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.

How NGOs are Providing Help and Hope to Afghanistan

Within the nation of Afghanistan, the total number of people who have been affected by conflict and war is difficult to ascertain. It is evident, however, that there are an increasing number of needs that must be met in order for the nation to move forward.

Many citizens are members of at-risk demographics. Some are among the poorest in the world and are facing uncertain futures unless they receive assistance from outside sources.

The Role of Non-Governmental Organizations

Some of the issues surrounding the rebuilding and redevelopment of Afghanistan stem from citizens’ distrust of government and daily insecurity. In these situations, the complexity of delivering needed services while attempting to build infrastructure and community is fraught with difficulty.

To bridge the gap between the government and populations that are at-risk, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) often provide both short- and long-term relief. In Afghanistan, the government has partnered with local grassroots organizations to handle reconstruction and redevelopment, as well as reaching some of the world’s most vulnerable groups.

Afghanistan National Solidarity Program

One of Afghanistan’s most successful programs has been the Community Development Council (CDC). Throughout the nation, there have been 35,000 new community councils established under the direction of the Afghanistan National Solidarity Program. In addition, it has funded nearly 90,000 projects within the country.

Not surprisingly, the National Solidarity Program is one of the largest of its kind in the world. The strength of this program is seen in the way that citizens are empowered to make decisions and participate in their own governance.

Rather than view the individuals being served as beneficiaries, the NSP considers them participants.

Another strength of the program is the sense of ownership that participants feel. While thousands of schools have been burned down across the nation, only one school located where a community development program exists was destroyed. According to the NSP, this points to the success of the program and the power of community.

NSP Projects

A sampling of some of the projects undertaken by NSP within Afghanistan are an indicator of the scope of its dealings with the people. Its projects are dual-purposed, designed to give both immediate and long-term assistance in core areas of life.

  1. Road repairs in the Kabul district provide safe, reliable transportation for locals and travelers.
  1. A hydropower station has been built in the district of Kama, providing jobs and a reliable power supply for the villagers. A local villager was so supportive of this project that he donated the land for the hydropower station to be built on.
  1. Disease in the Nangarhar province was the side effect of an inefficient and polluted water supply. An innovative system was developed and implemented to provide clean, safe drinking water.
  1. To combat a pervasive lack of safe drinking water, the Parwan Province built and maintains a water tower, providing water for over 700 families.
  1. The Jafarak Village overcame environmental issues to establish a fish farm, providing both jobs and resources for the surrounding community.
  1. A health clinic that will service 25 villages is being built in the Tontonzar Orati village. Constructed and supported by the residents of this village, it is a much needed source of medical care.
  1. Construction of roads that connect villages not only makes travel safer, but also provides reliable access to other services. Within many regions in Afghanistan, roads are being constructed and maintained using funding from the NSP.
  1. Schools servicing over 1,000 students have been built in local communities. They often run in two shifts to accommodate the number of students, and they are vitally important to encourage the rebuilding of Afghanistan.
  1. Community meeting halls are being built, giving residents a location for meeting and working together to improve the conditions of their districts.

These projects are simply a highlight of the work being done by NSP in Afghanistan. By working with the nation’s residents, it is able to provide training and direction that will sustain the nation in the future.

Not only does this NGO provide education, healthcare and jobs, it also provides a new way of life for many in Afghanistan. It has established a proven method of reaching people who are at-risk and helping them not only survive, but thrive. Much remains to be done, but because of groups such as these, the future is bright.

Astonishing Ways Cell Phones Are Changing the World

cell phoneAs the number of at-risk people in Afghanistan continues to climb, so too does the need for aid from relief organizations. Despite the challenges of working in a war-torn nation, many non-government organizations (NGOs) have managed to maintain their presence within Afghanistan, finding innovative ways to meet the rapidly changing needs of the people. Mercy Corps, a humanitarian organization that began in 1979, has responded to almost every global emergency in the last 20 years. They have been working within Afghanistan to provide resources and aid to underserved and at-risk groups. Through their efforts, they have provided emergency relief to thousands of women and children. They promote community-based initiatives such as vocational training, small business support, and infrastructure development. Perhaps most compelling, however, is their use of technology to bring stability and support to the people.

Technology’s Impact

The global acceptance of smartphone technology is astounding. To put it into perspective, it took over 100 years for the number of landline telephone users to exceed 1 billion, but the number of mobile users exceeded 1 billion in just 20. According to a recent study, one of the fastest growing markets for smartphones is Northeast Africa and the Middle East. The introduction of cellphones to developing countries has revolutionized their communication. There is no need to run telephone lines because users are not dependent on fixed lines, which reduces costs and eliminates the need to provide maintenance and security for the equipment. Basic cellphones are available for less than $20, making one affordable enough for nearly every family. Particularly important for people living in Afghanistan, cell phones can offer a means of communication from anywhere, regardless of one’s physical location.

Refugees with Cell Phones

Technology has become one of the most important tools in the continuing struggle for the security and safety of the displaced people within Afghanistan. Historically, individuals and families that had been forced from their homes would find themselves alone, with no means of contacting family members. In contrast, today’s refugees are using cellphone technology to stay connected, stay safe, and stay informed. Among refugees seeking asylum in surrounding nations, humanitarian workers report that nearly every group has at least one smartphone. After reaching safety, one of the first requests refugees have is for Wi-Fi access. In contrast to parts of the world where cellphones are used for shopping and chatting, in Afghanistan and places like it, cellphones are used to save lives.

Refugees and other displaced persons use cellphones to access GPS services such as directions and guidance to safety. They can easily send coordinates to rescuers and other humanitarian groups for assistance. Users can take pictures of important phone numbers, provide information on safe routes, and give updates about dangerous conditions or where to find aid. For many in Afghanistan, a cellphone provides a lifeline they desperately need.

NGOs and Cellphones

Humanitarian organizations are finding new ways to connect their services with people in need through cellphone technology. Free apps such as Facebook, MAPS.ME, and WhatsApp offer a ways for users to stay in contact with friends, family members, and aid organizations. Developers are currently working on apps that provide navigation routes as well as real-time information about the safety of roads, the presence of dangerous individuals, and the location of secure buildings.

Working in collaboration with other humanitarian organizations, Google and Mercy Corps developed a multilingual website designed specifically for refugees. The site is filled with information such as currency details, where to find lodging, current asylum process, and emergency information. By hosting hotspots throughout Afghanistan and other regions, displaced people can quickly and easily connect to the refugee site and access the information they need. Using GPS location services, the site can detect the user’s location and provide real-time information about shifting conditions, movement restrictions, and other updates.

Many NGOs are adopting a cashless system, where recipients are provided a debit card loaded with funds that can be used to secure food, lodging, and supplies. Refillable cards make it easy to provide tangible assistance without having to worry about currency, loss, or theft.

Translation apps make it possible for aid workers to speak to individuals in their native tongue, quickly finding out critical information and offering support. Weather apps help farmers with updates and market information. Internet access is also vital for individuals who need to access financial information. For instance, mobile banking helps families start savings accounts and access emergency funds. Social media and video technology allows families to stay in touch, providing comfort and stability during a crisis.

Offering mobile technology to at-risk groups is a meaningful, low-cost way to reach individuals with the help they need. For many Afghans, wireless technology and cellphones are some of the most important tools being used today.

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.

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.