Helmand, Afghanistan’s most vast province, has for decades been one of the areas most tormented by combat. Despite continuous conflict, the local population has always stayed to live – often, just survive — on its own soil. Many residents have endured extreme conditions, but when one of their loved ones was struck down, or they themselves were nearly so, they understood this signal as the one that they would never would want to have to read. That is, it was time to abandon their home.
In just the second half of July, about 30 thousand residents of the surrounding districts poured into the provincial capital, Lashkar-gah, seeking safe refuge.
The trip getting here was not easy. They needed to follow alternate roads, cross checkpoints, pass through two fronts, and always risk stepping on one of the hundreds of mines which are spread across the streets. When everything goes well, a few kilometres can take hours — or, sometimes, days.
The most fortunate travelers succeed in finding a place to sleep — at the home of parents, friends, or acquaintances — “for a few days”. Others do not succeed, and therefore sleep in the street. “A few days” becomes a week, then two, and then one does not know how long, because the situation, instead of improving, is getting worse.
Meanwhile, the fighting carries on in the districts. In the first 12 days of August, our hospital in Lashkar-gah admitted 180 patients. It has a capacity of 100 beds. There is a very high turnover rate to give space to the newly injured, and the entire staff works breathlessly day and night.