How Is IOM Supporting Afghans Who Return to the Country?

Pushed out of their nation of origin for reasons that include war and extreme poverty, Afghans have increasingly been returning home in recent years. From 2012 to 2017, nearly 3.5 million natives of the country made their way back into one of 15 Afghan provinces from abroad, according to the International Organization for Migration. This total includes more than 398,000 people migrating back to Afghanistan from Iran.

With the Iranian economy worsening, 2018 has seen these numbers spike even more. From January 1 to June 9, over 320,000 members of the Afghan diaspora migrated from Iran, a rate nearly double of that seen during the same period in 2017. Unfortunately, whether these individuals have been deported or chosen to cross back into Afghanistan of their own accord, many lack sufficient financial resources and require protection and support.

 

Reaching Out to Afghan Migrants in Need

IOMlogoThe International Organization for Migration (IOM) recognizes the challenges faced by returning Afghan migrants and is engaging in ongoing efforts to aid these individuals. Founded in 1951, IOM has a long history of assisting in efforts that benefit migrants.

In its earliest years, IOM focused on helping European governments identify where to resettle the approximately 11 million people displaced by World War II. The organization has expanded its mandate over the ensuing decades. Today, it holds distinction as the world’s foremost migration agency and is active in more than 150 countries.

These countries include Afghanistan, where IOM has maintained a presence since 1992. Among the organization’s largest missions, IOM Afghanistan commits itself to benefiting migrants and society by facilitating orderly and humane migration. Since 2007, the mission has specifically concentrated on supporting Afghans relocating from Iran. Through a network of transit and screening facilities located on the border between the two countries, IOM provides case management and humanitarian assistance to individuals whose gender, age, and health, among other factors, make them highly vulnerable.

For some of these highly vulnerable individuals, the issues they face are as serious as potential impending death. IOM estimates, in fact, that a minimum of 30 percent of all Afghans migrating from Iran require life-saving humanitarian aid. Unfortunately, as of May of 2018, the agency stands equipped to help only about 7 percent of these individuals.

 

Italian Donation Augments IOM Afghanistan’s Border Services

Recognizing the need for enhanced migration services in Afghanistan, Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperated announced in May 2018 a donation of €1 million to IOM Afghanistan. The funding will help to pay for IOM’s humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan’s Nimroz and Herat provinces, both of which border Iran.

In Nimroz, the funding will specifically allow for the construction of a transit center. Through this facility, IOM will offer more effective registration and screening of migrants. In Herat, meanwhile, IOM health staff will undergo training that will enable them to provide psychosocial support to returning Afghans. The funding will further cover the cost of monitoring surveys used by IOM and its partners to shape humanitarian responses.

 

IOM Encourages Migration of Skilled Afghans from Iran

Of the 3 million Afghans living in Iran, many do not require humanitarian aid when relocating back home. In fact, they may have valuable qualifications that can potentially benefit their native country. Among these individuals is Foruzan Faghiri, a 29-year-old Afghan-born physicist who was profiled in June of 2018 by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Forced by war to flee to Iran when she was 3, Ms. Faghiri has gone on to find success in her adopted country. She invented an inexpensive, easy-to-use pollution monitor that has earned praise on both sides of the Afghanistan-Iran border. Yet, despite her accomplishments abroad, she still desires to return home to Afghanistan.

To help skilled individuals like Ms. Faghiri bring their expertise back to Afghanistan, IOM has created the Return of Qualified Afghans (RQA) program. Since its inception in 2001, the program has facilitated the homecoming of 1,665 members of the Afghan diaspora, including more than 600 Afghans who formerly resided in Iran.

These individuals, who have valuable qualifications in areas such as engineering, IT, and health care, return to Afghanistan with the intention of aiding in the recovery and development of their country of origin. This goal is shared by organizations like the Aga Khan Development Network.

 

RQA Program Celebrates Success, Earns Additional Funding

In 2017-18 alone, the RQA program enabled the return of 20 Afghans from Iran. To recognize this success, IOM held an event in Kabul in April of 2018.

At the event, participants in the RQA program shared their stories about relocating back to Afghanistan and being connected with positions at the country’s Ministry of Urban Development and Housing, Ministry of Energy and Water, and other agencies. Speakers reflected positively on their experience in the program and urged other members of the Afghan diaspora to participate.

