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International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps and Save The Children Receive $1 Million for Relief Efforts in Afghanistan

Grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will help relieve devastating effects of conflict and drought

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Carol Pineau
Save the Children
Phone: 202.293.4678, Email:
Lynn Renken
Mercy Corps
Phone: 503.796.6840, Email:
Melissa Winkler
International Rescue Committee
Phone: 212.551.0972, Email:

NEW YORK, PORTLAND, Ore., SEATTLE, WASHINGTON -- The International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps and Save the Children have received grants totaling $1 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to carry out relief efforts in Afghanistan, where international aid organizations estimate that up to three million people could die of starvation due to the ongoing drought and conflict.

"People are running out of survival strategies," said Andrew Wilder, Afghanistan/Pakistan field office director for Save the Children. "The ongoing drought has destroyed the local economy, severely weakened the country's health and nutritional status, and forced increasing numbers of Afghan children and their families to join the thousands of Afghans already displaced by conflict and now drought."

To date, Save the Children has responded to the drought in northern Afghanistan by distributing edible oil and beans; implementing cash-for-work programs; strengthening maternal and child health activities; providing drought coping loans; building and improving wells and water storage facilities; and increasing the future availability of wheat by providing wheat seed to farmers. With this additional funding, these efforts will be enhanced and broadened to reach more children and families in need.

Afghanistan is a largely agricultural country, and the combination of ongoing conflict and drought has resulted in a greatly decreased area of cultivation as well as crop failure. Some regions had virtually no agricultural production in 2000. In addition to poor harvests, the drought also endangers livestock, an important source of livelihood in Afghanistan.

For Mercy Corps, this grant builds upon a current project that is also supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and strives to provide immediate relief to a minimum of 8,000 people by helping build sustainable economic and food security through community participation, skill building, and investment in socio-economic structures. For instance, Mercy Corps will provide cash-for-work opportunities to more than 1,000 families to increase purchasing power and facilitate their ability to buy basic household needs.

"The desperate plight of Afghans forced off their land and into horrific camps is a growing world tragedy," said Lynn Renken, Mercy Corps' senior program officer for South and Central Asia. "Mercy Corps' strategy in Afghanistan is to help Afghan families to stay in their homes and on their land--a far better alternative to the arduous journey of false hope to the under-served refugee camps or into the unknown."

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) will focus on improving the water supply in drought-devastated communities, helping returnees reestablish their livelihood and developing local capacity to respond to future natural disasters. The IRC will work with local groups to implement projects that include drilling and improving wells, constructing and repairing irrigation systems and distributing farming supplies.

"Our projects aim to motivate displaced families to leave temporary refugee settlements near Herat and return to their home villages," said Sigurd Hanson, director of the IRC's programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "If we invest in sustainable solutions within communities, we'll be able to avert humanitarian catastrophes for decades to come." In the Herat area, IRC teams have been providing food and emergency supplies and constructing sanitation facilities. The IRC also operates agriculture, water supply, education and microcredit programs for Afghan refugees returning from Pakistan and Iran.

The drought has forced many residents of the devastated areas to leave their communities to find food, water, and employment opportunities. Once displaced, families face extreme scarcities of food, medicine, and shelter.

The International Rescue Committee, founded at the suggestion of Albert Einstein in 1933, is among the world's largest voluntary nonsectarian agencies providing relief, protection and resettlement services for refugees and victims of oppression and violent conflict. The IRC serves refugees and displaced people in some 30 countries and operates a network of resettlement offices in 20 cities in the United States.

Mercy Corps exists to alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities. Since 1979, Mercy Corps has provided over $550 million in assistance to 73 nations. The agency's programs currently reach 4 million people in more than 25 countries. Mercy Corps is a nonprofit organization with headquarters offices in Portland, Seattle, Washington, DC, and Edinburgh. Known for its quick-response, high-impact programs, over 94 percent of the agency's resources are allocated directly to programs that help those in need.

Save the Children is a leading international nonprofit child development and relief organization working in 48 countries, including the United States. Its mission is to make lasting, positive changes in the lives of children in need. In times of crisis, Save the Children helps children and their families recover from the effects of natural and man-made disasters.

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