What Is the World Food Programme Doing in Afghanistan?

With an engaged government and population, strong international support, and an increasingly stable social and political climate, Afghanistan has the potential to make significant progress toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are the 17 goals that were adopted by all UN member states in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

However, some SDGs are proving more challenging to address than others. These include SDG 2, which concerns Zero Hunger and improved nutrition. Despite recent advances, food insecurity is on the rise in Afghanistan. It has been exacerbated by the fact that more than half the country’s population lives below the poverty line.

Roughly 12.5 million people in Afghanistan have been identified as severely food insecure. Additionally, undernutrition is disproportionately affecting a number of groups including children, women, displaced people, and people with disabilities.

One of the many organizations working to improve food security in Afghanistan is the World Food Programme (WFP). Present in Afghanistan since 1963, WFP works across a broad range of focus areas to address hunger in Afghanistan and the underlying issues that contribute to it. Read on to learn more about the World Food Programme and its work and activities in Afghanistan.

What is the World Food Programme?

World Food Programme

WFP is the world’s leading humanitarian organization working to save and change lives through food assistance and nutrition improvement. It was established in 1961 at the behest of then-US president Dwight Eisenhower and enshrined as a fully-fledged UN programme in 1965.

WFP has a particular focus on emergency assistance, relief and rehabilitation efforts, development aid, and special operations. It distributes more than 15 billion food rations every year. In addition, it conducts two-thirds of its work in conflict-affected countries. The organization has an international staff of over 17,000 people and is funded entirely by voluntary donations.

To achieve its objectives, WFP works closely with its two sister organizations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. It also partners with over 1,000 local and international NGOs. WFP’s work in Afghanistan spans the following key focus areas:

Emergency response

Every year in Afghanistan, roughly 250,000 people are affected by natural disasters such as floods, droughts, landslides, and earthquakes. In some years, this figure is much higher. In 2018, for example, Afghanistan experienced its worst drought in over a decade, which affected some 3 million people around the country.

children in afghanistan
Image by United Nations Photo | Flickr

WFP helps to mitigate the impact of these disasters by providing unconditional, fortified, and nutritionally-balanced food assistance to those most in need. Similar food assistance is also provided to people displaced by conflict as well as refugees and people affected by food insecurity on a seasonal basis.

Resilience building

Resilient communities and populations have a stronger ability to reduce their risk of disasters and to mitigate the impact of any disasters that do occur. This is an important foundation for achieving food security. WFP helps Afghan communities build resilience by contributing to projects such as road and canal construction or rehabilitation, reforestation, the construction of flood protection walls, and vocational training.

Nutrition

Proper nutrition means different things for different groups of people, particularly babies and children. WFP works to address the critical problems of undernutrition and stunting in young Afghan children by providing nutritional support that is specially tailored for different ages, genders, and vulnerabilities.

In 2018, for example, WFP helped prevent or treat close to 500,000 cases of malnutrition in children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. WFP also works closely with UNICEF and the World Health Organization to address the lifelong consequences that poor nutrition can have on developing children.

Food systems

A strong and robust national food system can help Afghanistan distribute food more efficiently and address the geographic imbalances that exacerbate food security. In cooperation with the government of Afghanistan and various commercial partners, WFP supports smallholder farmers, builds local milling and fortification capacity, and strengthens value chains and food safety measures around the country. This helps all Afghans access nutritious food at affordable prices.

cereals, grains

Advocacy for Zero Hunger

Efforts to address hunger and food insecurity happen on the ground with the people most affected. However, they also need to happen nationally at the policy level if significant progress is to be made.

WFP plays an important role in helping Afghan government officials and their partners to focus on Zero Hunger as a development priority, and to create and implement a coherent Zero Hunger policy that includes capacity strengthening, advocacy, public awareness, and research efforts. Local ownership and buy-in is furthered by the creation of Food Security and Nutrition committees at the province level.

Capacity strengthening

WFP is committed to efforts that enhance the ability of both the government of Afghanistan and the broader humanitarian and development community to effectively respond to the needs of affected populations. Specific actions in this focus area include providing assistance with things like information and communication technology, facilities and information management, and supply chain oversight and management.

