How One NGO is Making a Difference in Afghanistan

By focusing on the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) working within Afghanistan, one gets an idea of both how much is being done within the country and how much work there still is to do. ACTED (Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development) was formed in 1993 as a not-for-profit, private, and independent organization. Their mission is to address the specific needs of populations that have been affected by catastrophes, social crises, and war. Their vision is to ensure that all humans can live with dignity. ACTED invests in the potential of people and works for immediate change in the lives of people facing urgent needs. Specifically in Afghanistan, the organization operates in seven provinces and has expanded its influence and programs within the last few years in response to the growing needs of the population.

Emergency Assistance

displaced Afghans

Image by IOM | Flickr

Violence continues to affect communities in many areas of Afghanistan, and has led to the displacement of nearly 200,000 individuals. In addition, recurring natural disasters have increased the number of at-risk people within the country. Communities that are faced with urgent need for food, water, and shelter have been assisted by ACTED. The organization has provided money and vouchers, sanitation services, clean water, and shelter to people in need across seven Afghan provinces. The organization is currently involved in a 16-month project to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure in many Northern Afghan provinces. This work includes constructing wells and latrines, as well as providing emergency hygiene kits to displaced families.

Natural Disaster Recovery

According to recent studies by the United Nations, over 250,000 persons are affected by natural disasters within Afghanistan, such as floods, droughts, and earthquakes. Food and non-food items, cash, and vouchers have been distributed to offer support as part of ACTED’s mission. In conjunction with meeting urgent needs, the organization is also committed to long-term plans to rebuild infrastructure, repair water systems, and replace temporary shelters. In April 2016, the organization responded to severe flooding in Baghlan and Balkh provinces by offering basic hygiene supplies.

Marginalized Populations

Women, youth, and farmers are among the most marginalized people in Afghanistan. ACTED works to support these groups through both formal and informal education programs. They provide literacy classes, small business development training, vocational education, and support groups to help people develop the skills they need to provide for themselves and their families. By facilitating access to training in agricultural techniques and working to develop sustainable economic opportunities, ACTED helps marginalized individuals become better able to support their family and communities.

Gender-based Violence Reduction

In cooperation with local women’s organizations, ACTED is addressing gender-based violence, focusing on women and young girls. They provide crisis shelters, counseling, case management, and more to women who have been victims of gender-based violence. In addition, women and girls are receiving holistic education that can include literacy, job training, and other vital services.

The Link between Emergency and Rehabilitation

ACTED has been working in Afghanistan to help people deal with the after-effects of war and break the cycle of poverty. According to ACTED, interventions that take place as a response to a crisis or natural disaster must have long-term, sustainable support in order to be effective. Rather than focusing on short-term needs, ACTED brings together local community organizations to provide ongoing support once the crisis has passed. These organizations are led by local people who have a deep understanding of the needs of their communities and the most culturally appropriate ways to provide assistance.

The Developmental Approach

Through a multidisciplinary approach, ACTED can offer both developmental and humanitarian support. Their adaptive approach is helping to break the cycle of poverty and encourage sustainable development. ACTED’s assistance involves a multi-phase process:

Phase 1 offers household-level support that promotes self-reliance, helps families generate an income, and increases food security. When people receive this kind of support for their family unit, they are more able to help meet broader community needs.

Phase 2 expands the household support into an “ecosystem approach” to agriculture. By utilizing sustainable, climate-friendly agricultural techniques, communities can obtain a more reliable source of food and economic growth opportunities.

Phase 3 continues the expansion into private sector development through small business enterprise support. Urban development and rebuilding can sustain the growth of new businesses, which in turn provide jobs and income.

This three-phase process represents a gradual approach to rebuilding that emphasizes self-sufficiency. This approach also helps ensure that any changes that have been implemented don’t simply vanish when the immediate crisis is over and the aid organization leaves.

Focusing on long-term solutions rather than what appears to be a “quick fix” does not negate the need for emergency responsiveness. Particularly in countries that have experienced war or other crisis situations, the need for both is stark. Fortunately, ACTED and other international and Afghan NGOs stand ready to assist.

