A Look at 7 UN Agencies Working in Afghanistan

Committed to building a stable, just, and prosperous future for Afghanistan, the World Food Programme, UNESCO, and the World Bank are a few of the UN agencies that are undertaking development efforts in the country. Through its “country team,” a diverse collection of affiliated or partner organizations, the UN works across a number of different areas and oversees an incredible variety of projects all over Afghanistan. No fewer than 27 UN-associated organizations are currently involved in the country’s development. Read on for a closer look at some of these agencies, who they are, and what they’re doing in Afghanistan.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Food and Agriculture Organization

A member of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) since 1949, Afghanistan works closely with the organization via its Ministries of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock; Energy and Water; Public Health; and Rural Rehabilitation and Development. Today, FAO maintains five regional and three provincial offices around the country and focuses on contributing to sustainable agricultural development. Some of the key strategic objectives of FAO’s work in Afghanistan include reducing rural poverty, eradicating hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition; and enabling local, national, and international food and agricultural systems that are more inclusive and efficient.

International Labour Organization (ILO)

International Labour Organization

A specialized agency of the UN, the International Labour Organization (ILO) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year (Afghanistan joined the ILO in 1934, becoming the organization’s 60th member, and is considered today to be an original member state). Throughout its history, ILO has maintained that institution-building and local economic development are essential elements of social progress, particularly in nations like Afghanistan that are seriously affected by natural disasters and continuing conflicts. For this reason, ILO established a liaison office in Kabul in 2003 to provide resources, support, and guidance to Afghanistan in areas such as employment strategies, labor law reform, skills development, child labor, and social dialogue.

International Organization for Migration (IOM)

International Organization for Migration

Established in 1951, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is the world’s leading intergovernmental organization in the field of migration based on its founding vision of humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. IOM established its mission in Afghanistan in 1992 and has maintained a continuing presence in the country ever since. In fact, IOM Afghanistan is one of the largest IOM missions in the world, comprised of close to 300 staff members working in nine regional offices. In cooperation with government and humanitarian partners and local communities, IOM Afghanistan oversees a range of programs and initiatives in areas such as humanitarian assistance, community stabilization, and migration management. For example, in recent years, one focus area of IOM has been on facilitating the return of skilled Afghan workers to their home country.

United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN HABITAT)

United Nations Human Settlements Programme

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN HABITAT) is the UN agency mandated to promote towns and cities that are socially and environmentally sustainable, and that provide adequate shelter for all. In Afghanistan, UN HABITAT is working with many partners to address the increasingly urgent challenge of Afghanistan’s unprecedented urban growth rates. According to UN HABITAT, while urbanization does offer important new opportunities for social and economic development, it is essential that this kind of growth be accompanied by sound planning and innovative policy approaches if it is to benefit Afghanistan’s population and society as a whole.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

United Nations Environment Programme

Once pristine and rich in biological diversity, Afghanistan’s natural landscapes have been devastated by decades of conflict, severe natural disasters and, more recently, the impact of rapid and unplanned urban growth and development. Since 2002, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been working to mitigate these effects by establishing the environmental foundations for Afghanistan’s sustainable development. Today, the organization focuses on capacity building for environmental governance and natural resources management by providing government and non-governmental partners with training and technical assistance in fields ranging from environmental law and policy to climate change adaptation.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

United Nations Population Fund

Since 1976, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been working in Afghanistan to reduce infant, child, and maternal mortality; increase access to reproductive health services; and support universal primary education. The goal of the organization is to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, and that all children can be born safely and be able to fulfill their potential. In 2002, with the re-establishment of its country office in Afghanistan, UNFPA embarked on a new program of long-term support for women and young people, which has included the rehabilitation of three maternity hospitals in Kabul.

United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)

United Nations Office for Project Services

The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) has supported reconstruction and development efforts in Afghanistan since 1995, with a particular focus on the construction of sustainable infrastructure. To achieve this goal, the organization collaborates with various partners and stakeholders, and concentrates on the key priorities of national ownership and capacity development. Some successes that UNOPS has achieved in Afghanistan include the construction and rehabilitation of more than 10,000 kilometers of roads; enhanced electricity access to 1,500 households and 100 small businesses; and support for the National Emergency Employment Program, which improved rural livelihoods by creating 2.5 million labor days during which 20 bridges were rehabilitated.

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.

training

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.

