What You Need to Know about the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan

brussels conference on afghanistanHeld in early October 2016, the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan was a significant opportunity for the international community to review and discuss Afghanistan’s recent progress, and to renew its commitment to ongoing aid and development support for the country. Hosted by the Afghan government and the European Union and attended by delegates from more than 70 countries and 25 international organizations, the two-day conference concluded with international leaders pledging $15.2 billion for Afghanistan’s development over the next four years. The Brussels Conference was an important follow up to a similar meeting held in Tokyo in 2012, at which the international community committed to 4 billion euros per year in civilian aid for Afghanistan through the end of 2016.

One major highlight of the Brussels Conference was a presentation from representatives of the Afghan government on the many achievements and accomplishments that international support has made possible in Afghanistan over the last few years. Thanks to strong financial aid contributions from international sources, Afghanistan has made significant progress in a number of critical areas. Key achievements include:

Health care and education

It is impossible to improve what has not been measured. Recognizing this, Afghanistan recently conducted its first ever national Demographic and Health Survey. This comprehensive review provided new baseline information on a range of health issues, including maternal and child health, fertility, vaccination rates, and rates of diseases like malaria and HIV.

In 2015, approximately 58 million health care visits were provided to citizens, an increase of roughly 3 million over the previous year. Care for mothers and babies was a particular focus, with health workers attending about 1.2 million antenatal services and 7 million birth delivery services.

In 2015, nearly 1 million new students enrolled in Afghan schools. A total of 9.4 million students are currently enrolled in primary and secondary education; furthermore, nearly 40% of these students are girls and young women.

Public services

Herat, AfghanistanTo help address some of the bureaucratic obstacles that make it difficult for Afghans to access basic public services, Afghanistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Republic of Azerbaijan to launch a new initiative called Asan Khedmat. The idea behind Asan Khedmat is to create centers that can deliver both government services and auxiliary services from the private sector in an efficient, responsive, and transparent manner. The first Asan Khedmat center recently opened in Kabul. Residents of the city now have access to 21 services—including driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations, wedding certificates, and national ID cards—under one roof.

Irregular and unpermitted urban settlements are common in Afghanistan’s major cities, often leading to contentious property disputes, stress, and fear for residents. Afghanistan is seeking to resolve these issues through a recently launched, nationwide program that aims to survey, register, and provide occupancy certificates to properties located in these areas. Around 6,000 properties in cities like Herat, Kandahar, and Kabul have already been mapped and are currently undergoing the registration process.

Securing livelihoods

A government jobs creation program known as Jobs for Peace was rolled out last year in several Afghan provinces. With the goal of improving short-term food security for families, the initiative disbursed more than $70 million to people in more than 5,000 communities, creating at least 2.6 million days of labor. Jobs within the program included maintenance work on rural area development projects and cleaning work in urban centers.

Given that many Afghans earn their livelihood through agricultural activities, support for farmers is a crucial part of Afghanistan’s overall economic health. Some of the achievements that have helped farmers in recent years include the Agricultural Development Fund loans program, which has disbursed $61 million to more than 31,000 farmers; the rehabilitation of nearly 2,000 kilometers of irrigation infrastructure, which has improved water access for close to 500,000 hectares of agricultural land; and the recovery of 6,000 hectares of illegally seized land by the Land and Water Administration, which is working to provide farmers with land tenure security and protect them from seizure.

Behind the Scenes at Afghanaid

Despite the improved conditions within Afghanistan in recent years, decades of turmoil have left the nation in disarray. In an effort to address needs and shortfalls within the nation, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have partnered with local organizations to provide assistance and much-needed services to the residents of Afghanistan.

As a result, the country has seen an improvement in the daily lives of many, but the situation is still far from ideal. Thousands of individuals are classified as “at-risk,” a designation that indicates the extreme levels of poverty that still exist.

The at-risk groups include women, children, widows, and other displaced groups of people who face an uncertain future. Fortunately, NGOs such as Afghanaid are working to provide hope and help.

The History of Afghanaid

afghanaidlogoAfghanaid began in 1983 as an outreach of the Afghanistan Support Committee work in London. After two years of working closely with Afghans, the charity became its own entity and went to work in earnest. Since its inception, it has worked in nearly every province within the country and provided services to over 1 million Afghans.

Crisis Response

The earliest years of Afghanaid’s existence were spent addressing war-relief efforts. As war escalated in the early 1990s, Afghanaid was on hand to offer support and assistance to survivors in the aftermath of conflict.

The loss of food production sites and a breakdown in distribution lines created a food shortage that left thousands hungry. Volunteers from Afghanaid entered the country, finding families and providing food for over 70,000 people during the famine.

In addition, the country’s damaged infrasture, ambulance and other rescue personnel had a difficult time navigating the streets to bring medical relief to injured and sick persons. Afghanaid worked to raise funds for supplies and other medical necessities that helped decrease the number of casualties. In a few short years, however, Afghanid transitioned from war relief to helping people rebuild their lives.

Vocational Training

Establishing vocational training programs, such as the tailoring project, provided sustainable work and training for displaced farmers who needed ways to provide for their families. As part of the tailoring project, participants were provided with training and equipment to establish businesses that made school uniforms for children.

Other vocational efforts included beekeeping, kitchen gardens, and more. Through training and mentorship, participants in the program learn business skills, develop group lending policies, and offer financial support to others in the program. Self-sustaining programs such as these are essential to the rebuilding of Afghanistan and allow individuals within the community to develop viable business skills.

