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 Press release - US based relief and development agencies continue efforts to reduce human suffering and alleviate poverty in conflict affected areas (MC)

 Press release date: 06.03.2003

US based relief and development agencies continue efforts to reduce human suffering and alleviate poverty in conflict affected areas.

Activities include thirteen projects with a focus on economic opportunity, community development and primary health care in 500 communities in over 23 cities and districts of the country.

Azerbaijan, Baku - Ahmedabad is a village in the southern area of Azerbaijan. Its population is slightly more than 2,338 of which 780 are refugees. During the Soviet period the village residents were mostly involved in husbandry, poultry, cotton, wheat and truck farming and the standard of living for most villagers was higher than it is today.

After the collapse of the Soviet regime, the challenges of the transition to free market economy and new government system had a negative impact on the living standards of the Ahmedabad community. The economic and the infrastructure of the village was further damaged by the influx of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees from various countries of former Soviet Union and disputed Nagorno-Karabagh zone over which Azerbaijan and Armenia were fighting. The additional population became a significant burden to an already deteriorating infrastructure and shrinking resources of the community.

According to Gulahmad Mammadov, the leader of the Ahmedabad community, the village residents for a long time were in the mood of "wait and see" going through the transition period. However, the worsening living standards, diminishing job opportunities and aging infrastructure triggered very real concern and drove the community to take some initiative regarding its future.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) team's visit in the village in 2000 has raised hopes of the community. The team introduced the concept of self-assistance to the community. It strengthened the abilities and skills of the community to identify problems of the village, prioritize them, write proposals and mobilize internal and external resources to solve these problems through a comprehensive and participatory training. As a result, the community implemented its first project of the community center construction, and elected a Community Action Group (CAG) consisting of twelve community members with the support of IRC. The CAG was designed to serve as a driving force for the mobilization and organization of the community to put into practice the knowledge they learned from the training.

The community participated in a training program offered by International Medical Corps (IMC) to improve health and sanitation in the community. This opportunity enabled the community to advance its knowledge on health issues including reproductive health, immunization, sanitation, childcare, and environment.

Later the community turned to CHF to reconstruct the secondary school to solve one of the most urgent issues of the village. Before the repairs, the school had deteriorated roof, wall, doors and windows, which presented serious difficulties for class activities, especially in winter season. Students were regularly absent from lessons because of frequent illnesses. It is important to mention that the community itself prepared the reconstruction plan and directly participated in its implementation through cash and labor contribution.

In 2002 in an effort to advance the economy of the village, the community with the help of IRC planted 50ha wheat, 4ha potatoes, and built 6km canal to improve the irrigation for these plants. At the same time the Ahmedabad community has also established a cheese production enterprise. The processing shop has a capacity for one ton of milk processing per day. To launch the enterprise, villagers created a group of 22 shareholders. Each shareholder invested $100 USD of his/her own funds. An additional $10,000 USD was provided by the IRC. This amount will be repaid in one year. IRC also gave assistance in finding and assembling equipment, and in start up of production. Having the processing shop equipped with a vacuum packing device has reduced cheese loss to a minimum. Every milked cow is under veterinary control, and every employee is under health control.

According to Gulahmad Mammadov, up until now international organizations including CHF, IRC and IMC has provided $50,000 assistance to the community. "We appreciate the support given to our community by these organizations and their donors" he said. Mammadov is now optimistic that all problems can be solved when community members unite their efforts and mobilize internal resources.

Ahmedabad community is one of the 500 communities that have been helped through grants funded by the United Sates Agency for International Development (USAID) and managed under the terms of an international partnership more commonly known as the Azerbaijan Humanitarian Assistance Program (AHAP) led by Mercy Corps. AHAP has been working to reduce human suffering and alleviate poverty in conflict-affected areas of Azerbaijan since 1998. The current phase of AHAP is implemented by seven American based organizations: ADRA, CHF International, International Rescue Committee (IRC), International Medical Corps (IMC), Pathfinder International, Save the Children and World Vision International. Under AHAP these agencies implement thirteen community-based programs in primary health care, economic opportunities and community development in over 23 cities and rayons of Azerbaijan (Baku, Sumgait, Fizuli, Imishli, Saatli, Sabirabad, Belasuvar, Beylagan, Agdam, Agjabedi, Ganja, Mingechavir, Yevlakh, Ter-ter, Goranboy, Barda and Nakichivan Autonomous Republic).

