Spotlight on the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat

Aga Khan Agency

Through its various branches and agencies, the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is responsible for a wide range of development projects and initiatives in Afghanistan, from the restoration of culturally significant public spaces to the creation of improved health care facilities and resources. Today, we take a look at one of the AKDN’s agencies, the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH), which is responsible for helping Afghanistan and its people to cope with one of the most devastating challenges that they face: natural disasters.

How Afghanistan Is Affected by Natural Disasters

Due to its geographic location, years of environmental degradation, and a number of other factors, Afghanistan is highly susceptible to severe and recurring natural hazards and disasters. Given that Afghanistan is located in a high seismic activity zone, earthquakes are frequent, particularly in the northern and northwestern parts of the country. Since 2000, about nine major earthquakes have occurred. Earthquakes of all sizes often trigger landslides, which can have a destructive impact. In the spring, melting snow and heavy rains commonly cause flooding all over the country, and the effect of these floods can be particularly severe when they are preceded by periods of drought.

The devastation caused by these high rates of natural disasters place a huge burden on Afghan citizens, who struggle to stay resilient in the face of such emergencies due to factors such as severe poverty and poor infrastructure. According to data from the World Bank, natural hazards and disasters in Afghanistan have affected 9 million people and caused more than 20,000 fatalities since 1980, and those figures are only expected to rise given the increasing threat of climate change and its anticipated impact on natural disasters.

An Overview of the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat

AKAH, which was previously known as Focus Humanitarian Assistance, is one of the most important entities dedicated to resilience in the face of natural disasters in Afghanistan. AKAH engages with Afghan communities, primarily those in remote mountainous areas and rural regions, to build and support their capacity to cope with natural disasters and other complex emergencies.

AKAH’s broad approach focuses on predicting where and how natural disasters and emergencies could impact homes, communities, and livelihoods; identifying the structural and non-structural interventions that could help prevent or mitigate these disasters; and supporting communities and local and national governments to reduce their vulnerability to risk.

Focus Areas of the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat

In order to help Afghans better prepare for and cope with the effects of natural disasters and emergencies, AKAH operates a range of programs and initiatives across several different focus areas. They include the following:

Disaster Risk Reduction – For over a decade, AKAH has operated a disaster risk reduction (DRR) and emergency preparedness program in Afghanistan’s mountainous communities. The program’s model consists of community-based DRR activities; safety initiatives for public facilities such as schools and hospitals; capacity building efforts for local governments; and national advocacy for wide-ranging DRR policies and programs. One of the most important elements of the program is the communities that play a hands-on role in their own protection and preparedness. For example, community members conduct a Hazard Vulnerability Risk Assessment to identify evacuation routes and safe refuges, as well as to establish their own community-based emergency response teams.

Capacity Building – Providing support to communities in creating and maintaining community-based emergency response teams (CERTs) is one of AKAH’s most important capacity-building initiatives. Through this program, AKAH helps to ensure that CERTs are established in the communities that need them most and that these teams are properly equipped and trained. For example, CERTs receive AKAH-supported training in areas such as first aid, search and rescue, health and hygiene, communication and coordination, and early warning systems.

Community-Based Interventions – AKAH works directly in areas that are most likely to be affected by natural disasters in order to help these high-risk communities mitigate hazards and respond effectively when necessary. Some of the particular interventions that AKAH has carried out over the years include: the creation of village disaster management plans for over 400 villages; more than 100 small-scale structural risk mitigation projects, which includes clearing flow channels of debris and terracing against avalanches; the development of school disaster management committees in schools, as well as school seismic retrofitting projects in five schools; and the development of three community-based flood early warning systems in riverside areas.

External Partnerships – In order for a response to natural disasters to be most effective, it’s important to have strong communication and coordination among the various entities involved in relief efforts. AKAH helps to achieve this by building strong external partnerships with other programs, agencies, and government ministries, as well as by taking a central role in disaster management coordination. AKAH is one of the primary response institutions in Afghanistan’s Provincial Disaster Management Committee; an active member of Afghanistan’s Disaster Risk Reduction platform; a co-chair of the Disaster Risk Reduction Clusters for Food Security and Agriculture; and a partner of many other institutions, including Afghanaid, Save the Children, the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, and a variety of United Nations agencies.