Afghanistan’s Wireless Market Looks Toward a Bright Future

A landlocked country located in Central Asia, Afghanistan developed in the path of caravan trading routes known as the Silk Road. As Afghanistan began to rebuild following decades of war, entrepreneurs brought new technology into the country that allowed residents to easily communicate with one another and the outside world. One individual who led the effort to open Afghanistan to new communication systems was Dr. Ehsan Bayat.

The History of Telecommunications in Afghanistan

According to Dr. Ehsan Bayat, the effort to establish a national telecommunications system had faced many challenges. In the mid 1990’s, the nation began to establish the infrastructure and networks necessary to bring telecommunications technology to Afghanistan. A few public call shops were established, and several hundred miles of telephone lines were installed, a tentative beginning to offering communication to the nation. Subsequently, there was a renewed effort to bring a mobile network to the nation. However, numerous hurdles prevented the effort from getting very far. Undeterred, Dr. Bayat persevered to overcome obstacles.

Hurdles to Overcome

Particularly difficult during this period was the process of securing equipment and personnel willing to work in the country. Dr. Bayat eventually located a company willing to sell equipment to the newly formed Afghan Wireless Communication Company (AWCC), and the nation’s first mobile phone provider launched in 2002.

Explosive Growth

mobile phoneSince Afghan Wireless began providing services in 2002, the wireless market in Afghanistan has exploded. Today, there are five mobile operators competing for a piece of Afghanistan’s mobile market, which has resulted in reduced prices and increased service. Between Afghan Wireless and its competitors, nearly 25 million subscribers now have access to wireless service, a number that by most estimates covers 80% of the population. Most experts agree that this explosive growth is due, in part, to the lack of alternatives to wireless service, making it a highly competitive market. In hindsight, this explosive growth makes sense. While there was formerly no market, suddenly everyone now had access to wireless service. However, at the time, no one could have predicted the widespread acceptance of this new means of communication.

Government Regulations

As the wireless market exploded onto the scene, the government scrambled to keep pace. Unpredictable tax rates hindered the expansion of the wireless market and led to frustrated owners, who were unprepared to pay taxes early or at the government’s whim. Regulatory guidelines are being put into place, similar to those of the FCC, that will help to monitor and control the use of wireless technology and regulate tax collection to maintain the infrastructure.

Maintaining the Network

New technology is constantly being added to improve the wireless market within Afghanistan. Dr. Bayat’s efforts to update wireless systems to keep up with the pace of modern technology are not only cost effective, but they put the nation in a position to move forward with its communication systems. The use of fiber optic cables will reduce dependence on wireless for Internet systems and lower the cost of service even more.

The use of local workforces to maintain and secure the equipment is expected to improve connectivity. In addition, it is anticipated that the new technology will provide employment to Afghan nationals and create a network of communities that share wireless towers.

The Future of Wireless

While nearly 80% of the population now has access to wireless communication, the number of individuals with Internet access is considerably smaller. Today, the number of 3G subscribers in Afghanistan amounts to approximately 2 million users, which is approximately 8% of the mobile market. Currently, all five mobile operators in the nation have 3G licenses and are seeking to increase their market share, as users adopt the newest forms of communication. In addition, companies are seeking to adopt 4G technology and improve the quality of Internet connectivity. Previously, efforts to expand Internet usage were dismal due in part due to poor infrastructure. The use of dial-up, a lack of available resources, and a limited understanding of how the Internet can be beneficial hindered its adoption by the Afghan people. Helping to further expand the Internet’s reach are strategic partnerships that led to the launch of the nation’s first satellite, as well as falling prices for Internet and wireless access.

Afghan Wireless has worked tirelessly to bring communication to Afghanistan. From the earliest stages of development, Dr. Bayat has served as a financial investor and advocate for improved telecommunication systems, and he continues to focus on this effort. The expansion of telecommunications networks continues to encounter new obstacles. However, in spite of these challenges, the people of Afghanistan have a vested interest in pursuing a secure and efficient network for both wireless and Internet service.