Afghanaid Today

More than 20 years after its work began, Afghanaid is still a powerful source of support and resources to the people of Afghanistan. The programs that were initiated during the war have been expanded to encompass additional areas of concern and concentrate financial efforts in the areas most in need of help.

The organization identifies vulnerable households in need of financial assistance and support and provides them with a voice in their own development. In this way, it is giving Afghans inspiration to work towards a brighter future, and encouraging others to participate in the rebuilding process and work towards a brighter future.

It concentrates its aid programs on four primary areas of concern:

  1. Basic support
  2. Improving job security
  3. Emergency response
  4. Disaster relief

The organization’s goal is a peaceful, thriving Afghanistan, and it is working to ensure that all Afghans are able to enjoy the benefits that result from peace. To support that mission, it has an overreaching theme of gender rights and governance that are underscored in every aspect of aid it offers.

Governance

By supporting local governance, Afghanaid encourages all citizens of Afghanistan to get involved in local institutions and politics. It has introduced community-based concepts such as community monitoring, social audits, and assemblies.

These efforts help to develop links between the local community and district authorities. In addition, by strengthening individuals, family units become stronger, which in turn helps to build communities.

Strong communities lead to improved relationships with other communities, and the entire nation benefits. When seen as part of a larger whole, every individual who receives assistance from Afghanaid has a role to play – both today and in the future.

Groups like Afghanaid are essential to the future of Afghanistan. With its 30-year track record in the country, it has established itself as a reliable means of support and assistance, and is a trusted component of the rebuilding taking place in the nation.

Solving the Health Care Crisis in Afghanistan

The people of Afghanistan have faced unprecedented challenges, and they are still struggling to recover after decades of turmoil. Perhaps one of the areas of greatest concern to both humanitarian organizations and the people of Afghanistan is the lack of health care. As the country works to rebuild its infrastructure and to establish public facilities, health care remains a primary need, despite continued pressure from humanitarian organizations and governmental departments. An understanding of both the current health care crisis and the solutions in place will provide direction to organizations that wish to help and ensure that the nation receives the aid that it requires.

Why Is Health Care a Challenge?

medical equipmentAs recently as 2003, less than 10% of Afghanistan’s population had access to medical care. Today, nearly 70% of the population now has access to the health care they need, according to the Ministry of Public Health. Over 20,000 health care volunteers spread across 2,200 health care facilities are helping the Ministry of Public Health to deliver services to the nation’s population. With so many individuals working to provide health care, why then does the health care system appear to be in crisis? Some of the problems, experts say, are caused by too many organizations trying to provide assistance with no oversight to ensure that efforts aren’t duplicated and that projects are prioritized.

As a result, while much of the population now lives near a health care facility, the reality is that oftentimes it may not be operational. Recurring staffing issues, a lack of basic health care services, and limited drug availability have hindered the effectiveness of neighborhood care centers, forcing patients to travel long distances in search of assistance. Free health care for citizens may seem appealing, but only if it is available when they actually need it.

What Does the Current Health Care System Look Like?

People seeking urgent care are often unable to find it quickly or easily. Many patients report that they have travelled through areas where fighting is still taking place, traversed areas filled with land mines, experienced harassment on their journeys, or passed through checkpoints in order to obtain medical care. Since patients are often scared to travel at night, family members often set up vigils in the hopes that they survive in order to make it to the hospital.

Difficult circumstances that prevent patients from reaching the hospital have caused some to put off seeking medical care for as long as possible. Nearly half the patients surveyed at one medical facility had waited more than a week before going to a hospital, while 60% of those with a malnourished child waited over a month to seek medical attention.

Going forward, the country must work to establish secure health care facilities, earn the trust of the people, and provide those medical services that are most needed. Women, children, and the elderly have traditionally been among the groups most underserved in the field of health care, and efforts have focused on them with great success. Infant mortality rates have dropped dramatically, as have the number of women who have died during childbirth or as a complication of giving birth.

How Are Organizations Working to Remedy the Situation?

Humanitarian efforts, such as those led by Ehsan Bayat and the Bayat Foundation, concentrate on finding solutions to the health care crisis. Government leaders and health care providers are partnering with local communities to ensure that smaller, community-style health care facilities are adequately equipped and staffed to handle the majority of residents’ needs. As the basic needs of the people are met—including access to clean water, pre- and post-natal care for expectant mothers and babies, immunizations, and regular checkups—the people of Afghanistan are obtaining better health care than ever before.

In addition, humanitarian groups are seeking qualified workers to staff health care facilities. They are particularly interested in hiring female health care workers to provide services to women, further improving their quality of life. Pediatricians and other medical professionals who specialize in pediatrics are also in high demand, as the number of children who now have access to health care has skyrocketed.

By partnering with other organizations that are already working within Afghanistan, humanitarian medical efforts have a greater chance of success. The work within the country requires an understanding of both its current struggles and history. Partnerships with humanitarian groups ensure that people have access to clean water and healthy food. In a nation where malnutrition and hunger are prevalent, addressing these basic needs must be a priority. While the progress within the country has been remarkable, there is still much work to be done. Virtually every area of life within Afghanistan centers around the health and happiness of the people living there. By addressing the population’s health care needs, the country will be able to create jobs, people will be able to work and start families, and the entire nation will benefit as a result.