ON THE GROUND: Children's Aid Direct

Scheme: Food distribution and nutrition for children under five in north-east Afghanistan

Funding: £40,000 to fund staff, transport and other costs over five months, with the food itself provided by Mercy Corps International

Objectives: To treat malnutrition among children of families returning to war-torn villages in Takhar Province, north-east Afghanistan

Around 7,000 families - up to 65,000 people - have returned to the area called Hazar Sumuch, about 30km north of Taloqan city in north-east Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. The joy of returning home, however, has been tempered by new threats to their health and survival.

It is a remote area with little infrastructure. What there was has been largely destroyed, such as the schools, which the Taliban routinely used as military barracks, the furniture and even window and door frames burned as fuel. Three years of drought, which came on top of 22 years of conflict, have also left the area without any food production.

It is situations like this that the international agency Children's Aid Direct exists to alleviate.

"At the moment we are undertaking an initial nutrition programme, targeting children under five,

says Wube Woldemariam, the organisation's regional programme manager for Asia. "We have had a nutritionist screening children to identify which are malnourished, and they are given high energy biscuits. Their weight and height is also monitored regularly to see if they are recovering."

Although the problems that beset Hazar Sumuch are similar to many parts of Afghanistan, it was chosen for Children's Aid Direct's first project in Afghanistan as much for its proximity to the agency's existing operation in the Khatlon area of neighbouring Tajikistan, where it has been working since 1999.

The food itself is being supplied by another agency, Mercy Corps International.

While most of Children's Aid Direct's funding comes from statutory sources, including the Department for International Development and agencies such as Unicef, the £40,000 to cover staff, transport and other costs of the current food programme, is being paid for by the charity's own voluntary fundraising.

The plan is to expand the work to cover a wider geographical area, and an agricultural specialist from the charity is in the area to assess how best to re-establish local food production.

"We have already submitted a number of proposals to potential major donors,

says Woldemariam. "There is an enormous shortage of primary healthcare services, for instance. There is only one 60-bed hospital serving the entire 800,000 population of Taqar province. We are trying to raise funding for a programme to train local health workers in the prevention of common diseases."

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