Since its beginnings in 1984 with the operation of economic opportunity projects at refugee camps in Pakistan, the non-governmental humanitarian and development organization DACAAR (Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees) has supported the self-reliance of the Afghan people. DACAAR engages in activities targeted at helping the members of rural Afghan communities to acquire the capabilities to direct their own development and achieve sustainable improvements in their quality of life. With a focus on resolving problems related to poverty, DACAAR primarily works with the most vulnerable rural populations in Afghanistan, including youth-led households, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and refugees returning from Pakistan and Iran. From its inception more than 30 years ago, DACAAR has assisted approximately 10 million Afghans and facilitated projects in all but five of Afghanistan’s provinces.
Generally working in locations facing major difficulties, DACAAR emphasizes long-term partnerships with its beneficiaries and normally remains engaged in an area for years after initiating an intervention. Employing a holistic approach to rural development, DACAAR promotes the active involvement of community members in order to strengthen the durability and effectiveness of projects over the long term, build a foundation for civil society, and place ownership of planning each community’s progress in the possession of its residents. The mobilization of a community to carry out development activities occurs in multiple phases to ensure the inclusion of residents from all strata in identifying needs, assigning priorities, and attaining capacity. Along with working in collaboration with village shuras, Community Development Councils, and other existing collective entities, DACAAR enables the formation of practical social and economic community-based organizations, then helps them to connect with civil society institutions and register with the proper government agencies.
Programs Addressed to the Complex Needs of Rural Communities
Seeking to improve the life and health of rural Afghans, DACAAR structures its programming to address interconnected issues of poverty such as income deficiency, food scarcity, and inadequate access to potable water and hygienic waste disposal. Based on the needs and concerns specific to each community, DACAAR undertakes projects categorized within a set of integrated thematic areas that include Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), Natural Resources Management (NRM), and Small-Scale Enterprise Development (SSED).
DACAAR maximizes the impact of its interventions by seeking and utilizing synergies between program areas. Projects initiated within NRM and SSED, for instance, both center on skills training in fields where enhanced capacity is vitally needed. While individual beneficiaries only receive instruction and resources in one area, they horizontally disseminate skills across program areas by mutually sharing their acquired knowledge, thereby multiplying a community’s overall capacity.
Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH)
In order to combat the spread of disease in rural communities due to contaminated water supplies and a lack of sanitary sewage facilities, DACAAR engages in WASH projects that secure the provision of clean drinking water. The projects utilize a broad variety of water delivery and treatment systems, ranging from wells and in-home bio-sand filters, to solar-powered conduits and gravity pipeline networks. Over the last 20 years, DACAAR has improved availability of potable water for millions of Afghans by establishing over 45,000 water access points throughout the country.
Complementing the development of infrastructure for clean water supply, DACAAR performs wide-ranging groundwater quality testing through a web of 261 groundwater monitoring wells spread across 22 provinces. This network stands as the only nationwide source for gathering essential scientific data on groundwater quality, volume, and sustainability. The information obtained from monthly groundwater level measurements and twice-annual water quality tests conducted at each well are analyzed, mapped, and reported using an integrated water resources data management system.
The issue of improper hygiene has also led to water-borne illnesses in Afghanistan. Following Afghan government policy for WASH projects, DACAAR provides education relating to human waste disposal and hygiene in the communities that it serves, further reducing the health risks posed by water contamination.
Natural Resources Management (NRM)
The productivity of farmland in Afghanistan is generally low, in spite of findings from the 2011-2012 National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment indicating that nearly one-third of Afghan households rely on agriculture as their primary source of income. Large swaths of irrigated and rain-fed land remain uncultivated due to a lack of water and soil infertility. Afghan farmers commonly do not possess knowledge of efficient agricultural techniques nor sufficient access to high-grade input. Together, these factors perpetuate high levels of food insecurity throughout the country.
Through its NRM projects, DACAAR provides farmers with essential inputs and helps them adopt sustainable agriculture and livestock farming practices. Among its recent efforts, DACAAR has assisted farmers with the implementation of bioengineering and affordable soil moisture conservation methods and supported the cultivation of saffron and the planting of fruit and non-fruit orchards. The NRM program has also improved the water supply for farmers by repairing the existing irrigation apparatus and installing new infrastructure, such as canals, dividers, and intakes.
Small-Scale Enterprise Development (SSED)
The creation of strong business ventures in rural Afghan communities has been hindered by insecurity, inadequate resources, a weak business environment, and an absence of institutional assistance. Confronting this dilemma, the Small-Scale Enterprise Development (SSED) program launches initiatives coordinated with the Afghan government’s national strategy for job creation through small- and medium-size enterprise (SME) development.
In this program area, DACAAR focuses on activities such as assisting farmers in the formation of jointly owned Producer Associations (PA). The associations democratically nominate their managing leadership, and members share their assets and ability to produce, process, package, and market agricultural products. In addition to providing PA’s with startup financing, DACAAR delivers training in management and technical skills, and it renders ongoing counsel and support for a minimum of two years. PA’s also receive assistance with building market connections and registering as SME’s with the government.
In addition to supporting PA’s, other SSED projects focus on creating income-earning opportunities for young Afghans without jobs and other at-risk groups. To that end, DACAAR operates vocational training centers where graduating students receive grants and toolkits for establishing their own businesses.