How Is UNESCO Helping Make Education in Afghanistan Better?

In 2015, all member states of the United Nations adopted the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals consist of a series of 17 focus areas, actions, and objectives that aim to build a better world for people and the planet by 2030. Education makes the list at number 4, with the specific wording of the SDG calling for all nations to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning.”

Afghanistan has a large youth population (nearly two-thirds of Afghans are under the age of 25) as well as one of the world’s highest illiteracy rates. This means that the country takes the issue of education very seriously. However, decades of conflict and instability have left the nation’s education system in serious disarray. As a result, major improvements to education in Afghanistan is a complex and challenging undertaking.

UNESCOlogo

This is where partners like UNESCO come in. Since reopening its Kabul office in 2002, UNESCO has been working with the government of Afghanistan and many other organizations and institutions to help the country rebuild and enhance its education system.

UNESCO’s work focuses primarily on broad, large-scale initiatives in the areas of capacity building, sector wide policies, and strategic planning. Over the last few years in particular, UNESCO has been working closely with the Afghan Ministry of Education to support the country’s progress toward achieving SDG 4 by 2030. Some of the specific ways that UNESCO is supporting Afghanistan’s education system include:

1. Translation of SDG Documents

Simple as it may sound, the task of ensuring that materials related to SDG 4 are available in the first languages of the people who will be working with them is a very important one. UNESCO took responsibility for this by supporting the translation of the SDG 4 Framework of Action, also known as the Education 2030 document, from English into Dari and Pashto. Having this vital guiding document available in local languages allows this resource to be much more accessible to all Afghans working in the field of educational development.

2. Support for Technical and Vocational Training

Under the umbrella of its global Capacity Development for Education 2030 (CapED) program, UNESCO has targeted several specific focus areas regarding the enhancement and improvement of education in Afghanistan. One of these is Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).

In Afghanistan, adults are also in need of educational and skills development opportunities—just as much as children and youth are. TVET-related initiatives help to fill this gap by providing adults, particularly those who are unemployed or underemployed, with targeted training that can improve their prospects in the labor market.

Over the past decade, UNESCO has worked closely with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education and other entities. Their goal was to help build and improve the government’s capacity to develop comprehensive strategic plans, make and implement effective policies, and monitor and evaluate specific initiatives around TVET.

Specific projects that UNESCO has supported include the development and rollout of the National TVET Policy Strategy; the creation of a TVET management information system; and the establishment of a National TVET Research Center. It has also engaged with smaller-scale initiatives such as labor market research, the creation of new curricular materials, and the development of quality assurance measures.

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3. Support for Curricular Reform

Afghanistan’s general education curriculum has not been updated in many years as a result of the conflict and instability of recent decades. It is now in serious need of a major revision. In 2015, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education sought the support of UNESCO’s Kabul office for this task.

The government’s particular objective for the revision was to align the curriculum more closely to the country’s employment priorities in order to better prepare Afghan youth for work. To support this goal, UNESCO provided funding under its CapED budget to hold a series of National Curriculum Consultations. These sessions resulted in a sector-wide curriculum reform proposal and plan that was prepared and endorsed in 2016 as well as an updated framework for the existing general education curriculum.

Today, team members from UNESCO and the Ministry of Education are finalizing the curriculum competencies laid out in the new framework. They are also developing the necessary syllabi and related teaching and learning materials.

Most recently, the UNESCO office in Kabul organized an eight-day workshop for senior MoE officials working on the new curriculum details. During the workshop, which was held in April 2019 in New Delhi, India, subject specialists from UNESCO and other partners provided technical leadership and support to the breakout working groups focusing on different curriculum subjects.

Over the course of the workshop, syllabi were discussed and developed for a range of subjects including mathematics, science and technology, social studies, information technology, health and physical activity, and languages. With the support of the subject matter experts, working group participants reviewed and updated the scope and sequence of their particular subject’s curriculum. They also identified the major ideas and achievement objectives for each grade level.

