UMCOR opens new field office in Gardez
At a ceremony on 15 February 2004, a new field office was opened in the underserved town of Gardez, Paktia Province, southeastern Afghanistan by UMCOR's Regional Director for Europe and Asia, Guy Hovey.
Following prayers by the local Mullah and in front of a packed audience consisting of the Provincial Governor, the Mayor, Shura leaders and inhabitants of the surrounding region (see photo left), Mr Hovey thanked everyone for their invaluable support for UMCOR and its efforts to assist the region. He reiterated the NGO's commitment to Afghanistan and the people of Paktia province. Mr Hovey, currently in Afghanistan as part of a regional visit to the Caucasus and Central Asia regions, also announced that UMCOR hopes to initiate a project to bring in over 500 cattle to the province as well as seek funding for further large scale assistance programs. The agriculture minister for the region, Engineer Nurin, welcomed UMCOR's initiative and stressed the need for local farmers and returning families to have opportunities for income generation other than the production of hashish and opium.
UMCOR began work in Afghanistan in 2002 reconstructing houses, digging wells and supporting sustainability efforts in the Shomali plain and Pansheer regions. Exceeding expectations in 2003, more than 8,000 families returned Gardez and the surrounding area from Pakistan, Iran and other countries of refuge. Many of these families had spent up to twenty years and more as refugees and they have returned to an area in which security is not guaranteed. In virtually all cases, they have returned to destroyed homes and livelihoods. In response to these returns, UMCOR (an NGO specialising in post disaster and conflict return issues) was requested by national and local authorities and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Gardez to assist in the humanitarian effort to make these returns sustainable.
Since returns began, UMCOR has been working to alleviate the appalling living conditions in which most families have been living. Utilising its institutional experience, UMCOR has been cooperating with partner organization, Norwegian Project Office / Rural Rehabilitation Association of Afghanistan (NPO/RRAA), in Paktia province to provide livestock and agricultural inputs for income generation assistance. This assistance may take the form of pregnant cattle with the condition that the first-born calf is passed on to other vulnerable families in the area. Other inputs include seeds, seedlings and fertilizers.
By opening the new office in Gardez, UMCOR has made a strategic commitment to both the region and the country. UMCOR is committed to coordinating with the local authorities in meeting the needs of the people of Afghanistan. UMCOR anticipates opening further field offices as its successful and innovative community and rights-based Afghanistan program grows.