Spotlight on the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan

The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) has been in existence for more than 35 years. Its goal is to bring support and stability to Afghans who are struggling with the impact of war and violence on their country and their communities.

The organization is committed to maintaining operations in the country as long as necessary. The SCA currently serves as the second-largest channel for the development aid that is provided to Afghanistan by the Swedish government. Read on to learn more about the SCA and its activities in Afghanistan.

 

What is the SCA all about?

SCAlogoThe SCA was originally founded in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. In the early 1980s, the SCA was largely focused on raising funds for humanitarian support. It engaged in relief activities like providing essential health care and education to refugees and residents of occupied Afghanistan.

Over time, the SCA gradually expanded its work beyond the delivery of basic humanitarian services. It became a development organization with a much broader focus.

Today, the SCA’s vision is of an Afghanistan that is free from poverty, violence, and discrimination, where all citizens can live in dignity and enjoy equal opportunity and social justice. Supporting this vision are the SCA’s 12,000 members and individual donors in Sweden as well as the more than 6,000 Afghan employees who implement the SCA’s programs in 14 Afghan provinces.

 

What kinds of activities and programs does the SCA operate?

The organization aims to support some of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable groups, including children, people with disabilities, and rural and remote communities. The SCA operates programs and activities across four major focus areas:

 

  1. Healthcare

Access to healthcare and health outcomes in Afghanistan have improved in recent years. Despite this, the country’s health situation still remains a major challenge.

At present, the SCA is responsible for providing healthcare services and building healthcare capacity in Laghman province and Wardak province. In Afghanistan, it is typical for basic healthcare to be provided primarily by non-governmental organizations on a province-by-province basis.

Particular initiatives include conducting community-based health and hygiene education campaigns; training more health care providers, particularly midwives; and increasing health care access for people with disabilities.

Highlights from 2017 include: performing 2.6 million patient consultations; giving immunizations against diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis b, and polio to 50,000 children under the age of 5; providing maternal care to more than 44,000 women; and establishing 31 more health clinics in the two provinces.

 

  1. Community Governance

In the Afghan countryside, many local communities have severely restricted opportunities for residents to effect change, make their voices heard, and assert their rights. This is the result of conflicts, corruption, and mismanagement at the municipal level.

To help empower these communities and their residents, the SCA works all around Afghanistan. It builds the capacity of local decision-making bodies and provides education and training to local authorities.

Highlights from 2017 include: providing support to nearly 370 community development councils, which in turn implemented 65 local projects; offering training in service delivery and community rights to members of local government; and conducting social audits of community projects in three provinces.

 

  1. Rural Livelihood

Rapid urbanization has taken place in Afghanistan over the last decade. Despite this, an estimated 75 percent of the country’s population still lives and works in rural areas. Unfortunately, many of these rural citizens, especially those in remote or isolated communities, are among Afghanistan’s most vulnerable people.

As a result of conflict, difficult environmental conditions, and natural disasters, poverty is endemic in most rural areas. As a result, the potential for long-term self-sufficiency is very limited.

To help rural citizens build secure livelihoods for themselves and their families and access new sources of income, the SCA facilitates the formation of self-help groups. These groups can save money together, develop business partnerships, and exchange knowledge and skills.

The SCA also provides practical, hands-on training in potentially income-generating activities such as poultry farming, vegetable farming, soap making, tailoring, and carpet weaving.

Highlights from 2017 include: forming over 200 new self-help groups; establishing 32 village-based saving and loan associations; granting micro-loans to more than 2,500 rural households; conducting an impact study revealing that previous loan recipients increased their household income by almost 29 percent.

 

  1. Education

Education is one of Afghanistan’s most important priorities. The SCA is just one of many organizations working to improve access to and quality of education for children all across the country. As a result of concerted efforts by these organizations and the government of Afghanistan, more Afghan children are attending school than ever. At present, nearly 70,000 children go to SCA-run schools.

Highlights from 2017 include: a 5 percent increase in the number of children enrolled in SCA primary schools; construction of seven new school buildings, 20 washrooms, and one resource center; the provision of special education to more than 1,600 children and adults with disabilities; and mainstream school inclusion for 600 children with physical disabilities and 2,000 children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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.