Spotlight on the Afghanistan Project from the Library of Congress

Library of Congress

In 2016, the US Library of Congress celebrated the completion of one of its most significant recent initiatives: the Afghanistan Project. Unfolding over a period of three years, the Afghanistan Project undertook to digitize the library’s various collections relating to Afghanistan, which together comprised thousands of historical, cultural, and scholarly materials spanning more than six centuries. The result is a valuable digital archive that the whole world can enjoy and benefit from. Read on to learn more about this unique project.

Why was the Afghanistan Project launched?

The Library of Congress is home to a huge range of material from and about Afghanistan, including books, manuscripts, photographs, newspapers, maps, and other historically significant items. Much of this material can no longer be found in Afghanistan itself—wars and natural disasters have unfortunately destroyed many treasures from Afghanistan’s cultural heritage—and some unique items and documents don’t exist anywhere else in the world.

The Afghanistan Project was launched to ensure that contemporary Afghans would have access to these important materials that lie at the very heart of Afghan national identity. As one curator of the Afghanistan Project described in an article published by McClatchy DC, national identity is rooted in a country’s cultural history and stories, so when a country loses a record of its past, it also loses a sense of who it is. By restoring important digitized cultural material to Afghanistan—in a process that has become known as “virtual repatriation”—the Afghanistan Project attempts to help restore this vital sense of cultural identity and knowledge.

Image by Doctor Yuri | Flickr

What are some examples of materials from the Afghanistan Project?

A wide variety of material was digitized during the Afghanistan Project, including:

Lithographs—Born in 1780, the British artist and lithographer James Atkinson spent much of his life in India and several years exploring Afghanistan. His book Sketches in Afghanistan (digitized under the Afghanistan Project) is a series of 25 beautiful lithographs based on drawings that Atkinson made of Kabul’s cityscape, mountain scenery in Afghanistan’s remote regions, and significant events from the First Anglo-Afghan War.

Contemporary magazines—The Afghanistan Project digitized an extensive collection of issues of Zhvandūn (or “Life” in English), one of the most popular 20th century magazines in Afghanistan. Launched in May 1949, the progressive magazine published articles in Persian and Pashto on a wide variety of subjects, including literature, history, education, entertainment, and fashion. Publication of Zhvandūn stopped after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s; today, these magazines provide a fascinating and important record of a vanished society.

Illuminated manuscripts—The digitized archive of the Afghanistan Project includes a beautifully preserved illuminated manuscript from the renowned calligrapher Mir Ali Heravi, who was active in the city of Herat in the 16th century. The manuscript features Persian verses praying for the patron’s well-being and prosperity, surrounded by a decorative motif of flowers and vines in blue and gold.

What will happen to the digitized materials?

The digitized collection of the Afghanistan Project, which contains more than 163,000 pages of documents on two hard drives, was presented to two Afghan officials—Minister of Information and Culture Abdul Bari Jahani, and the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University’s executive director Abdul Wahid Wafa—during a special ceremony in September 2016 at the Library of Congress. In total, 10 Afghan institutions received complete sets of the collection to use in their own digital libraries and online repositories: these institutions include the National Library of Afghanistan, the National Archive of Afghanistan, and a number of universities. In addition, the digitized material from the Afghanistan Project is now available to the public through the online World Digital Library, which is a huge digital archive of documents of cultural significance from all over the world.

Who’s behind the Afghanistan Project?

The Afghanistan Project was led by the Library of Congress and financed by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library. Located in Washington, DC, the library offers on-site and online access to the creative record of the United States, as well as to an extensive collection of international materials. The library is also the home of the US Copyright Office and serves as the main research arm of the US Congress.

Created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911, the Carnegie Corporation of New York promotes the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding. In particular, the corporation’s work focuses on issues that Andrew Carnegie deemed to be of vital importance, such as international peace, democracy, and the advancement of knowledge and education.

library of congress

What’s next for the Afghanistan Project?

As a result of its success, the Afghanistan Project could serve as a useful blueprint for how to help preserve the history and heritage of other nations whose cultural legacy is under threat from war and conflict. At present, for example, the international cultural heritage community is especially concerned about Syria and Iraq; adopting the Afghanistan Project model could help solve some of the challenges associated with cultural preservation in these countries.