Friday, February 16, 2007

An Aid Worker's Account of Helmand Province in Afghanistan

Somewhere I read [or heard?] that among Europeans Americans are regarded as good-intentioned but naive and blunderous in their attempts to fix the world. Here is a real live report -- only I think it could be the testimony of people from many parts of the world who have tried to do good in Afghanistan [and elsewhere!].

The following is taken from the article The Road to Helmand which was written by Holly Barnes Higgins for the the Washington Post.

"[Helmand]'s home to the highly conservative Pashtun people. Poppy production was nearly unheard of here before the Soviet invasion in 1979. But today, most farmers grow poppy, ... It's simple economics: A farmer can earn ... almost 10 times what he would get for ... wheat.
"Today, much of the pavement is ruined, and the sagging former USAID homes look much older than they are. Meanwhile, massive, gaudy structures built with drug money rise around them."
"The people of Helmand fall into two categories. The great majority believe that poppy is the only reliable source of income. The small minority believe that with help, alternative livelihoods are possible. They don't know how to make progress, but they're hungry for it, so they're willing to trust us"
"...women are planting poppy openly in front of their homes, trying to attract buyers. ... some are widows who can't imagine another way to provide for their children. Others are virtual widows, their husbands lost to the haze of opium addiction."
" ... the West can do little if anything to quell the opium poppy trade ... This will be true as long as Helmand's residents refuse to recognize and respect the central government; as long as streets and schools, markets, mosques and government buildings are targeted by suicide bombers; as long as elders strike deals with the Taliban and government officials themselves profit from poppy production."

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