Spotlight on the Bayat Foundation’s New Scholarship Program

Education has always been a top priority for the Bayat Foundation. As Afghanistan’s largest private philanthropic organization, the Bayat Foundation is keenly aware of the fact that years of conflict and instability have prevented many Afghans from pursuing any kind of formal education. As a result, the country is experiencing a serious education and skills gap that is limiting its ability to rebuild and move forward into the 21st century.

Bayat Foundation

Like many other charitable organizations, the Bayat Foundation is deeply committed to reducing this education gap. Over the years, the Foundation has launched and supported a wide variety of educational initiatives, many aimed at Afghanistan’s most vulnerable and underserved populations. The Foundation has also worked to build a legacy of educational redevelopment through a long-term partnership with the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF), the country’s leading private nonprofit university. Recently, the Foundation announced the creation of the Bayat Scholars Program, a new scholarship initiative that will provide key educational opportunities for Afghan youth at AUAF. Read on to learn more.

Building the next generation of IT professionals

The aim of the Bayat Scholars Program is to build and develop a new generation of skilled and experienced Afghan IT professionals. Many organizations, including the Bayat Foundation, agree that a vibrant and innovative tech sector will be a vital element of Afghanistan’s rebuilding process. But before young and aspiring entrepreneurs can revitalize the country’s tech scene, they need the opportunity to gain critical skills and knowledge in their field—the kind of opportunity that a first-class post-secondary institution like AUAF is well placed to provide.

Through the Bayat Scholars Program, 15 scholarships will be awarded each year to qualified candidates, allowing them to pursue a bachelor’s degree at AUAF in either information communication technology or computer science. To be eligible for a scholarship, candidates must be Afghan citizens with a high school diploma, a strong academic record, and excellent English skills. In addition, candidates must be committed to using the opportunity of the scholarship program to help build a better future not only for themselves but for Afghanistan. Ultimately, the aim of the Bayat Scholars Program is to help create and support an exceptional Afghan-based technology sector that will drive economic growth and create job opportunities for the entire country.

computer

A thriving partnership

The Bayat Scholars Program is the latest step forward on the journey that the Bayat Foundation and AUAF have taken together over the years. The Bayat Foundation has been one of AUAF’s biggest supporters from the university’s early days, backing many of its programs and initiatives.

Perhaps the largest and most impressive testament to the thriving partnership between the Bayat Foundation and AUAF is the Bayat Institute of Technology (BIT), a 32,000-square-foot science and technology teaching and research center that was completed and opened in 2018. Located at the heart of AUAF’s flagship campus in Kabul, BIT offers students, faculty, and visiting scholars and researchers a host of world-class amenities, including media and technology labs, IT labs, fully equipped lecture halls, a rooftop leisure center, and two prayer halls. Developed and built by Afghans, the facility is a distinguished example of Afghan skill, craftsmanship, and determination, as well as an important hub for technological education and innovation in Afghanistan.

More about the American University of Afghanistan

The only private, nonprofit, nonpartisan, and coeducational university in Afghanistan, AUAF is dedicated to providing its students with the quality education they need to help meet the needs of their country and become future leaders in their communities and on the world stage.

AUAF first opened its doors in 2006, and since that time, it has grown into one of Afghanistan’s premier educational institutions, with 29 Fulbright Scholars among its graduates as well as ongoing partnerships with such prestigious international universities as Stanford, Georgetown, and the University of California network. The following are some of the most important highlights of AUAF’s history:

2002—Minister of Higher Education Dr. Sharif Fayez proposes that Afghanistan establishes its first independent university. In a public speech, President Hamid Karzai emphasizes how important education is to Afghanistan’s future.

2003—The Afghanistan High Commission for Private Investments offers two large tracts of land in southwest Kabul, under a 99-year lease, for the development of a private university. To receive these leases, the American University of Afghanistan is chartered as a nonprofit philanthropic organization in Delaware.

2004—Afghanistan’s Ministry of Higher Education grants AUAF a charter under the Afghan Constitution and the Civil Code. A feasibility study is initiated to identify an institutional framework for the new university.

2005—Laura Bush, the US First Lady, visits the site of the new university and announces that the US will provide financial support for its launch.

2006—AUAF welcomes its first cohort of 53 students.

2007—AUAF develops and implements its first strategic vision and academic plans.

