about the author
Head of Faizabad sub-office, Afghanistan
James manages WFP's Faizabad Sub Office, which has 104 staff and currently provides food assistance to more than 500,000 people in north-eastern Afghanistan.
The drivers of the WFP truck fleet are always a welcome sight for the people of Badakhshan, many of whom rely on WFP food to get them through the winter. But sometimes it's the truckers that need help from the villagers, as James Feeney, head of WFP's Faizabad sub-office, explains.
In the past, to reach Kufab, a remote district in the northeastern Badakshan region, you had to walk along donkey trails for several days. Thanks to a WFP Food For Assets project there is now a road. But it is still a long and tough journey, especially when the weather turns.
Just before the weather turned in late 2008, a 14-truck convoy was sent to Kufab to deliver the last batch of supplies to see the villagers through the winter. Three days into the long slow journey, when the trucks were on the highest point of the route, the road collapsed. The lead truck was left dangling over the edge of the mountain pass. In a dramatic rescue the other drivers leapt out of their trucks and pulled the lead driver to safety. Together, they managed to push the truck back onto the road. No one was hurt.
But they could go no further. So they set up camp by the roadside, lighting fires and revving up their engines to stay warm. “It was so cold, the water in our bottles froze,” said convoy leader Sher Mohammad. “We had a few pieces of bread with us but we worried that our supplies would not last for long.”
Fortunately for the drivers, the people of nearby Aish village had seen the accident and came to help. One kind old man sacrificed a sheep, lit a fire by the roadside and cooked a warm meal while villagers baked bread in their homes and brought it together with warm cups of tea to the stranded drivers. Others carried blankets to help stave off the cold on this bitter night.
The next morning news spread to Kufab that the WFP trucks had reached Dashti Aish and could go no further. The district administrator and WFP agreed that their only option was to distribute the food right in the place where the trucks had stopped. Soon 6,000 people set out walking from their villages to Dashti Aish.
Braving snow storms and hail, people walked for seven hours from Kufab district centre and for up to two days from some of the more remote villages. Wrapped warmly against the cold, old and young walked side by side trudging through knee-deep snow with their horses and donkeys. “It was amazing” said Sher Mohammad, “there were children as young as 13 and elders in their seventies. They were tired, but they didn’t mind, they were all just so happy to receive their food.”