The integrated strategy of the AHAP has made it possible to address multi-sectoral needs of these communities, including health, economic and infrastructure activities. According to Myriam Khoury, AHAP Program Director at Mercy Corps, AHAP addresses multi faceted needs of internally displaced and conflict-affected people because life is integrated and our experience shows that any development process that addresses only one aspect of life eventually fails.

In 2002 the AHAP projects have created 1,185 jobs, disbursed 4,571 loans, completed 613 community led infrastructure and social projects, and refurbished 56 health facilities. In total, the program has benefited over 500,000 vulnerable people in Azerbaijan.

"The year 2002 was productive for the AHAP partnership," said William Holbrook, Chief of Party of Mercy Corps Azerbaijan. "During the past year the partnership continued to address various critical needs of internally displaced and conflict affected people through 13 grants that supported economic opportunity programs, community development, and primary health care projects.

Economic Opportunity activities have provided micro and small loans to enterprises mainly engaged in agribusiness and rural service industries and supported them with business plan development, financial advice, and incorporating improved technology and overall management techniques into enterprise. In addition, these projects strengthen private business owner associations, which in turn have potential to become links to inputs, credits, market information, skills training, and technical assistance.
Community Development projects mobilize and empower communities with the skills, abilities and confidence to take charge of their own development process. Mobilization is achieved through extensive training that enables communities to assess their own problems and issues and to make plans for the solution of these problems. Grants for the implementation of different micro projects are subsequently provided to the internally displaced and conflict affected communities. The provision of grants to implement micro-projects gives communities a chance to complete the process of planning, implementing and assessment.

Primary Health Care projects focus at improved access to sustainable and quality primary health care. The activities include trainings for community and health providers, works to increase public awareness of family planning and reproductive health, and micro projects to rehabilitate health facilities with 25% community contribution.

The Social Investment Initiatives (SII) Program has worked to rehabilitate economic and social infrastructure of communities. The program was successfully completed in October 2002. Since its beginning in 2000 the SII project completed 152 community based projects ranging in value from $6,000 to $20,000.

The Integrated Community Development Program provides a multi-sectoral approach that includes small and medium enterprise development, micro credit, health, and infrastructure rehabilitation within clusters (groups of communities) in the Southern and Central districts.

"Success for our projects doesn't simply mean the delivery of services," says Myriam Khoury. "In the last year and over the second phase of the AHAP since 2000, we have worked to increase the potential for the sustainability of our services and change community and organizational attitudes and habits and give communities a common vision of what can be achieved when they rise to meet their needs."

"For organizations involved with relief and development activities in Azerbaijan, the last year was also remarkable for the growing collaboration and partnership between the public and private sector in support of major development programs'', said William Holbrook. "A Reflection of this new trend and partnership was the First National Community Development Conference, which took place in October 2002 and was sponsored by USAID and Exxon Azerbaijan Operating Company, LLC, an ExxonMobil Subsidiary. The conference convened over 300 participants to determine the effectiveness of existing community development approaches and methodologies and the best strategy for positive, integrated future development in Azerbaijan.
As to plans for 2003, William Holbrook said that "the USAID funded AHAP Partnership will continue its programs focused on conflict affected people through the availability of credit and business development services, support for the further development of primary health services, and a commitment to provide incentives for community mobilization through integrated community development initiatives".

For more information please contact:

Ramil Maharramov - Public Information Officer at Mercy Corps Azerbaijan,
4 Magomayev Lane, 370004, Baku, Azerbaijan.
Tel: (994 12) 97 51 72;
Fax: (994 12) 97 76 65;
email: ramil@mercycorps.az
Web Site: www.mercycorps.az



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