Outside of celebrating the program and its participants, the event recognized the contributions of the government of Japan. Japan has funded the RQA program since 2008 and currently serves as the program’s sole sponsor. In remarks prepared for the event by Japan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, the East Asian nation announced that it will continue its support of the RQA program with a $1 million contribution in 2018-19.

Spotlight on the Clean and Green Cities Program

According to UN-Habitat, the United Nations program dedicated to building a better urban future, clean, green, and beautiful public spaces are one of the most important elements of a livable city. High-quality public spaces that are not profit-based and that are accessible to all bring many benefits to a city: they enhance community cohesion, promote health and well-being, and allow cities to support a higher population density.

It was in order to bring these benefits to some of Afghanistan’s cities, many of which are still recovering from the effects of decades of conflict and population displacement, that UN-Habitat helped launch the Clean and Green Cities (CGC) program in March of 2017. Read on to learn more about the CGC program and about UN-Habitat.

 

What is the Clean and Green Cities program?

The CGC program is an urban initiative that is working to implement public space upgrades and improve certain municipal services in a dozen cities around Afghanistan, including Kabul. Over the last few decades, conflict, unregulated development, rapid population growth, and aging infrastructure and services have seriously compromised the livability of many of Afghanistan’s urban centers.

The CGC program aims to address this on a local scale by providing support for key “cleaning and greening” activities. These activities are carried out by local residents in cooperation with each city’s municipal government and nahias (a nahia is a municipal administrative sub-district: essentially, a neighborhood).

In addition to the refreshment and revitalization of public spaces, job creation and economic stimulus are important components of the CGC program. Through the funding it receives from a number of international supporters, including the EU, the CGC program creates jobs for more than 13,500 people. The program has a particular focus on making the jobs accessible to vulnerable populations, including returnees and the urban poor. UN-Habitat supports these efforts through technical assistance and expertise.

 

What CGC initiatives have taken place so far?

In Kabul, five major categories of cleaning and beautification activities have been identified by the community and the municipal government. These are: collecting solid waste from households, planting trees, sweeping streets, painting curbs, and cleaning roadside ditches. Under the umbrella of the CGC program, these activities will be carried out regularly, and in accordance with set standards of performance, through coordinated planning efforts from the municipality of Kabul and specially created nahia development committees.

More recently, in February 2018, the mayor of Kabul announced that seven public parks in the city would also be upgraded as part of the CGC program. This particular activity was inspired by the New Urban Agenda, the UN’s action blueprint for sustainable urban development that emphasizes the importance of safe, inclusive, and accessible green public spaces.

To help its parks conform to this vision, the municipality of Kabul has outlined a program of walkway upgrades within and around the park; grass and tree planting; well digging and implementation of an irrigation distribution system; electrical connection; upgrades to the boundary wall and installation of entrance gates; and the installation of benches throughout the park.

 

What is UN-Habitat?

An essential program of the United Nations, UN-Habitat works toward a better urban future. It aims to promote and develop human settlements that are socially and environmentally sustainable and to achieve adequate shelter for all global citizens. UN-Habitat has been working to fulfil this vision ever since it was mandated by the UN General Assembly in 1978.

Even at that time, urbanization issues relating to the uncontrolled growth of cities were already apparent. Since then, cities around the world have continued to experience unprecedented change. Today, the challenges—demographic, environmental, economic, social, and spatial—that the world’s urban areas are now facing are extreme. In view of the projection that 60 percent of the global population will be living in cities by the year 2030, it is clear that UN-Habitat’s work is more vital than ever before.

To guide its vision for well-planned, well-governed, and efficient cities and human settlements that offer all their residents adequate housing, infrastructure, employment opportunities, and basic services, UN-Habitat works with a medium-term strategy approach. Every six years, the organization develops a new strategic plan that provides continuity with the previous plan while facilitating an adaptable and effective response to emerging urban trends and offering opportunities for the incorporation of lessons learned from previous plans.

At present, UN-Habitat is working with a strategic plan that covers the years from 2014 to 2019. The seven focus areas of this plan are: urban legislation, land, and governance; urban planning and design; urban economy; the provision of basic services in urban areas; housing and slum upgrading; risk reduction and rehabilitation in urban areas; and research and capacity development. The first four areas are of particular importance in this iteration of the strategic plan, as they have been neglected in previous years in favor of other, higher-priority objectives.