2009—Dr. C. Michael Smith is appointed AUAF’s president by the board of trustees. A grant from the US allows the university to establish an e-learning facility so that students can benefit from collaborations with institutions in other regions.

2010—Enrollment reaches 550 students, and a number of new programs, including bachelor’s degrees in computer science and business administration, are approved by the board of trustees.

2011—AUAF celebrates its first convocation.

2018—AUAF is granted accreditation status from the Ministry of Higher Education.

A Look at 5 Charities That Aim to Help Afghans with Disabilities

A growing number of organizations are seeking to make life easier for Afghans with disabilities. Recognizing that Afghanistan is not the most easily accessible place for people with disabilities, these organizations aim to integrate these vulnerable individuals into Afghan society, which offers little in the way of infrastructure or systems to facilitate the daily lives of those with mobility difficulties or visual impairments. In addition, there are few services in Afghanistan that provide assistance and support to people with disabilities. However, the following organizations are seeking to ensure that Afghans with disabilities obtain the assistance that they need.

1. Humanity & Inclusion

Humanity and Inclusion

Formerly known as Handicap International (and still operating programs in Afghanistan under this name), Humanity & Inclusion (HI) has been working in Afghanistan for more than 30 years. Focused primarily on helping people injured by landmines, the organization accomplishes its mission in two ways. The first is through the direct provision of assistance and other support services. At its rehabilitation center in Kandahar, for example, HI offers physiotherapy sessions and produces support equipment such as prostheses and mobility aids. The second way is through extensive advocacy work: HI works with the government of Afghanistan and other national institutions to improve access to care for people with disabilities and to ensure that action plans based on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are properly coordinated. HI also supports local—often smaller—disability rights organizations by connecting them with potential partners and raising their concerns with local political leaders.

2. Tearfund

Tearfund

Based in the UK, Tearfund is a charity whose international work seeks to lift people out of poverty, overcome the effects of disasters, and deliver support to some of the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized populations. Since 1971, Tearfund has been supporting humanitarian work in Afghanistan. Active in 10 Afghan provinces, the charity partners with five local organizations to deliver its programming. One of its key focus areas is advocating for Afghans with disabilities. Through this work, Tearfund seeks to transform attitudes and end the stigma surrounding disabilities, as well as establish inclusive communities where people of different ability levels can live together on equal footing. In addition, the charity runs educational support programs and works with one of its local partners to help Afghanistan develop a more inclusive educational policy. As a result, more children with disabilities are now attending school than ever before.

3. Development and Ability Organization (DAO)

Development and Ability Organization

Founded in 2004, the Afghan-led DAO is one of the organizations recently certified by the Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society. A vocal advocate for disability rights, DAO aims to build a more inclusive society by increasing awareness of disability issues among the general public and the Afghan government. The organization’s current projects include physical rehabilitation activities, community dialogue initiatives, and the publication of a disability issues newsletter in three languages. In the future, DAO intends to expand its activities to include providing small support loans to people with disabilities and creating vocational training programs so that people vulnerable individuals can acquire vocational skills and earn an income.

4. Children in Crisis

Kids in Crisis

With the mission of bringing education, care, and protection to the world’s most vulnerable children, the UK nonprofit Children in Crisis has considerable experience working in remote regions. In Afghanistan, some of the “forgotten” children who are most in need are those with disabilities. Many families in Afghanistan simply don’t have the resources or knowledge to provide proper care and support to children with disabilities. As a result, it’s not uncommon for them to experience neglect, abuse, and even abandonment. In order to address this issue, Children in Crisis runs the In-Home Care Project, which aims to provide the families of children with disabilities with the resources and tools they need to become better caregivers. The program staff works with parents and family members to develop a personal care plan for each child and to provide initial medical care, physiotherapy, and materials. Ultimately, through the project’s training, families will be better equipped and capable of handling these responsibilities themselves.

5. Afghanistan International Foundation for the Blind (AIFB)

AFIB logo

Founded in 2009, AIFB is committed to its mission of improving and enhancing the lives of those Afghans in need affected by blindness. By collaborating and partnering with other international organizations, AIFB offers services and programs in the areas of education, health, rehabilitation, and community services for people affected by blindness and visual impairments. AIFB’s vision includes the use of Braille books and blind-based computer technologies in Afghan classrooms, services to help people with blindness to access employment and higher education, and support for prescriptions and health procedures.