How Afghanaid Makes Life Better in Afghanistan

Afghanaid

For over 35 years, the British humanitarian and development organization Afghanaid has been working to improve the lives of millions of Afghans who are vulnerable and underserved. The organization it maintains a presence in some of Afghanistan’s poorest and most remote communities.

Afghanaid develops and runs programs across a broad range of focus areas, including basic service delivery, livelihood enhancement, emergency assistance, and disaster risk reduction. Through the organization’s community-led approach, ordinary Afghans play an important role in their own development. They have the opportunity to become active participants in shaping not only their own futures, but the future of their country as well.

Afghanaid’s recent and current projects include:

1. Restoring Mine-Contaminated Land

For the past two years, Afghanaid has worked in partnership with the HALO Trust, a charity focused on land mine clearance and mine risk education. Due to the decades of conflict it has experienced, Afghanistan is one of the world’s most heavily mined countries. Many regions are still littered with unexploded ordnance.

This makes life extremely difficult for the 80 percent of Afghans who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. When land cannot be used for crops or grazing because of land mine contamination, whole communities are trapped in poverty and lives are put at risk on a daily basis.

Afghanaid is working to address this issue by coming to areas that the HALO Trust has cleared of mines and unexploded ordnance. It then helps local families rebuild their livelihoods by making good use of their cleared land.

In Samagan and Logar provinces, for example, Afghanaid has provided training in improved agricultural techniques, orchard and greenhouse management, and poultry rearing to nearly 3,000 people. The organization has also supplied the technical assistance and tools needed to transform this previously dangerous land into a valuable, productive resource.

landmine

2. Improving Livestock and Animal Welfare

Most families and households in rural Afghanistan rely on animals, whether for food, transportation, or economic livelihood. Despite this dependence, however, few Afghans have the skills, knowledge, or resources to provide proper care for their animals. In addition, access to experienced veterinarians is rare in remote regions.

As a result, the well-being of many animals is seriously compromised. This negatively impacts both the animals themselves and the people who rely on them.

To help improve animal welfare in rural Afghanistan, Afghanaid recently launched a new partnership with the international equine welfare charity Brooke. This collaborative project will see Afghanaid working in Daykundi province to provide mentorship and specialized training to vets as well as education for farmers regarding the benefits of good animal welfare and the importance of veterinary services.

The organization will also teach farmers critical animal husbandry skills, such as appropriate animal handling, proper housing and feeding, and the identification of diseases. The aim of this initiative is to create a “virtuous cycle” in which improvements to animal welfare lead to greater productivity, which in turn leads to greater prosperity.

3. Responding to Severe Drought

Recent years have seen Afghanistan struggling with severe drought. Because of the resulting water shortage, crop yield has been much lower than usual for the past several seasons. As a result, many rural households have insufficient food for either themselves or their livestock. This has led to significant income reduction and has greatly increased vulnerability to environmental and economic crises.

This devastating situation has left thousands of Afghan families in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. In coordination with the World Food Programme and local partners in Afghanistan, Afghanaid has worked to provide essential food and supplies to nearly 11,000 struggling families in Ghor province, which has been one of the regions hit hardest by drought.

With this assistance, these households can stave off hunger and malnutrition. In addition, they can avoid the negative coping strategies (such as selling off livestock at a very low price) that are unfortunately common in these extreme situations.

drought

4. Promoting Sustainable Use of Natural Resources

When Afghan families in rural areas need food, water, fuel, medicine, and construction materials, they often turn to the forests, rangelands, and rivers that surround them. However, over the years, a lack of proper regulation and oversight of these resources has led to severe depletion and deterioration of many of these natural systems.

Today, the strain on Afghanistan’s natural ecosystems is even further exacerbated by increasing pressure from rapid population growth, rising land prices, climate change, and recurring natural disasters. This is not only problematic from an environmental point of view, but a social one as well. Resource scarcity is often a significant factor in ethnic, political, and regional conflicts.

To help transform scarce natural resources into sustainable assets, Afghanaid is embarking on a major four-year project in collaboration with the Liaison Office, an Afghan NGO, with support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Taking place in Daykundi province, the project will support 4,500 rural families as they learn to more effectively manage the natural resources they depend on.

A key element of the initiative will be the creation and training of local rangeland management associations. This will help communities work together to manage rangelands in a way that is equitable, inclusive, and sustainable.