How Is the ARTF Supporting Agriculture in Afghanistan?

ARTFlogoAs one of the largest international entities funding Afghanistan’s ongoing rebuilding and development process, the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) is committed to investing in projects that will make a real difference in the lives of ordinary Afghans. At present, one of the most important focus areas for ARTF support is agriculture.

Contributing 31% of Afghanistan’s GDP and employing an incredible 59% of its labor force, the agricultural sector is a critical component of Afghanistan’s future economic prosperity. Ensuring that it is properly financed is therefore a major priority for ARTF. Read on to learn more about some of the active agriculture portfolio investment projects that are currently receiving ARTF support.

 

On Farm Water Management Project

In an arid country like Afghanistan, where only about 12% of the land is arable, irrigation and water management initiatives are absolutely critical. However, years of conflict have left most of the modern irrigation systems throughout Afghanistan in a state of neglect and disrepair, making it difficult for farmers to achieve the levels of agricultural productivity needed to drive economic growth and ensure food security.

The primary objective of the On Farm Water Management Project is to enhance the efficiency of water use in targeted areas in order to improve agricultural productivity. Under the umbrella of the project, physical improvements of tertiary irrigation facilities (on individual farms) are being carried out, thus providing farmers with an improved, reliable, and equitable way to distribute irrigation water on their lands.

The project is expected to result in a 25% increase in water use efficiency in project areas and a 30% increase in the productivity of agricultural crops. In addition, water user organizations will likely be better able to carry out operations and maintenance tasks, and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock will have more capacity to plan, implement, and monitor future projects in this area.

Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Project

Through the Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Project, the ARTF is addressing the pressing question of irrigation and water management in Afghan agriculture on a larger scale than the On Farm Water Management Project described above. Despite recent achievements supported by other funders, there is still a huge unmet demand for irrigation rehabilitation all across Afghanistan. Prior to 1979, there were about 3.2 million hectares of irrigated area, but in 2007, that figure had fallen to just 1.8 million hectares. Between 2007 and 2011, close to 0.9 million hectares were rehabilitated, but there is still considerable work to do.

The Irrigation Rehabilitation and Development Project aims to close this gap by providing support for the rehabilitation of irrigation systems serving about 300,000 hectares of land. In addition, the project will invest in the design and construction of several small, multi-purpose dams and associated irrigation distribution systems in closed river basins. Other elements of the project include the establishment of facilities and services for hydro-meteorological work, and project management and capacity-building initiatives in several communities. The project is expected to yield a 15% increase in total irrigated area and a minimum 20% increase in crop yields in the newly rehabilitated zones.

 

National Horticulture and Livestock Project

The National Horticulture and Livestock Project works toward the ARTF’s overarching goal of increasing production of horticultural products and improving animal production and health. The main objective is to train farmers in improved production practices and to support them as they adopt these practices on an ongoing basis. Practically speaking, this involves a gradual rollout of farmer-centric agricultural services systems complemented by targeted investment support. The scope of the project has been expanding as conditions warrant, but has the capacity to serve up to 100 focus districts across 22 provinces.

Some of the expected results of the program include 6,000 hectares of rehabilitated orchards benefiting 30,000 people and the creation of 8,000 new orchards with a survival rate of at least 70%. In addition, close to 100,000 farmers will receive training in a horticulture production practice. Project managers also anticipate that 50% of targeted farmers will make regular livestock inoculation a part of their practice.

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Afghanistan Agriculture Inputs Project

The main objective of the Afghanistan Agriculture Inputs Project is to build and strengthen institutional capacity so that certified wheat seed can be sustainably produced and so that farmers can be sure the seed, pesticides, and other inputs they use are safe and reliable. With that goal in mind, the project works to boost capacity in the value chain for the production of certified wheat seed, and to prevent the marketing and sale of any pesticides and fertilizers that are banned, hazardous, sub-standard, or otherwise unreliable. The project also seeks to reduce the risk that plant quarantine pests will be introduced or spread throughout the country, and to facilitate farmers’ access to reliable, high-quality agricultural inputs. Expected results include higher annual production of certified seed, the development of an improved listing of plant quarantine pests and diseases, and testing of at least 180 product samples for pesticide residues.