Drivers dig out a truck carrying food to the central highlands of Afghanistan. Photo: WFP/Hukomat Khan.
A convoy of WFP trucks braved mountain passes and precarious road conditions to deliver food to schools in remote villages in central Afghanistan that had been cut off during the harsh winter.
The first convoy of WFP food to the hard-to-reach central highlands of Afghanistan started off badly. Due to leave Kabul on 16 April, the trucks were loaded and ready to go when a series of attacks on diplomatic and military targets around the country resulted in total lock-down of UN staff. Early on the morning of 17 April, the 17 trucks and one land cruiser set off, carrying more than 200 metric tonnes of food intended for school meal programmes in the remote villages of Daykundi province.
“The roads in this part of Afghanistan don’t usually reopen until late May,” explains Shershah Wahidi, the Senior Logistics Assistant who helped arrange the mission. “But we had to send food to these villages early this year because this region remains without food during winter. We wanted to make sure that supplies for the schools were in place in good time to convince students to start attending classes as early as possible.” The cargo included fortified biscuits (“high-energy biscuits” or HEBs), which is distributed to children at school, and vegetable oil which is given to girls as an incentive to attend classes.
Silk Route Stopover
The 1,200 km journey kept the convoy on the road for nearly a week. The first night the drivers stayed in Bamyan, the city of the ancient Buddha statues that has been an important stop for travelers since the days of the Silk Road, thousands of years ago.
The next day they stayed in Panjaw and on the third day they pushed ahead to the province of Daykundi, at the very centre of Afghanistan, and then split up to deliver food to three villages in the province. It’s then that the real challenges began for the truck drivers, faced with soaring mountain passes, hairpin bends and roads that were just dirt tracks to begin with reduced to a slippery mess of mud.
Trusty Hino Trucks
“The main challenge in the central highlands is the road conditions,” explains Wahidi. “There’s rain and mud, and even still some snow left on the ground or falling during the night.”
Two mountain passes on the route, the Qonaq and the Shatoo passes located at more than 2,000 metres above sea level, posed special challenges. WFP’s drivers saw commercial vehicles waiting for three days to make the crossing in the hope that the weather would improve, but WFP’s seasoned drivers managed to make the crossing with their trusty 6x4 Hinos. The trucks were a donation from the Government of Japan more than 20 years ago, and are still serving WFP in Afghanistan to assist the most vulnerable.
Safe and Sound
The trickiest part of the route – the 25 km between Panjaw and the Shatoo pass – took a full day to cover. Drivers had to open the road themselves in certain places, shoveling dirt onto the track in order to make it less muddy.
The convoy returned back to Kabul on 23rd April, safe and sound, without any losses or damage to the trucks or staff – and proud in the knowledge that children in Daykundi would be receiving school meals soon.