of the flights canceled.
Outside our windows, fighting raged. I could hear the bursts of the machine guns, sometimes the artillery. Everything had changed so quickly and dramatically, we were all in shock. Friends and family members were organizing to escape. My children, terrified, told me “Ayesha and her family have gone away, Baba”. A few minutes later, they came back to me informing me that “Rasa and his parents are gone, Baba.” What could I answer? “Nothing’s going to happen to us,” I said.
Already the beginning of 2021 was very difficult, with half of the Afghan population in need of humanitarian assistance. It is possible that the worst is yet to come.
We had the war ahead of our house, but our routine didn’t change. A colleague once joked that “what we call business as usual is actually unbelievable to many people.” He was right. It is normal for us to do our work in what is probably one of the most difficult contexts in the world. Wars, droughts, floods and, recently, the Covid-19 pandemic: this is what we face every single day. Our convoys loaded with food are always on the move, whether it rains or the sun is shining in the sky, on paths that wind through the country’s mountainous peaks.
It was not easy to make the decision to stay when fighting broke out in the city. But, for me and my colleagues, there were no doubts. For us, the biggest battle in the country at the moment is the fight against hunger. Millions of people depend on WFP food to survive, now they need us most. Winter will come in a few weeks, and WFP supplies will be exhausted by then. It will be a catastrophe if we fail to bring food into the country and deliver it to the communities before the roads are cut off by snow.
Herat fell on 12 August. Three days later, it was Kabul’s turn.
There are days when the situation here seems calmer and we go on with our usual routine. It’s business as usual again. Other times, however, I wonder if another storm is on the horizon.
Another chapter added, once again, to the long history of my city. The future remains uncertain, unknown. But like the Herat Citadel, WFP remains solid, a stronghold against hunger. As long as the Afghan people need us, we will stay by their side.
Qadir Assemy is the manager of the WFP office in Herat