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The stories behind the statistics

Uruzgan is a little-known province in the south of Afghanistan, with two more high profile neighbours: Helmand and Kandahar. Even by the worrying standards seen across the country as a whole, the humanitarian and development indicators in Uruzgan prove it’s an extremely underdeveloped place. Health and education needs are incredibly high, and ongoing insecurity has hampered efforts to address these needs. Only 8% of men are literate, and the figure for women is a staggering 0.3% — that’s only 3 in every 1000 who can read.

Child birth is a potentially life-threatening experience for both mother and child anywhere in the world; but in Uruzgan, where 87% of all women continue to deliver at home without any formal health support, the act of bringing a new life into the world means dicing with death.

Two brothers tend to their family's field as the sun sets. Tirin Kowt, Uruzgan, Afghanistan

But sometimes I feel that we focus on statistics too often. Although there is a vital role for quantitative data to help us to ‘measure’ need to compare one area with another, and one crisis with another, this can sometimes insulate us from the fact that these numbers represent people: mothers, brothers, daughters. Understanding this reveals two things most clearly to me.

The real nature of the suffering experienced in many parts of the world is so much more powerful when you can actually link it with real people. While in Uruzgan on an assessment visit, I was talking with the Deputy Governor of the province. We discussed the need for more midwives in the province, and the benefits they would provide to women during pregnancy and after the child birth. But what struck home was when this proud and strong man moved beyond statistics and told us something from his personal experience. Four women in his small village — young women he knew — had died in the last month during childbirth. One funeral a week in that month — each of them preventable, unnecessary.

Almost developing a dependency on tea is a side-affect of crucial (and lengthy) discussions with community elders.Tirin Kowt, Uruzgan, Afghanistan
Almost developing a dependency on tea is a side-affect of crucial (and lengthy) discussions with community elders. Tirin Kowt, Uruzgan, Afghanistan

Many people demonstrate great strength when facing these hardships. For example, all the inhabitants of a small village in Kajran District in Uruzgan gathered, with whatever weapons they could muster, near two checkpoints to protect their village from threats from local Taliban fighters.

Afghan villagers themselves are working hard and exposing themselves to real danger in order to create the security needed to allow development to take root and flourish. This bravery deserves to be rewarded with the provision of much needed basic services like education and health.

That’s one reason why I’m so happy to be working on a large and ambitious project which aims to build on and consolidate these incremental but important gains by delivering basic health and education services to the whole of Uruzgan province — and all the Afghan mothers, brothers and daughters who call it home.

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