The fight for control of Afghanistan between the Taliban and the Afghan Security National Defense Force in the summer of 2021 killed thousands and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. Afghan families have already endured forty years of conflict, but the recent heavy fighting left behind a new wave of deadly IEDs, landmines and explosives. In Kandahar’s Arghandab district alone there were 40 deaths and 100 casualties caused by IEDs in 2021, although we believe accidents are being largely under reported.
IEDs have been laid in dense patterns next to schools, homes, roads and fields. Pressure for land is acute. Families are forced to take risks farming dangerous ground or face going hungry. Afghanistan has become the world’s largest humanitarian crisis with the UN estimating 23 million people are on the brink of starvation. By the middle of 2022, Afghanistan could face “universal poverty,” with ninety-seven per cent living below the World Bank-designated international poverty line of $1.90 a day. Many children, like 12-year-old Wali Mohammad, cannot reach school because the paths are littered with IEDs.
Wali Mohammad, age 12, Kandahar
Immediately after the latest fighting ended, HALO’s Afghan staff were on the ground, working across 18 provinces to keep families safe and open-up access so emergency aid could reach those in need. In Uruzgan and Zabul provinces our teams cleared an area the size of two city blocks in Manhattan so UNHCR could build permanent shelters for families left homeless by the conflict.
In Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan provinces, HALO has been carrying out rapid assessments to establish the level of IED contamination. Schools have frequently been used as defensive positions and our teams have already recorded seven schools littered with IEDs. To meet these devastating levels of contamination, HALO has begun expanding our IED clearance capacity.
HALO has worked in Afghanistan since 1988 and our program is completely Afghan led. By prioritizing local recruitment, our multi-ethnic workforce is able to work across the country and provide much needed economic assistance through employment. We currently employ over 2,000 staff, supporting 20,000-plus dependents. HALO's female staff are back at work in our mixed-gender Explosive Risk Education (EORE) teams, providing life-saving risk education on dangerous explosive items to women and girls as well as boys and men.
Over the past three decades, HALO and the Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan have made safe almost 80 per cent of the country’s recorded minefields and battlefields. In West Kabul, we spearheaded one of the biggest urban clearance operations since WWII, allowing a city decimated by war to rebuild. In Herat Province alone, we cleared over 600 minefields, including land around the 15th Century Minarets of the Husain Baiqara Madrasa. Across rural districts we have made land safe so farmers can grow crops and graze cattle. We remain committed to supporting the people of Afghanistan to make their country safe.
Aashir, Helmand Province, Afghanistan
Aashir* lives in Helmand Province, near Lashkar Gah City. During the fight for control of Afghanistan earlier this year, his village became an attacking point towards the capital, and he was forced to flee with his family. When the fighting ended the school, roads and fields were strewn with explosives. With no-where else to go, people were so desperate to return home that there were terrible accidents.
HALO came to the village and taught emergency risk education, ensuring people could stay safe until clearance work was completed. Today the explosives have been destroyed and the villagers have been able to return to their lives and livelihoods.
*Names have been changed to protect people's identity.