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Afghanistan Humanitarian Bulletin Issue 84 | December 2020 - February 2021

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From ruins to a home: displaced and returning Afghans get help to build shelter

Contribution from UNHCR Mohammad Daud and his family fled fighting and insecurity and settled in the southern province of Kandahar more than eight years ago. But until recently, they still lacked a secure roof over their heads. “We shifted from one ruin to another. This was our life – moving from one place to another,” recalled Mohammad, 65 years old, whose family of 15 includes his wife, children and their spouses, and grandchildren.

He said their last home was so close to collapse that he had to warn the children not to sit too close to the crumbling walls. Yet, despite the state of disrepair, the owner doubled the rent and threatened to evict them when they could not pay. Mohammad’s experience is all too common in Afghanistan, where close to 400,000 people were internally displaced by conflict in 2020 alone. Some are able to move in with relatives, but most have to make do in ramshackle shelters or tents in informal settlements or cramped and unaffordable rental accommodation that often lacks running water and toilets. Conditions are especially difficult during Afghanistan’s scorching summers and freezing winters. Across the country, displaced people report the need for shelter as one of their biggest priorities, second only to food.

The need for shelter is equally urgent for nearly six million former refugees who have returned to Afghanistan over the last two decades. Sardar Bibi and her family lived as refugees in neighbouring Pakistan for several decades before returning to Afghanistan three years ago. “We arrived in Kandahar with nothing: no work, no land, no food or property,” said Sardar Bibi. Her family of 12 as well as her daughter’s family of nine all lived in a single room. “Life was hard back then,” she said.

Both families received cash grants from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to build their own homes. The Cash for Shelter project, which was piloted with 600 vulnerable displaced and returnee households, provides families with a US$3,300 cash grant and technical assistance to construct a two-room shelter that includes a bathroom. The cash is provided in three installments as building progresses.

Both families used some of the money to hire local construction workers. With the help of family members, their homes were built within three months. Mohammad’s sons gained masonry skills in the process which they used to build an additional room as well as a kitchen, toilet, and perimeter wall.

Faced with the threat of eviction, Mohammad and his family moved into their new home before it was even completed. “The walls were still wet when we started living in the house,” he said. “We covered the floor of one room with a plastic sheet… the rooms were windowless.” Sardar Bibi and her family also moved into their new home before it was finished, leaving her daughter’s family to take over the old room. “When we came to the new place, there was enough space for everyone,” she said.

Not long after both families had settled into their new homes, the COVID-19 pandemic brought new hardships. Mohammad’s two sons, who were supporting the family as daily wage labourers (earning US$3 a day), were not able to work because of lockdown measures and the family had to borrow money to get by. The impacts of COVID-19 have also seen the price of staple foods increase. “Prices are higher,” said Sardar Bibi. “We cannot afford anything, not even dinner.” The spread of coronavirus in Afghanistan has amplified the need for shelters with adequate space, running water and toilets. The pandemic is only the latest difficulty facing people in Afghanistan who have endured 40 years of conflict, displacement, political instability and natural disasters. The Cash for Shelter project is responding to needs amid the pandemic while the cash component has helped families cope with the economic impact and lockdown measures brought on by the pandemic

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